The National Football League Has a “Donald Sterling” and it’s Daniel Snyder – Owner of the Redskins

by on June 5, 2014 · 22 comments

in Culture, History, Politics, Sports

dan snyderBy Beau Grosscup

Hours after the private racist statements of Donald Sterling, the NBA Los Angeles Clipper’s owner became public, millions of people, from players, owners, fans, indeed the whole sports industry and many in the general public went appropriately apoplectic. In unity they said the National Basketball Association must take decisive action. Clipper players engaged in symbolic acts of protest before their first playoff game. Threats of player and fan boycott preceded the second game.

Outraged at Sterling’s racism, Americans inside and out of the sports world waited to hear what action NBA commissioner Adam Silver would take. It had to be of consequence, they insisted, a strong message that racism in today’s society is socially unacceptable. Silver banned Sterling for life from NBA events. Arguing Sterling violated Article 13, Section d. of the NBA Bylaws,Silver said he would push Sterling to sell the Clippers. A month later the team was sold to a new owner.

Contrast this with the long public campaign to get Daniel Snyder, owner of the National Football League’s Washington Redskins, to follow the lead of dozens of amateur sports teams and drop the racist Native American name in favor of a socially responsible moniker. Snyder has vehemently refused, expressing his commitment to the racist tradition in public discourse beginning in 2003. In May 2013,Snyder told USA Sports:

“We’ll never change the name. […] It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

Snyder defends his overt embracement of the racist Redskin moniker as a “tradition he has celebrated since he was a kid so it would be difficult to change.”

Snyder’s public racism has failed to ignite the level of anguish let alone outrage that Sterling’s private statements manifested. Inexplicably, Snyder’s form of racism is deemed different; ‘subject to debate,’ its societal status to be determined by popular opinion polls and Snyder’s public relations inspired philanthropy. True, Senate majority leader Harry Reid and a few others, most notably Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks, have made the explicit connection between Snyder and Sterling’s embracement of racism. Reid even called on the NFL to get ‘an assist’ from the NBA and take decisive action toward Snyder’s racism.

My question is: why is there no alliance of NFL players, coaches, the Commissioner and yes, owners protesting Daniel Snyder’s overt racism in the same way the NBA ‘family’ rallied so quickly and furiously against Donald Sterling’s private racist comments?

Why has NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell not brought to bear Article 8, Section A of the NFL Constitution and Bylaws, that gives him authority similar to the NBA commissioner to hold NFL officials accountable for actions detrimental to his league?

Why have the Washington players not made a collective symbolic gesture of disapproval, let alone call for a boycott of their team’s games or all NLF games? Why haven’t they joined the Oneida Tribe’s boycott against public use of ‘Redskin?’

Why have few if any in the sports media asked them or their coaches “how can you play for that racist owner Snyder?“ as they did with Sterling? In a league that is at least 65% African-American, why has the vast majority of players left a few, most notably Sherman and former ‘Redskin’ Jason Taylor, to connect the dots about racism in general and anti-Native American racism in particular?

Do not the legacy and accomplishments of Jim Thorpe, a NFL Hall of Famer and first American Professional Football Association President, in addition to many other Native American sports figures, matter to them nor to the NFL ‘family?” More to the point, why has the sports industry in general not taken a stand on the Native American issue? Racism does not selectively discriminate among the various sports ‘families.’ Racism in one sport affects all others. Call it the “Jackie Robinson Effect.”

The history of social movements tells us that collective consciousness and action can move mountains in a progressive direction. Unity of action across all sports is the only effective way to rid us not only of the vulgar and racist ‘Redskin,’ but of the Cleveland Indian’s Chief  Wahoo with his ‘shit eating’ grin. Only a unified front is likely to end the offensive use of all Native American ‘mascots.’ Divided, the Donald Sterling’s and Daniel Snyder’s can do what they want with impunity. They could even, if they wanted to, own a team named the Colorado Kikes or Wisconsin Wops. But of course they dare not do so. Powerful people with a loud political megaphone, who currently sit silent on the name ‘Redskin,’ would vehemently object.

