Art of the Union

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Chief Snyder has made his decree - the name stays. Responding to Harry Reid and his rabble-rousing band of congressional troublemakers, Dan Snyder - medicine man of the DC Metro sports complex - is battling again for the Redskins’ name. Feeling a strong sense of deja vu, Snyder is hitching his bandwagon to the idea that the Redskins name is beneficial and beloved by Native Americans. Sort of like the Kix cereal of sports - white guy tested, native approved. Except of course that it’s not, and Snyder is getting all of the profits while Native Americans are getting a big helping of “respect," which is usually P.R. speak for "nothing."

The funny thing about the Snyder talking about surveys in support of his team name is that his stats seem to come from pure junk. The American University Washington College of Law has an interesting takedown of the 10 year old Annenberg survey that Snyder is clinging to like it’s an 1880’s gold-mining deed to a native’s property. Some of the issues cited in the breakdown of the sloppy survey include it’s small scope (only 768 people were polled), the question asked was a confusing double negative, the poll was delivered using landlines, and what I find most damning, it relied on the participants to self-identify as Native American with no follow up.

A sad fact of being Native American is that for centuries your people and culture have been on the chopping block, and once you’re near wiped out, everyone claims to be one with you. There’s a good chance that anyone who has ever ridden in a van with Steppenwolf blaring form the stereo will call themselves Native American. Doubly so if that individual has a wolf tattooed on them. Grandfather in a picture smoking American Spirits? That could make Gran’pappy O’Doyle a Cherokee Chieftain. I witnessed a firsthand case of indian-claiming when my tattoo artists daughter stormed into the shop and inquired about “how much indian” they were so she could apply for some scholarships. But those are now the breaks of history - Native Americans have had others speaking for their best interests since the encroachment on their lives began. In the past it was for their “assimilation” into society, and now it’s telling them that they actually like the name Redskin and should be happy with it.

This is neither here nor there, though, because I have a solution to what currently ails Snyder. While it was a nice gesture for Snyder to buy Native Americans heavy jackets at the tail end of winter and a backhoe to till their dry dirt over 100 years after the Dawes Act pushed them onto the sub-par lint-trap land plots, there lays something more substantive. Something that can touch what seems to be the true matter here - marketing. It’s a plan that would allow the Redskins to keep their logo and color while only sacrificing the name, and it’s a solution that can be found in Utah.

The Ute Indians inhabited the Western desert, roaming the “land of the sun” for centuries before European explorers would transform the continent into an apple-pie eatin’, football-loving America. And when other franchises were swooping up Native American identities like it was a $5 DVD bin at Best Buy, the Utes were able to work a deal that was beneficial for all parties involved. The Ute tribe and the University of Utah have between them a signed “memorandum of understanding" which allows the school to use the Ute name with certain perks for the tribe. On the University’s end, they have pledged to fund scholarship programs for Native Americans, educate people about the Ute tribes past, and promote fan behavior that doesn’t degrade American Indians - i.e. no dressing up in head dress and drunkenly shouting "how" for 2 hours.

So would something like this be feasible for the Redskins? While they certainly aren’t a school, I would think that the team has ample revenue to create some real, effective outreach programs (they are the NFL’s most profitable team). Snyder’s just going to need to take chastity belt off the piggy bank. And c’mon, the D.C. area isn’t lacking in a rich American Indian history that could be promoted by such a name change agreement. Perhaps the Powhatan - the native people who lived among the first English settlers at Jamestown. Certainly that’s a history that could benefit from a deal similar the Ute-Utah memorandum and have some money put into educating fans on their history beyond the “Pocahontas” movies. Why not partner with the local tribes to establish a scholarship open to all Native Americans while setting up a larger educational program based on the Powhatan tribes or go to their even broader Algonquian umbrella. And since we’ve established that a football team is not a school, the scholarship could be awarded once a year and the educational aspect could be through print collateral and summertime events. It is even conceivable to think that Snyder could remain a stingy cheapskate and not have to pay for new branding/advertising since his team would retain the Native American theme. All that would need changed would be the typography for the new name, and old merchandise could be recycled through a buyback/trade in program - similar to what the New England Patriots did after Aaron Hernandez turned in his cleats to become deaths right hand. The Washington Powhatan, it could grow on me.

Admittedly this plan is a longshot, skimming the edge of the galaxy of likelihood. Too many parties would have to come together and meet in some sort of an agreement, something that no one seems able to do when it comes to the Redskins. But, it is a plan, and that’s one thing we can agree that Dan Snyder will need. As much as he fights it, this issue has penetrated the sphere of influence, and changes are bound to happen. When you have a band made up of 50 U.S. Senators, the Oneida Indian Nation and the National Congress of American Indians circling you, it will be almost certain that you’ll have one hell of a fight before you to retain the status quo.

Here’s my first published Op-Ed! I’m pretty pumped to put it mildly. It’s a version of my piece about Native American history that happened simultaneously alongside the Redskin’s formation as a team and it’s up on the Baltimore Sun’s website.


