On October 14, two affiliated AIM (American Indian Movement) groups, the AIM of Twin Cities and AIM Patrol of Minneapolis, released a statement condemning the use of the name "Redskins" by the Washington NFL team, and soon thereafter announced plans for a public protest when the team comes to town for a matchup with the Minnesota Vikings.
Below is the statement from AIM:
On Jan. 14, 1963, Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama delivered an inaugural address in which he declared his unwavering allegiance to “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”
Those words became an anthem of intolerance and a rallying cry for those who opposed civil rights, equal rights and human rights. Those words defined Wallace’s legacy.
Fifty years later, Daniel Snyder, the owner of the N.F.L.’s Washington franchise, is making an equally strident stand against civility that will define his legacy as an owner and as a citizen.
Snyder is facing a firestorm of pressure to change the team’s nickname, which has been attacked as out of date, out of touch, offensive and racist.
He has responded to critics by tossing out polls that show support for the nickname. He has also trotted out American Indians who say that they are not offended, ignoring voices who say they are. In the face of mounting criticism, Snyder remains defiant. In a May interview with USA Today, Snyder insisted: “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
Snyder is as misguided on this issue as he was in 1999, when he bought the team and thought that the way to win was to load his roster with stars. He was wrong then and he is wrong now. The difference was that then he offended only Washington fans; now he is offending a significant part of the nation. Criticism is coming from the White House as well.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, President Obama said that “if I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”
He added that he wasn’t convinced an “attachment to a particular name should override the real, legitimate concerns that people have.”
Obama is preoccupied at the moment, but the administration is almost certain to circle back to Snyder and the nickname issue.
This is not the first time groups have objected to the nickname.
I covered my first Super Bowl in January 1992 — Washington versus Buffalo, in Minneapolis — and attended two protests sponsored by the American Indian Movement, a civil rights group. One was at the University of Minnesota, objecting to the University of Illinois’s use of an Indian mascot. On Super Bowl Sunday, the group demonstrated in front of the Metrodome.
This time, protesters have a sympathetic ear in the White House, perhaps because the president is a member of a minority group that is all too familiar with the deleterious effect of stereotypes and slurs.
In addition to sounding like Wallace, Snyder is aligning himself philosophically with George Preston Marshall, the original owner of the Washington franchise.
By the 1961 season, Marshall’s was the only N.F.L. team not to have a black player on the roster. In October 1961, Stewart Udall, the secretary of the interior, said he would not attend a Washington game as long as the N.A.A.C.P. was picketing. Udall warned Marshall that his team would be prohibited from using the new federally owned stadium in the capital the next season unless it hired a black player.
Political pressure has a way of getting the attention of even wealthy team owners. In the next draft, Washington chose two black players: Ernie Davis, the Heisman Trophy winner from Syracuse, at No. 1, and Ron Hatcher, a fullback from Michigan State, in the eighth round.
Washington was the beneficiary of an unearned and tragic break. Davis was traded to Cleveland for Bobby Mitchell, but Davis was found to have leukemia and died, never playing a down in the N.F.L. Mitchell had a Hall of Fame career in Washington and was one of a long line of outstanding black players for the franchise.
In the 1987 season, Washington’s Doug Williams became the first black quarterback to lead his team to a Super Bowl victory.
Marshall and Wallace were on the wrong side of history. Wallace created an atmosphere of fear, hatred and divisiveness. Marshall barred players who could have helped his franchise avoid mediocrity during the 1950s and 1960s.
Snyder might object to being placed alongside Wallace and Marshall. By his insistence on using a term that offends even one person, however, he contributes to an atmosphere of intolerance and bigotry. Snyder has an opportunity to get on the right side of history, though I don’t expect someone as vain as he appears to be to change his team’s nickname voluntarily.
His refusal to change an offensive name is emblematic of our society’s tendency to wrap ourselves in the armor of self-interest regardless of who might be wounded or offended.
Sports has historically been a vehicle to bring us together. Increasingly, the enterprise is becoming one more tool of divisiveness.
Those of us who are appealing to Snyder’s sense of ethics and morals are barking up the wrong tree. If this were about morality, Snyder would not need surveys and handpicked American Indians to validate his point. He would stand alone on principle.
Snyder’s fight is an economic issue, revolving around licensing, marketing and branding. His stridency is based in money, not morality.
When you follow your wallet and ignore your conscience, you’re headed for moral bankruptcy.