The Sterling incident galvanized a whole community of people, many of who had never acted out of social awareness. Some, like former NBA player Charles Barkley, now threaten a player boycott for the 2014-15 NBA season if Sterling remains a NBA owner. Yet, it remains a mystery as to where they stand on the ‘Redskin’ issue. Do they buy into ‘let’s rank degrees of racism’ so that a private request not to bring Black friends to an NBA game is socially unacceptable while a request that a team drop its racist name and caricature is a case of ‘political correctness run amuck’ as some notable political pundits insist? Acts of racism and anti-racism, no matter their specific nature, are neither politically incorrect nor politically correct.They are acts of social irresponsibility or responsibility. There is a big difference.

In just a few weeks, the sports media will spotlight NFL teams as they begin training for the 2014-15 season. Now is an opportune time for the NFL, the Commissioner, players, coaches and fans, indeed the entire sports industry to take the same strong stand against racism in the NFL as was taken in the NBA. Let’s not be put in the same position about Daniel Snyder as many were with Donald Sterling: “Oh, didn’t you know? He’s been a racist for a long time.”

 Beau Grosscup, PH.D, teaches at CSU, Chico; he author grew up in Oxford, Ohio, home of the Miami University Redskins, now Redhawks. He went to graduate school at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, home of the Redmen, now Minutemen.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Mr Siege June 5, 2014 at 12:47 pm

So if they change the name to say the Warriors, is it still racist? Dan Snyder is not racist. An awful owner he is, but in no way does he think native americans are lesser people.


Tyler June 5, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Yeah this article/opinion piece is pretty bad. I’m from DC, so I’m biased, I’ll say that much. Snyder is an asshole, but not a racist.


Beau Grosscup June 5, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Tyler admits to being biased (enough said) in favor of his Washington DC based NFL team known as the ‘Redskins.’ Like Snyder, who won’t change the name because “it was the name I knew as a kid,” Tyler apparently can dismiss as mere folly the multitude of sports teams who understood the racism of ‘Redskin’ and other racist names and changed in a socially responsible way. Good for him. The fact is, people who used ‘nigger’ weren’t considered racist by many at one time. Social, economic and political power proved them wrong.


Beau Grosscup June 5, 2014 at 4:11 pm

If the ‘Warrior’ tag is attached to a Native American mascot the answer is yes as it continues to present Native American solely as aggressive warlike people when they have longstanding traditions of peace, harmony and community that never get represented in Sport Team Native American mascots. If Snyder wanted to change the name to Warriors as a socially responsible team mascot to honor ‘those who battle for a cause in a heroic way’ he could attached it to a mascot that represents his ancestry or better yet, attach it to those US soldiers injured in battle as in our ‘wounded warriors.’ That would be very appropriate for a team based in Washington D.C. as it is city dominated by the National Security State and politicians who send your kid and mine off to fight their wars many of whom become ‘wounder warriors’ and treated as heroes and heroines (or not). The larger question is why do some people have such a huge stake, as Mr. Seige apparently does, in continuing to demean a whole group of people by making them sport team mascots, often with cartoon characteristics, as if they aren’t human or valuable members of society? I am sorry, maybe you know Mr. Snyder personally, but the best that can be said of him is that he is using racist representations to make lots of money. In my mind that makes him a racist.


John O. June 6, 2014 at 2:28 pm

This is a simple question. Is the Redskins name racist? Yes, it refers to a group of people by the color of their skin. Does Snyder defend this name? Yes, he does. Therefore, he has a tendency toward racism.
If you take the stance that simply referring to a group of people by a name that describes their skin color is not racist, then at the very least would you agree that it is in extremely poor taste? Especially, when the group in question has virtually been eliminated from existence.
We a not talking about Warrior, Indian, Viking, or whatever else you want to mention. We are talking about Redskins… in our nation’s capitol of all places… the nation that decimated the Native Americans (referred to by some, arguably racists, as Redskins).
Just change the name to “Americans” and be done with it.


