Besieged by complaints that his team’s name is racist, Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins, announced on Monday night that he is launching a non-profit organization to provide aid to Native American groups — but insisted he would not be changing the team’s name.
Snyder said the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation is inspired by visits he and his staff made in the past four months to 26 tribal reservations in 20 states, in a letter posted on the NFL team’s Web site on Monday night.
“For too long, the struggles of Native Americans have been ignored, unnoticed and unresolved,” Snyder said. “As a team, we have honored them through our words and on the field, but now we will honor them through our actions.”
Snyder and his staff made the trips amid renewed criticism beginning last fall that the team’s name represents an offensive racial slur.
Many Native American groups, sports reporters and members of US Congress have called for a name change, and US President Barack Obama said Snyder should consider making the change. Snyder has said repeatedly that he will not change the team’s name.
In his statement, Snyder said that through speaking to tribal communities about the team name, he learned that Native American communities have “genuine issues they truly are worried about, and our team’s name is not one of them.”
Poverty rates among Native Americans are more than 12 percentage points higher than the national average, according to government estimates, and Native Americans have the highest prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the world. Suicide rates far outstrip the rate of the general population, too.
“I’ve listened. I’ve learned. And frankly, it’s heart-wrenching. It’s not enough to celebrate the values and heritage of Native Americans. We must do more,” Snyder said.
Snyder said his group has distributed 3,000 coats to Native American tribes, plus shoes for kids’ basketball teams. It has also helped a tribe in Nebraska purchase a backhoe. He said this work has been kept quiet because he is “serious” about it and was respecting tribal leaders.
Ray Halbritter of the Oneida Indian Nation, who represented the tribe as part of a delegation that met NFL officials in October last year, said he hoped this announcement meant the team was closer to changing its name.
“We are glad that after more than a decade of owning the Washington team, Mr Snyder is finally interested in Native American heritage, and we are hopeful that when his team finally stands on the right side of history and changes its name, he will honor the commitment to Native Americans that he is making today [Monday],” Halbritter said in a statement.
“We are also hopeful that in his new initiative to honor Native Americans’ struggle, Mr Snyder makes sure people do not forget that he and his predecessor, George Preston Marshall, a famous segregationist, have made our people’s lives so much more difficult by using a racial slur as Washington’s team’s name,” he added.