Dan Snyder has a response to critics of his football team’s name: He hears you, but as ever, he has no plans to change the name. Snyder posted an open letter to fans today, a few days after the Oneida Indian Nation hosted a widely noted symposium in Washington that argued the team’s name constitutes a racial slur against Native Americans.
“I’ve listened carefully to the commentary and perspectives on all sides, and I respect the feelings of those who are offended by the team name,” Snyder writes. “But I hope such individuals also try to respect what the name means, not only for all of us in the extended Washington Redskins family, but among Native Americans too.”
That’s a softer tone than the all-capitals “NEVER” Snyder gave to USA Today earlier this year, but otherwise as intractable as ever. Snyder’s letter repeatedly hits on terms like “heritage,” “pride,” and “tradition” to argue why changing the name is unmerited. He also notes that during the team’s inaugural season under its current moniker, four players and the head coach claimed Native American ancestry, though the lineage of that coach, William Henry Dietz, is widely disputed.
But Snyder’s biggest crutch is longevity. The letter is peppered with mentions of the simple fact that the team’s name has been unchanged for 81 years, something he feels outweighs the ongoing complaints by critics who say it is a denigrating term. Merriam-Webster defines the name as “usually offensive.”
Snyder also cites multiple surveys, including an Associated Press poll taken in April in which 79 percent of respondents said the team should not change its name, and a 2004 survey in which 90 percent of self-identified Native Americans said they did not find the name offensive. The latter poll came up multiple times at the Ondeida Nation’s event on Monday, with tribal executive Ray Halbritter dismissing the study. “You can’t just poll away damage,” he said.
After NFL executives met in Washington yesterday, Commissioner Roger Goodell repeated his newly nuanced stance on the team’s name. “Whenever you have a situation like this, you have to listen and recognize that some other people may have different perspectives, and clearly there are cases where that’s true here,” Goodell told reporters. “We need to listen, carefully listen, and make sure we’re doing what’s right.”
Halbritter issued his own statement in response to Snyder, including a different facet of the team’s history—original owner George Preston Marshall’s views on race.
“We are glad to see that Mr. Snyder is listening to the growing number of critics on this issue that include the President of the United States, senior members of the U.S. Congress, civil rights organizations, public health organizations, and Native American tribes” he says. “He opted to omit from his letter, however, that the original owner who gave the team its current name was an avowed segregationist. That suggests the team’s name was deliberately designed to denigrate people of color. The marketing of this racial slur has had—and continues to have—very serious cultural, political, and public health consequences for my people and Native Americans everywhere. It is clear from Mr. Snyder’s letter that he does not understand those consequences.”
The NFL this week said it will meet with the Oneida Nation to discuss the matter. In his statement, Halbritter invites Snyder to attend.