Johnny June 6, 2014 at 6:36 pm

Maybe some people should read up on a little bit of history to discover that Native American’s referred to themselves as “Redskins.” They also referred to the people that were invading them as “The White Man,” so does that mean that they were racists? I don’t think so. What’s next? Changing the Cleveland Indians name? Aren’t people offended by the term “Indians” also? Personally, I’ve never heard anyone EVER use “Redskin” as a slur when referring to Native American’s (or Indians). Sure…maybe 200 years ago, but today, most people just think of a football team. If we’re going to complain about every little thing, whether it be the name of a football team or what some bonehead owner said in the privacy of his own home, we’re in for some tough times. Aren’t we becoming just a bit too sensitive? If we begin to confuse racism with ignorance, how do we know who the true racists really are? Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by Indian or Native American culture, and I don’t see anything wrong with the name. Sure, it carries some negative connotations, but mostly when I hear “Redskins,” I think of a football team with a cool logo, and think of warriors who fought for their survival. I’ve never known the football team or its fans use the term in a negative fact, most people take great pride when they mention the Redskins. Just my two cents. Cheers!


Marc Snelling June 7, 2014 at 10:42 am

Ignorance is not realizing the name is racist and a stereotype.

Daniel Snyder is not the one who named the team he’s just carrying on tradition. George Preston Marshall named the team and he was clearly racist.

When he died he left his money in a foundation formed under his name. The only stipulation for the money was that none of it be used for “any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration.” This was in 1969 no less.

It was speculated he was behind the banning of black athletes in the NFL. That lasted from 1933 to 46. Marshall was the last owner to accept a black player 15 years after the ban was lifted.

He used to have the band play Dixie before the Star Spangled Banner and thought the Redskins name was funny, like dressing the coach in a traditional head-dress.

Since you are fascinated with “Indian” culture I encourage you to look at some of the dozens of tribes and hundreds of groups/individuals that are opposed to this team name and why. There are a clear majority who find the name disrespectful.


Johnny June 7, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Okay…well, then maybe you should read this, or this… or this… or this…
My point is that we cannot and should not start changing things because some might find it offensive…otherwise we will be changing everything. To say that a “clear majority” find the name disrespectful is incorrect. That is false. Right now, there’s more than 60 high schools that have the mascot of the Redskins…do we start changing all of them (some of them are even dominated by Native American students).
Enough already of the super sensitivity. Pick and choose your battles.


Marc Snelling June 9, 2014 at 7:12 am

These articles only prove how tolerant many tribal members are. The point they are making is that there are more offensive things than the name of this team in American history, not that it isn’t offensive. Name me one tribe that has taken an official position in favor of the name.

The U-T article mentions the Oneida taking an official position against the name, which other tribes of Cherokee, Comanche, Chippewa, Navajo, Sioux, Lakota, Penobscot, and more have also done. Groups like the American Indian Movement, National Congress of American Indian, Native American Journalists Association, National Indian Youth Council, and many others have added their voice as well. This is the clear majority I’m talking about.

You can go out to the rezs and find kids wearing the team’s gear and people who don’t care about the name. That doesn’t make it right. This may be a small thing in a brutal American history of genocide, but it’s also an easily changed thing. You can pick and choose your own battles, but this is one that others have chosen from themselves.

There is a big difference between a team of students with tribal identity choosing to use the name Redskins in Oklahoma and this. The players, owners, and fans of the NFL team are not dominated by tribal members. The history of DC is one of trying to erase the very identity of the people who lived there. The US mandated there be “no Indians east of the Mississsippi”. After that you could only be “White”, “Black”, or a “Free person of color” on the census.

The point isn’t how offensive the name itself is, it’s the context. If Auschwitz named their soccer team “the Jews” with an Ashkenazi silhouette for a logo would that be offensive? Historical context matters to those who share the history. To those who don’t it’s not understood. It’s why Ice Cube and Don Imus and can say the same things and only Don Imus is offensive. It’s isn’t about other’s super-sensitivity, it’s about your insensitivity. If it doesn’t matter to you why not just leave it alone instead of trying to prove something?

My ancestors had to leave Virginia and hide their tribal identity in official records only passing down their tribal name orally. They were forced to keep moving West and inter-marrying with Whites to avoid the “free person of color” category that kept them from owning land and other things key to survival.

They kept inter-marrying with other mixed people due to prejudice and the lack of understanding of outsiders. The French who realized long before the English that intermarriage made sense called these people “mélange on” which means ‘we mix’. This became Melungeon in English.

