Idon’t have to check his résumé to know that Dan Snyder did not go to St. Bonaventure. If he had, the Franciscan friars would have injected the owner of the NFL’s Washington Redskins with racial sensitivity and new-world empathy.
More than 20 years ago, school officials – in a move as proactive as it was pre-emptive – erased the school’s “Brown Indians” alternative team name from its public spaces and collective conscience. While absolving the school of ill intent, local Senecas who were consulted felt that the connection – in the words of Bona spokesman Tom Missel – “contributed to exploitation and racial stereotyping.”
No more Indian-head figure painted at center court. No more student mascots garbed in brown buckskin and feathered headdresses. The misgivings of indigenous neighbors was all it took for Bona – subsequently known only as the Bonnies – in 1992 to change its ways. Instead of, like Snyder, acting like the Ugly Non-Native American.
If Snyder had a smidgen of sensitivity, he would not now be a piñata for commentators and other racially aware Americans. The uproar surrounding his continuing defense of the team name exploded this past week into a firestorm. President Obama suggested that he would favor a name change. Oneida Indian officials held a racial-sensitivity symposium in Washington, within a mile of Tuesday’s NFL owners meeting. The image-obsessed NFL – sweating under the strain of propping up Snyder’s cluelessness – showed signs that it’s ready to wave the white flag.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, ever-protective of the league’s spit-shined “brand,” said he will soon meet with Oneida officials. Ray Halbritter, a leader of the upstate Oneida Nation, has fierce pride in his ancestry and millions in casino profits to back his convictions. The Oneidas recently launched a website – changethemascot.org – and are running anti-Redskin radio ads in every market the team plays in. With a deep-pocketed, high-profile Indian tribe now voicing its displeasure, I suspect that “Redskins” will join “Amos ’n’ Andy” and minstrel shows on history’s scrap heap.
With good reason. “Redskins” is no more defensible than “Darkies” or “Chinks.” I think we have enough problems without sports teams self-identifying with slurs. What’s the point? If numerous members of a race, religion or nationality are offended by a team name, it should be Game Over. There are plenty of generic Wildcats, Tigers, Panthers and the like to go around.
Despite remnants of anachronism – from high school holdouts such as the local Lancaster Redskins (now being reconsidered), to the Cleveland Indians’ odious Chief Wahoo caricature – any team still sporting a racially insulting nickname is on the wrong side of history.
A horde of institutions over the years have realized that sentiment – Snyder’s line of defense – is no rationale for racism. From St. John’s (Redmen to Red Storm) to Colgate (Red Raiders to Raiders), numerous schools swapped the short-term pain of alumni/fan backlash for long-term enlightenment. The dwindling number of holdouts look increasingly arrogant or thick-skulled – adjectives, not coincidentally, that Washington football fans have long applied to Snyder.
St. Bonaventure got in front of this 20 years ago. Snyder’s Redskins are, sadly, still playing from behind.