NFL team owner is a man who is determined to cling to a questionable tradition.
In the controversy over his NFL football team's nickname, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is no misguided good guy.
To give him that absolution is to allow for the possibility that there were good slave owners. To accept the argument that he is a well-meaning innocent, who mistakenly persists in using an offensive slang as his team's moniker, gives credence to those who draw a coddling distinction between a segregationist and a racist.
In continuing to call his team the Redskins -- over the objection of some Native American groups -- Snyder deserves no such parsing of his intent or motivation. He is, by his own words, a man who is determined to cling to a questionable tradition. "Our past isn't just where we came from – it's who we are," Snyder wrote in a letter last month to his team's fans.
For a big part of its past, the team that moved to Washington in 1937 was the flagship of bigotry in professional football. It wasn't until 1962 that Washington became the last NFL team to integrate its locker room. For many years, the team's fight song, "Hail to the Redskins," urged players to "fight for old Dixie" -- a shameless appeal to the Southern fan base the football club tried to cultivate during the Jim Crow years.
"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 the years to come," Snyder went on to say in his open letter.
But, in fact, the team came from Boston, where it began play in 1932 as the Boston Braves. The next year it was renamed the Redskins. That wasn't the team's only short-lived tradition. After buying the team in 1999, Snyder changed the name of its stadium from Jack Kent Cooke Stadium to Redskins Stadium. Not long after that he renamed it again to FedEx Field after the worldwide delivery company agreed to pay $205 million for the right to put its name on it. That proved that at least where money is involved, a name change for some part of his team is not immutable.
It also suggests that Snyder might be holding out for another naming rights deal. The Oneida Indian Nation, an upstate New York Indian tribe that owns a large casino resort in the Empire State, has led the push to change the nickname of Snyder's team. Last week, the NFL owner went to Alabama to visit leaders of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which also operates casinos and has complained about his team's use of the Native American pejorative.
Maybe Snyder is trying to set off a bidding war among Native American tribes for the right to get him to do the right thing. Maybe not. For sure, something other than good sense seems to motivate Snyder's refusal to end this controversy.
The strongest tradition of Washington's NFL franchise is its history of change. Pressured by John F. Kennedy's administration, it desegregated the team. Under Snyder, there's been nothing but change. He has hired six head coaches in 10 seasons. Snyder fired Vinny Cerrato, his team's executive vice president for football operations in 2009, because he didn't stop Snyder from making a bad hiring decision.
All of this suggests that the controversy over the offensive nickname of Snyder's football team has little to do with tradition and more to do with his bullheaded resistance to a change he has chosen to fight.
DeWayne Wickham writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY.
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