The Melungeons are a tri-racial group of Whites, Blacks and yes Reds. They took on their own identity in Appalachia after the murderous train-wreck of colonial Virginia/Carolinas. They were no longer “Indian” or “White” or “Black” but had to pass as white or black in society. Families divided along skin pigment lines even though really they were all the same.

This is a small part of the context that exists for me and for many others. I agree with the Barona tribal members in the story. I’m not that offended by the name personally and have not attended a protest. Still I would not wear a jersey and think it’s not appropriate or respectful to use a race of people as a mascot for a sports team made up of people who don’t share the history.


David June 8, 2014 at 7:15 pm

Everybody crying racism about this does not have any knowledge of the history of the term. They just know that it sounds racist based on what they perceive as racist at this moment in time.

The term was created by Native Americans to describe themselves:

There are plenty of Native Americans that think the term honors their culture and they choose to have it as their own school mascots.


Marc Snelling June 9, 2014 at 8:17 am

This is a gross over-simplification. The problems with this name are not due to a limited understanding of history, quite the opposite.

The medicine wheel teaches there were four races in the world. Red, black, yellow, white, or American, African, Asian and European. It teaches much more, this is just a tiny part. Hopi oral history tells the story of how and why this came to be. Some tribes also used red ochre as body paint.

There are more reasons for this analogy than the anthropology article gets into. It talks about small groups of whites/reds/blacks who got along amidst the massacre of colonial America. This was the small minority, not the norm. In a larger sense it was a very negative thing to be “Red” by any name and meant you did not have rights afforded to others.

There were groups founded in those days like the Improved Order of Red Men that seemed to be trying to honor the name. However, this group only allowed membership to “free white males of good character and standing.” Is that really honor?

The ESPN article you quote is talking about tribes and tribal-descended groups west of the Mississippi who are using the names themselves to self-identify. They aren’t arguing there isn’t racism and huge problems with “Indian” stereotypes in America. They are saying there are bigger problems that their people face and that they are proud regardless of other’s stereotypes.

The ESPN article continues a long-standing American racial lie that people are White or Red or Black. This is the background George Marshall came from. Not a school in Arizona where a sizeable tribal population with an intact identity still exists. The whole thing is a lie because in reality America is full of mixed people and has been since Europeans got here. If you use the one-drop rule that American States once used to define who is ‘colored’ than the majority of Americans are ‘colored’.

Just because groups have adopted names like Indian doesn’t mean that the terms didn’t originate from ignorance. Clearly this isn’t India. Imagine if the situation was reversed. If say the Navajo invaded Scandinavia hundreds of years ago, took over the land and forced the existing population east. Then today they had a national lacrosse team named the Whiteys and a stereotypical white guy on their helmets.

It isn’t a racial epithet, but it’s ignorant and no doubt offensive to some. The people who live there have identities… Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Viking, Gothic, much more than just ‘Whitey’. The nations that used to live where DC is now and on the East Coast did not call themselves the ‘Reds’ they were the Delaware, Lenape, Saponi, Ocaneechee, Seneca, and many more. These are Anglicized names, their real names are in their own languages. Sucks so many families were torn apart and languages and cultures pushed to the brink of extinction but now there is a football team named after “them”. Some honor.


Johnny June 9, 2014 at 9:15 am

I know I may be stretching it a bit, but I’m trying to prove a point. My question is, where and how does this end? If we eliminate the Redskins, do the Indians, Chiefs, Braves, and others become next on the list? Do people find those terms offensive as well? Maybe some think the Seminoles were violent and “racist” against other tribes. Or what about groups names not associated with Native Americans like Fighting Irish or Celtics? Can’t you find very large groups that are offended by those names? Do we take that into consideration? What do we do next? I just don’t see how it ends if we open up this can of worms. Until I hear a single person in my lifetime use the term “Redskin” as a slur, I will continue to think of the term in more of a positive light and continue to be in support of keeping the name.


Marc Snelling June 9, 2014 at 1:14 pm

No I’m not aware of a large group that are offended by names like the Celtics or the Vikings, but I’m sure there are some who are. The Vikings were a society like any other, who are disproportionately known for violence because their history was written by those they fought.