Is it possible to brand a race? Dan Snyder is willing to bet the estate on it. The owner of the Washington Redskins has adorned himself with his finest pair of marketing pants and declared that he will not change his football franchise’s name in the foreseeable future. For Snyder, the team’s name has transcended it’s racist connotations and has morphed into a flag of pride for those who follow it. In a letter to his fans, he waxes nostalgic about being born a Redskin. He fondly recalls his first game with his father and the chilling experience and atmosphere. But the question has to be asked for those who weren’t born “Redskins” but actual Native Americans - can an entire history be rewritten on a feel good whim at the behest of sports fandom? The trials of the Native is not a dust covered relic from ages ago, but rather just yesterday in our country’s timeline.

At the tail-end of the 19th Century, Native Americans - spurned on by a religious awakening of Native’s that was permeating throughout the United States - sought to alleviate their plight through an exercise that would come to be known as the “Ghost Dance." The purveying thought was that the Native’s way of life had been decimated as a punishment from the Gods for abandoning their culture and traditions, and if the Sioux were to participate in the Ghost Dance, it would cleanse their spirit and return them to a time before the white man had turned their land and animals into kitsch collectibles.

As was to be expected, the suits in Washington viewed this with spectacles that were forged from Manifest Destiny. No virtues were seen in a spiritual awakening for the Native’s, and was instead seen as a precursor to an Indian uprising. A boiling point was reached in the Winter of 1890, on a frigid morning in South Dakota. On December 29, the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry intercept a group of of 300 Native’s outside of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The group was treated as a hostile force and transported to Wounded Knee Creek. In an effort to disarm the group, a struggle broke out between a deaf Native and a cavalryman, causing the deaf man’s gun to be fired. U.S. forces promptly mowed down the group of Native’s, killing upwards of 300 men, women, and children. Those who did not die by gunfire froze to death in the winter chill. This would mark the last major exchange between the Native’s and the U.S. military, and the 1890 census would officially declare the American Frontier closed. 43 years later in 1933, the Boston Braves would play their first game as the Redskins.

That may seem like a long gap, but given how fleeting time is, it’s not. Children who lived during the Wounded Knee Massacre would now be parental age, young adults would now be senior citizens. Generations of people who came of age with the Native as their supposed enemy were now watching and hearing about a football team named “Redskins.” And, despite the fact that Wounded Knee marked the last “battle” of the American Indian Wars, small skirmishes would help keep alive the malice towards the race of the new football team’s namesake. That malice would not flicker out, either. As The Redskins flourished throughout the 20th century, Native Americans were suffering at the hand of racism and discrimination.

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I will be rooting for Baltimore tonight, for multiple reasons. The main reason being that I’m a Dallas fan, so there are 4 NFC teams that I’m inclined to root against: The Redskins, Giants, Eagles, and Niners. Reason number 2 being that I absolutely hate the Pittsburgh Steelers, so seeing their nemesis win the Superbowl will bring me great joy as I picture all of the terrible towels laying silent in a closet as The Ravens hoist the trophy over their head.

I will be rooting for Baltimore tonight, for multiple reasons. The main reason being that I’m a Dallas fan, so there are 4 NFC teams that I’m inclined to root against: The Redskins, Giants, Eagles, and Niners. Reason number 2 being that I absolutely hate the Pittsburgh Steelers, so seeing their nemesis win the Superbowl will bring me great joy as I picture all of the terrible towels laying silent in a closet as The Ravens hoist the trophy over their head.

Last night while catching up on the days news, I was introduced to the concept of the end of the NFL. The article in question, an interview with Ravens Safety Bernard Pollard, predicts that the end of professional football will come at the hands of disgruntled fans who will grow tired of the games rules and regulations. 

Further investigation lead me to read articles predicting that parents will quit letting their kids play football due to new research linking brain damage to the game, eventually drying up the talent pool.

I for one am inclined to brush the doomsayers to the side, if only because people who usually make such bold predictions fail to realize that their opinion is one of a handful. Take for instance professional wrestling. Despite numerous crippling injuries and suicides, the WWE still thrives as a half-naked multi-million dollar toy machine.

There have been many theories on how the NFL can “save” it’s game, whether it be more rules or less tackling and pads (which, as a former rugby player, I can say first hand does not stop bad head injuries). 

If I could postulate my own opinion, I believe that the NFL should implement size restrictions on it’s players. Now hear me out. Throughout the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, the NFL had a love affair with it’s fans because it wasn’t watered down with rules as it is today. I believe that the onset of such rules came about as players morphed from larger than average men into striated industrial appliances. An impact from Jack Lambert would hurt, but not nearly as much as one from a modern Universal Soldier like James Harrison.

Just look at a position comparison. Compare linebacker legend Mike Singletary to modern day linebacker Ray Lewis. Singletary, a Hall of Famer, looks like your uncle who works construction. On the opposite end, Lewis looks like a monster who was pulled out of a Universal Studios warehouse.

If the NFL pushed more natural bodied players over performance enhanced monstrosities, and couple that with the new helmet designs that will undoubtedly be developed overtime to help absorb shock, perhaps the NFL would no longer have a need to keep thinking of the best ways to protect the players from each other.