It’s hard to tell if Washington NFL team owner Dan Snyder has publicly embraced the desperate plight of Native Americans because he’s genuinely moved, or whether it’s a cynical crisis-management stunt by a man whose franchise is under siege because its name is a slur, the hateful R-word. If it is the latter, then Snyder might want to find new PR people.
He and/or they have announced that economic assistance will be funneled through their Original American Foundation. That’s right: OAF. Critics are having a field day with that, suggesting that Snyder’s open letter about providing coats, 3,000 so far, and athletic shoes and other largesse to reservations after he and his staff had visited several of them was nothing more than an oafishly cynical effort to take the heat off and try to slow momentum of a campaign to get rid of the team’s hateful brand. Snyder says he will never do that, because it represents a grand history of professional football in D.C.
Never mind that the tradition includes an owner, George Marshall, who was a rabid racist, who only allowed black players on his roster after heavy financial pressure. And, of course, never mind that the desperate straits Native Americans struggle with today have grown out of the brutal treatment afforded previous generations. The R-word is a symbol of that oppression, an inflammatory slur.
You’ve heard this all before. The debate has been laid out many times. President Barack Obama has weighed in carefully in favor of a new name. Even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has hinted that maybe the time has come. But perhaps those who live outside the Beltway, those who cheer for other teams, are wondering why they should even care about this issue, particularly when polls show that a majority of the fans don’t want a change.
First of all, let’s face it: Otherwise sensitive and socially conscious people turn into fanatics when it comes to their spectator sports. They’re crazed. I know, because I’m one of them. Still, we should be aware that a pejorative name for one of the teams demeans the entire league.
Actually, there is a case pending before the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, which has the power to rip away the legal protections for use of the R-word. If that would go against Snyder, it would hit him right in his heart — his wallet. But it could be years before that case is decided, so, in the meantime it’s going to take increased pressure from people of good will to make him start worrying about a financial hit.
Snyder is well aware that a growing number of fair-minded fans are realizing that they are, in fact, deeply offended, now that the issue has been forced into their minds, and are beginning to question whether their cheers should include an out-and-out slur.
He’s clearly getting nervous. Why else would he suddenly be moved to show his concern: “The more I heard, the more I’ve learned, and the more I saw, the more resolved I became about helping to address the challenges that plague the Native American community,” he wrote, “In speaking face-to-face with Native American leaders and community members, it’s plain to see they need action, not words.”
Obviously, it’s great that he has suddenly discovered the wretched conditions that plague the reservations, and plans to address them (he didn’t say how much he’d contribute). But, until he realizes that the nickname that identifies his business is a fundamental part of the problem, this is just a token effort.
A lot of us have had fun suggesting alternative names for the Washington Slurs: the Politicians, the Lobbyists, the Special Interests, all using a pig as a mascot. But here’s another idea: Let’s call them the OAFS. The symbol? A decal of Dan Snyder.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.