Opinion: Redskins Owner Snyder Can't Dodge Nickname Issue

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October 8, 2013 Tuesday
768 words
Snyder must face music on nickname;
Washington owner can't dodge problem
Jarrett Bell,[email protected],USA TODAY Sports

Dan Snyder was nowhere in the vicinity Monday, when the Oneida Indian Nation held a symposium -- about 10 blocks from the swanky hotel where NFL owners will convene today for fall meetings -- protesting the use of a racial slur for his NFL franchise's nickname.

Not that Snyder was expected to be there. He wasn't invited. The NFL team owner, however, should have been offered the chance to face the noise. It was a missed opportunity.

Snyder could have learned a few things.

As the same organizers move ahead with plans for a meeting with the NFL this fall, Snyder -- more than anyone else connected with the NFL, including Commissioner Roger Goodell -- must be at that summit. If not, the long-overdue meeting will fall short of its purpose.

Details of the meeting are pending. It could occur at the league's headquarters in Manhattan or in central New York, where the Oneida Indian Nation is based. The list of participants, at least from the NFL side, is still in the works. Even Goodell's presence hasn't been promised.

But when Adolpho Birch, the NFL's vice president of labor policy and government affairs, wrote to Oneida Nation Homelands chief operating officer Peter Carmen on Friday, he wanted to meet sooner than a previously scheduled Nov.22 date at NFL headquarters.

That seems like a recognition by the NFL that the issue is more than an annoyance as pressure and momentum mount. Last weekend, President Obama advocated more dialogue, which added fuel to the "Change the Mascot" campaign.

Now, if somebody can just make sure Snyder is part of the dialogue.

As the issue has flared in recent months, Goodell repeatedly has said a change in the Redskins name is ultimately Snyder's call. Snyder, remember, defiantly declared to USA TODAY Sports in May he would never change the team's name. "NEVER -- you can use caps," he said.

If it's all on Snyder -- who wouldn't be forced to change the name even if he loses a pending trademark lawsuit -- then the meeting is essentially about him. If he's not there, the meeting could be perceived as grandstanding by the league, if not a method of providing cover for Snyder.

Joel Barkin, a spokesman for the Oneida Indian Nation, told USA TODAY Sports that his group seeks a meeting with the NFL rather than with Snyder directly for a couple of reasons:

Snyder's refusal to budge.

The NFL is bigger than a single franchise.

Given the revenue-sharing model of the league and the image consciousness that is essential to its revenue-generating model, the approach is understandable. But they should not let Snyder off the hook. Nor should other NFL owners, whose products take an image hit by association.

The same NFL owners who voted unanimously on all the measures in the last labor deal now must nudge Snyder toward showing some social leadership.

Ray Halbritter, CEO of Oneida Indian Nation's enterprises, has said he would love to take Snyder to a reservation and give the NFL owner the opportunity to tell Native American children to their face why he thinks it's OK to call them "redskins."

Halbritter, who voiced frustration Monday with the lack of widespread respect for the Native American culture and the public's creeping recognition of the slur as offensive, has to keep inviting Snyder to the reservation.

It was too bad that no one from the NFL -- or anyone from the team based 30 miles away in Northern Virginia -- showed up at the symposium. They would have heard passion on several levels, from morality to sociological stigmas, to impact on long-term health. They would have had a chance to exchange ideas.

"I suppose we all want to protect our traditions," said Kevin Gover, director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian and member of the Pawnee Nation. "We acknowledge that the football team is a tradition. It is one of the very few things in this city that brings people together. We don't want to change that. We'd like to feel free to join your civic religion, but we can't because the very name itself is insulting."

Redskins is a derogatory term, the protesters say.

"When I was a kid, white people used to call us 'dirty redskins,'" Menominee tribal leader Apesanahkwat, 65, told USA TODAY Sports. He grew up on a reservation in Wisconsin. "We didn't like it. Then I learned that the origin of the word came from an era when they were skinning our women and children. They were literally beaten and left to die."

Polls suggest an overwhelming number of fans approve of the racist slur as a nickname, which leads those involved to insist that mass education is needed -- a history lesson, steeped in sensitivity.

October 8, 2013

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