The difference here as Beau points out is cultural appropriation. It is a much bigger problem for tribal groups than it is for anyone else in America. Recently the Lakota went so far as to declare war against exploiters of their culture.

Minnesota’s main immigrant group was Scandinavians, Boston the Irish. They are naming the teams after races they are from. Not the people they stole the land from. There is a huge difference, and you are missing this point. Even if it isn’t a racial epithet it’s still not your name or the NFL’s to use.

Jew is not a slur it’s a name. Still it can be used in an offensive way. There is a difference between a team called the Jerusalem Jews and the Auschwitz Jews.

The Indians and Braves are next on the list. Look at the Cleveland logo and tell me how this image honors anyone.

The darkest parts of American history are events like the Cherokee being forcibly removed and allowed to die on forced march on the Trail of Tears. Named for the tears of those witnessed it, not those forced to march. Or in Minnesota the Dakota who were sentenced with no due process to the largest mass execution in US history.

Given our history you shouldn’t need to hear the word as a slur to understand why it is wrong.


Beau Grosscup June 9, 2014 at 12:41 pm

Johnny; this is simple: As I suggested earlier, let’s end this by discarding the practice of using humans as team mascots. Easily done as many teams have already done for the sake of social harmony with no negative consequences. Or, if you and others have such a huge stake in using humans as mascots (would you please ask yourself why you do since obviously you do which is unfathomable to me?) let’s open it up to any ethnicity, race, religion or social grouping…i.e let’s not complain, hiss or boo when some antisemitic owner names her team the Kikes, Of course, that wouldn’t fly in contemporary society and it shouldn’t. She would be vilified and forced to change the name or give up her ownership. As to the Celtics “ gives the following reason for how the Boston Celtics got their name: Team founder Walter Brown thought of an earlier basketball team from New York named the Celtics and figured since Boston had a large Irish population, the Celtics was a great name to use again.” When did Washington D.C as the nation’s capital have ‘a large Native American population’ that justifies using a Native American as the team mascot? Or the cities of Cleveland, Atlanta, San Francisco? Etc?


Johnny June 9, 2014 at 6:15 pm

Marc & Beau,
Good comments by both of you, and I appreciate the fact that we can have a civil debate without getting offensive and nasty. It’s the way things should be. I understand what both of you are saying. I don’t see it as being as much of a deal…but that’s my opinion. I don’t consider myself racist, and I don’t see myself as ignorant…I just think we see this issue much differently. In fact, if the name got changed, it’s not like I’d be marching in the streets, throwing a fit and saying that the name should be restored. I think I’m just getting tired of people deeming everything “offensive.” Yes…this borders closer (or, as some believe, steps over the line), to being offensive, but nothing will ever be perfect. Beau, discarding the use of humans as mascots would be nearly impossible, and I don’t see that ever happening, and frankly, as amazing as social harmony sounds, that’s not going to happen either. And Marc…thanks for all the history. All very interesting. Cheers, guys!


Marc Snelling June 9, 2014 at 8:56 pm

Perhaps this is not the best case to vent your frustration with political correctness?

Speaking only for myself – team names like the Redskins and Indians are ignorant more than they are offensive. They become more offensive when people like Daniel Snyder speak. Snyder clearly doesn’t understand the issues behind this and has only made things worse.

For example trying to spread the blame, complaining that other teams have not had to deal with the same controversy. But names like the Blackhawks and Seminoles are not the same thing. Black Hawk was a person, the Seminole Nation sanctions the use of their name. That is their right. Daniel Snyder has no such right.

Names like the Celtics and Vikings represent individual groups within Europe. There is no team called the Whiteskins generalizing everyone from Ireland, Norway, Greece, Russia, Spain, Israel,etc together. There is no Blackskins team putting every African-descended identity into a single group. Yet there is a Redskins team lumping what was once hundreds of diverse nations into one.

Another difference is the Celts and Vikings influenced the English language. The Vikings/Norse named Thursday after Thor – Thor’s Day. These team names make more sense for English descended people to use. Many names English speakers use for tribal groups are not accurate and they already had names in their own languages if we cared to learn them.

