For the fourth time in the last month, the Washington Redskins have released a piece of their “Community Voices” program, a series of emails team owner Daniel Snyder received from fans as he led a public campaign to save the name from Native Americans who say it is offensive and should change.
The Community Voices series, the team says, shows broad support for the name across communities — and from Native Americans themselves. According to the first release, the team received thousands of letters in support after Snyder wrote a public letter defending the name in October. At the same time, the team said it received only seven letters from Native Americans opposed to the name.
Many of those supporting the name, the team points out, have connections to the Native American community, even if only 200 or so of the “more than 7,000” letters it received were from Native Americans. Here’s a sampling of the responses included in the fourth release, which came out Monday:
“My grandfather was three fourths Cherokee. I am not offended. I have been a Redskin fan since I was a child. Keep up the good fight, tradition and honor.” — Penny Pitre, Cherokee (Round Rock, Texas)
“The Redskins Have been my team since I was a teenager. I am now in 60’s. Redskin in [sic] not derogatory to me. I am part Indian and it does not offend me nor my siblings.”- Lonna Crouch (Virginia Beach, Va.)
“I have always been a Redskin fan. My Great Grandfather was a Chief of the Ottawa Indian Tribe. I have never taken offense to the name of the team. … Thank you so much for fighting to preserve our beloved name ‘The Washington Redskins’.” — Robert Repka, Ottawa (Scurry, Texas)
“I have loved the Redskins for many years and do not think that a change in name is necessary. Anyway, I am part Cherokee Indian and do not find the name one bit offensive. The Redskins have a great heritage and I do not think that anything should change.”- Carolyn Blevins, Cherokee (Bristol, Va.)
The design of this program is meant to illustrate two points Snyder and the Redskins like to make: first, that they are encouraging a conversation about the name and open to criticism of it, and second, that they just aren’t hearing much criticism of it.
“It is essential for Redskins Nation to know what the majority of Native Americans really think — in their own words — and why it is so important that we listen to their voices on this issue,” the team’s first release, issued in February, said. “We should not turn our back on these Native Americans. Their voices deserve to be heard. We want Redskins Nation and the sports world to know what many Native Americans really think and why our name is their source of pride.”
There are problems with leaning too heavily on Community Voices as any sort of legitimate point on this issue, not least of which is that none of the statements of the people involved are verified.
But the major problem with Community Voices is that it ignores the actual claims Native Americans who don’t like hte name make against it. Community Voices tells us that there are football fans and Native Americans who support the name, but no one disputes that. What Community Voices doesn’t address is the actual claims some Native Americans make against it. Community Voices doesn’t dispute (or attempt to dispute) whether the name is an offensive term. Neither does it challenge or refute the studies groups like the National Congress of American Indians use to argue that the continued use of Native American imagery in sports has harmful psychological and sociological effects on their community. It doesn’t address why two-thirds of the sports team names that utilized Native American imagery in 1970 have changed or the fact that most of those changes occurred because Native American organizations, tribes, and student groups had called for change.
Community Voices leans on people who say they don’t find the name offensive. Like NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, it never makes it clear exactly how many people would have to find the name offensive for change to be a legitimate consideration.
Community Voices isn’t an argument for keeping the name. It’s a public relations strategy built to further ignore, obscure, and deflect questions and claims for which Snyder and his football team still have no answer.