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In Letter, Snyder Seeks to 'Preserve Heritage' of 'Redskins Nation'

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USA TODAY
October 10, 2013 Thursday
FINAL EDITION
SPORTS; Pg. 2C
1034 words
Snyder again defends redskins nickname;
NFL owner softens tone but doesn't alter stance
Erik Brady, @ByErikBrady, USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Snyder's letter to fans of his pro football club defending its embattled team name has garnered him an invitation to visit the Oneida Indian Nation in central New York.

"We are Redskins Nation, and we owe it to our fans and coaches and players, past and present, to preserve that heritage," Snyder wrote in the letter that began arriving at season ticketholders' homes Wednesday.

Ray Halbritter, a representative of the Oneida Nation, which is running an aggressive campaign against the team name, said he was glad Snyder was listening and invited the owner to join a meeting planned between the NFL and the Oneidas in the coming weeks.

"During his visit, we will organize a special meeting of Oneida Nation families where Mr. Snyder can personally explain to them why he believes they deserve to be called 'redskins,'" Halbritter wrote in a statement. "He can then hear directly from them why that term is so painful."

The timing of Snyder's letter suggested it might have come as a reaction to comments by President Obama, who told The Associated Press last weekend that if he owned the team he would consider changing its name. Snyder's letter does not mention the president's remarks.

Snyder wrote that he had considered commentary and perspectives on all sides: "I respect the feelings of those who are offended by the team name. 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."

Snyder cited an AP poll from April that showed 79% of respondents thought the team should not change its name and a poll from the Annenberg Public Policy Center in 2004 that said 90% of American Indians did not find the name offensive.

"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," Halbritter wrote. "These leaders and groups, who collectively represent millions of people, understand why a professional football team should not be promoting a racial slur."

Childhood memory

Snyder's letter drew heavily on emotion and nostalgia. He recalled the first time he attended a game of the NFL team he'd own one day, when he was 6.

"I remember how quiet it was when the Redskins had the ball and then how deafening it was when we scored," Snyder wrote. "The ground beneath me seemed to move and shake, and I reached up to grab my father's hand. The smile on his face as he sang the song ... he's been gone for 10 years now, but that smile, and his pride, are still with me every day."

The song Snyder refers to is Hail to the Redskins. Its original lyrics mocked American Indians with pidgin English. "Scalp 'em, swamp 'um. We will take 'um big score," was later swapped out for, "Beat 'em, swamp 'em, touchdown! Let the points soar!"

Snyder wrote that his organization was committed to its fans: "That's why I wanted to reach out to you -- our fans -- about a topic I wish to address directly: the team name, 'Washington Redskins.' ... It is important you hear straight from me on this issue. As the owner of the Redskins and a lifelong fan of the team, here is what I believe ... and why I believe it."

Snyder said the franchise's first team, in Boston in the 1930s, included four Native American players and the head coach. (Historian Linda Waggoner disputes the purported American Indian roots of the coach, known as "Lone Star" Dietz.)

"In his letter, Mr. Snyder made mention of his team's history," Halbritter wrote. "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."

George Preston Marshall was the last NFL owner to integrate, in the early 1960s, and did so only under threat from the Kennedy administration.

"I respect the opinions of those who disagree," Snyder wrote. "I want them to know that I do hear them and I will continue to listen and learn. But we cannot ignore our 81-year history or the strong feelings of most of our fans as well as Native Americans throughout the country. After 81 years, the team name 'Redskins' continues to hold the memories and meaning of where we came from, who we are and who we want to be in years to come."

Different tone

The tone of his letter is markedly different from what Snyder said in May, when he told USA TODAY Sports: "We'll never change the name. It's that simple. NEVER -- you can use caps."

In his letter, Snyder said the disputed term was more than the team's nickname.

"It is a symbol of everything we stand for: strength, courage, pride, and respect -- the same values we know guide Native Americans and which are embedded throughout their rich history as the original Americans," he wrote.

That language echoed NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who sent a letter in June to 10 members of Congress who had urged him to reject the name. Goodell called the Washington team name "a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect."

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, co-chairwoman of the Congressional Native American Caucus, is among the congressional leaders addressed in Goodell's letter. She spoke Monday at a symposium on the team name organized by the Oneidas. "Mr. Snyder, change the mascot," she said. "End this ugly history and tradition of your team's racial slur."

Snyder does not think the name is a slur. Halbritter does.

"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," Halbritter wrote. "It is clear from Mr. Snyder's letter that he does not understand those consequences. So in the spirit of the dialogue that Mr. Snyder says he is willing to engage in, we are inviting him to join the NFL delegation in its upcoming meeting at our Homelands."

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the time and place for the meeting were not set. Team spokesman Tony Wyllie did not respond to an e-mail asking if Snyder would attend.

October 10, 2013

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