In Canada there is the Edmonton Eskimos football team. The name Eskimo is not used by the peoples of Canada’s far North who call themselves the Inuit and consider Eskimo a pejorative. They also have their own alphabet and language. The letters of the Inuktitut language are totally different than English. The grammar is different, the vocabulary is different. The team name honors none of this.

If the team names are meant to honor certain nations or groups or people why aren’t they in their language? Black Hawk’s name in his language was Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak. Would a team called the Chicago Makataimeshekiakiaks ever face the kind of criticism that Washington has? I doubt it.

If we avoided racial team names like Beau suggests we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

I just think if we want to honor the spirits of our ancestors we can do better than Daniel Snyder and football team names. My ancestors spoke a language that nearly died out when it’s last speaker Waskiteng ‘Old Mosquito’ passed in 1870 aged 105 years. In this language ‘ thank you’ is billa-huk.


Diana Tumminia June 10, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Maybe Snyder suffers from dementia. Historical amnesia is a form of racism.


Johnny June 10, 2014 at 4:20 pm

I thought I was done commenting here, but ran across something that I wanted to share.
The name “Oklahoma” translates to “Red People,” so do we need to start calling Congress to change the name of a whole state?


Marc Snelling June 11, 2014 at 10:01 am

You aren’t getting the point here. The problem isn’t just the word it’s who uses it and why. Besides red people implies something different than red skin. I’m surprised you missed the more obvious state name ‘Indiana’. Which means land of the Indians. So named because it is where many tribes and people of mixed heritage ended up after being forced west from their own lands. Very similar to Oklahoma which was the end point of the Trail of Tears.

If the Redskins move the franchise to Window Rock AZ the context of their name would be different, like Oklahoma or Indiana. If they give all the profits from their merchandise to tribal groups then it would be different. Until then it is part of a NFL marketing machine based on the legacy of a racist owner.


Marc Snelling June 24, 2014 at 11:22 am

Looks like you are on the losing side of this argument Johnny. This US Patent Office has just revoked the Redskins trademark! Which goes directly to the point I kept making that it is not their name regardless of whether it is offensive or not. Seems our argument was very timely, and it is time for you and Daniel Snyder to rethink your position.


Beau October 19, 2014 at 4:35 pm

From R. Dunbar-Ortiz “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
The source of “redskins”: As an incentive to recruit fighters, colonial authorities early on introduced a program of scalp hunting that became a permanent and long-lasting element of settler warfare against indigenous nations. During the Pequot War, Connecticut and Massachusetts colonial officials had offered bounties initially for the heads of murdered indigenous people and later for only their scalps, which were more portable in large numbers. But scalp hunting became routine only in the mid-1670s, following an incident on the northern frontier of the Massachusetts colony. The practice began in earnest in 1697, when settler Hannah Dustin, having murdered 10 of her Abenaki captors in a nighttime escape, presented their 10 scalps to the Massachusetts General Assembly and was rewarded with bounties for two men, two women and six children. Dustin soon became a folk hero among New England settlers.

Scalp hunting became a lucrative commercial practice. The settler authorities had hit upon a way to encourage settlers to take off on their own or with a few others to gather scalps, at random, for the reward money. “In the process,” military historian John Grenier points out, “they established the large-scale privatization of war within American frontier communities.”

Although the colonial government in time raised the bounty for adult male scalps, lowered that for adult females, and eliminated that for indigenous children under 10, the age and gender of victims were not easily distinguished by their scalps nor checked carefully. What is more, the scalp hunter could take the children captive and sell them into slavery. These practices erased any remaining distinction between indigenous combatants and noncombatants and introduced a market for indigenous slaves. Bounties for indigenous scalps were honored even in absence of war. Scalps and indigenous children became means of exchange, currency, and this development may even have created a black market. Scalp hunting was not only a profitable privatized enterprise but also a means to eradicate or subjugate the indigenous population of the Anglo-American Atlantic seaboard. The settlers gave a name to the mutilated and bloody corpses they left in the wake of scalp-hunts: redskins.


Marc Snelling November 3, 2014 at 7:46 am

From yesterday:

#NotYourMascot: Thousands Protest ‘Racist’ Washington Team

As many as four thousand protesters rallied outside the Washington-Minneapolis football game


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