Daniel Snyder, the owner of Washington’s NFL team, made a rare radio appearance Monday afternoon, taking a break from preseason training camp to further defend his team’s name from critics who note that it is a “dictionary-defined slur.”
Speaking with former Washington tight end Chris Cooley on ESPN980, Snyder reiterated claims that the team’s name is an honor to Native Americans.
“It’s honor. It’s respect. It’s pride,” Snyder said, according to a transcript from the Washington Post. “And I think that every player here sees it, feels it, every alumni feels it, and it’s a wonderful thing, it’s a historic thing. It’s a very historic franchise, it’s been a pleasure.”
Snyder spoke of the trips he has taken to Native American reservations and the Original Americans Foundation he launched earlier this year to donate money to reservations and help him learn about the “real plight” of Native Americans.
“I think that when you go out there, and I would just encourage people — the politicians that have fun with our football team’s name — I would encourage them to actually go out there and learn, and listen to really what’s happening in Indian Country, so that they could help Indian country,” Snyder said.
“And this is not PR, we don’t have PR people doing this stuff, this is really genuine, and from that standpoint, just like our foundation here locally, it’s sixteen years running that we’ve been doing this,” he continued. “You talk about the millions of dollars this year, it’s been every year, and we don’t really brag about it, it’s not something that we’re going out doing. This is even more so that way, this is something that needs to be done, that — we were moved. And it’s something that I think that in five years, in 10 years, in 15 years, in 20 years, we’ll be very proud of.”
Though Snyder insists the foundation is not a public relations ploy, his opponents certainly took its launch that way. Suzan Shown Harjo, one of the leading activists against the name, called it a “stunt,” and Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), the co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, slammed Snyder for trying to “buy the silence of Native Americans.”
Snyder and his franchise are certainly running a public relations effort to defend the name, and even the interview is a clear part of it. Cooley is an ardent proponent of keeping the name and a member of the steering committee for RedskinsFacts.com, a web site launched last week to help defend the name. ESPN980, the network that broadcasts Cooley’s show, is owned by Snyder. And as ThinkProgress reported in January, the team has enlisted the help of high-profile Washington communications consultants, including veteran communications guru Frank Luntz, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, lobbyist and former White House official Lanny Davis, and former Virginia governor and senator George Allen. Luntz conducted a focus group that featured questions about the name in 2013, and he has appeared on TV to defend it since. The team started sending emails featuring quotes from fans supporting the name earlier this year.
RedskinsFacts.com was the latest part of the PR drive, and Snyder pushed the idea that the name’s opponents need to look at the “facts” around the history of the moniker the team has used since 1933.
“You know, I think it would be nice, and forget the media from that perspective, but really focus on the fact that — the facts, the history, the truth, the tradition,” Snyder said, citing the fact that the team’s logo was designed by a Native American. “And that’s one example of just the facts, and the truth, and the things that a lot of people ignore, and I think that it’s time that people look at the truth, and the history, and real meanings, and look at us for what we are. We’re a historic football team that’s very proud, that has a great legacy, that honors and respects people.”
As ThinkProgress reported last week, the web site leaves out many of the facts that bolster arguments made by the name’s opponents, like the evolving nature of the word “redskin,” the background of the coach the team has cited as a justification for the name, and the idea that Native Americans find the name, in Snyder’s words, an example of “honor,” “respect,” and “pride.”
Snyder has rarely spoken publicly about the name since insisting to USA Today’s Erik Brady last year that he would “NEVER” change it. He wrote a letter to fans in October defending it.
The Change The Mascot campaign blasted Snyder in a statement released Monday night, particularly for saying in the interview that “it’s sort of fun to talk about the name of our football team, because it gets some attention for some of the people that write it, that need clicks, or what have you.”
“Washington team owner Dan Snyder’s comments are proof that he is living in a bigoted billionaire bubble,” the statement said. “For him to claim that a racial slur is ‘fun’ is grotesque. For him to say that opposition to that slur is only from ‘people who need [Internet] clicks’ adds insult to injury, considering the fact that groups representing hundreds of thousands of people of color are calling on him to change his team’s name. There is nothing ‘fun’ about his desire to continue promoting, marketing and profiting from a term screamed at Native Americans as they were dragged at gunpoint off their lands. Mr. Snyder would know there’s nothing ‘fun’ about this had he not refused to meet with the scores of Native American groups who are urging him to change the mascot and stop mocking their culture.”
In addition to Native American tribes and organizations, a long list of politicians, including Senate and House leaders and President Obama, have spoken out against the name, as have civil rights and religious groups. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeals Board in June invalidated six of the team’s trademarks on grounds that the term “redskin” was “disparaging to Native Americans.”