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Mike Davis | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Dear Mr. Snyder
Q & A: Week 17

I should probably start by introducing myself. But instead of boring you with my résumé, I thought it might be fun to share an anecdote from my boyhood. You're only four years older than I am, so you should be able to relate.

The year was 1977. I was eight years old, and my family had just moved to a small college town in the Texas panhandle. (We moved a lot. You get used to it when your dad is a football coach.)

My prize possession was my NFL lunchbox. It featured a tiny embossed helmet for every team in the league--all 28 of them. I carried that lunchbox with me everywhere because I never tired of studying the logos.

As usual, we moved during the summer. My mother made sure that I met some of the local kids before the school year began by getting me involved in church and Cub Scout activities right away.

And so it was that, during my first Cub Scout meeting in my brand new home of Canyon, Texas, I shoved my foot so far into my mouth that I can still taste my Achilles tendon.

The other boys were talking about the wilderness skills they looked forward to learning, but then someone said, "None of that stuff is new to me. I'm part Indian."

"Oh yeah," another boy challenged, "what tribe?"

"I'm one-sixteenth Blackfoot," the first boy said.

"That's cool," the challenger replied. "I'm a quarter Crow."

Then the other boys started making claims more quickly than I could process them. Apache and Comanche went next, which distressed me because those were the only tribes I could have named at that age. I had never heard of the Kiowa, the Sioux, or the Choctaw, but they all sounded authentic.

I didn't say anything because I had no idea what to say, but before I knew it, every other Cub Scout had claimed some kind of lineage from a specific Native American tribe. They were all looking at me. Then one of them said, "Hey, new kid, you got any Indian in you?"

"Sure," I replied.

"Oh yeah? How much, and what tribe?"

"Umm," I stammered as I looked at my NFL lunchbox and tried not to panic. I dismissed the Chiefs because I understood that chiefs were something tribes had, not something they were. Redskin, on the other hand, seemed to have a lot in common with Blackfoot. I decided to take my chances. "I'm . . . one-tenth . . . Redskin," I said at last.

After a few agonizing seconds of silence, the older boys pointed at me and laughed. The younger boys soon followed suit. Some of them thought "one-tenth" was the funny part. Others insisted "Redskin" was the true punch line.

I spent years trying to push that moment of humiliation out of my consciousness, but it came back to haunt me when I stumbled upon a book by Vine Deloria called Custer Died for Your Sins. The book is equal parts outrageous, funny, and thought-provoking, and Deloria got my attention right away by explaining, in the first chapter:

During my three years as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians it was a rare day when some white didn't visit my office and proudly proclaim that he or she was of Indian descent. Cherokee was the most popular tribe of their choice, and many people placed the Cherokees anywhere from Maine to Washington State. . . . At times I became quite defensive about being a Sioux when these white people had a pedigree that was so much more respectable than mine.

I realized something as I read that passage. Yes, I was a jackass when I claimed to be one-tenth Redskin. But I decided those other boys were probably jackasses too. How likely was it that in a room full of white Cub Scouts in a middle-class college town, every single boy apart from me could claim a genetic tie to a different Native American tribe?

Deloria is right. White Americans love to claim that they have Native American ancestors whether it's true or not. I've seen it. I've done it. We can argue about why so many white people do it. But even if our motives are questionable and self-serving, that doesn't mean we're being hateful.

I know myself, and I know what my motives were for claiming to be one-tenth Redskin. I was just trying to fit in with a group of strangers. There wasn't an ounce of hatefulness towards Native Americans in the nonsensical claim I made as an eight-year-old boy.

Moreover, I don't think there's an ounce of hatefulness in your desire, Mr. Snyder, to hang onto the name of the team whose games you grew up watching with your father. I see nothing objectionable in your desire to cling to the glorious history of your storied franchise.

I really don't. I don't think that desire is rooted in mean-spiritedness or intolerance or bigotry. What's more, I don't think you're getting a fair hearing from the many people who have been weighing in on the subject of "demeaning mascots" for decades.

It shocks me to hear people comparing the Redskins logo to Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians. Folks who can't tell the difference between cartoonish caricature and stylized portraiture shouldn't be allowed to sign petitions. When I encounter screeds from pundits against the logo for the Redskins, I never see anyone engaging the excellent point you made in your letter to Redskin fans:

In 1971, our legendary coach, the late George Allen, consulted with the Red Cloud Athletic Fund located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and designed our emblem on the Redskins helmets.

No one mentions the similarities between your dignified logo and the Indian head nickel that remains a favorite among coin collectors not because it's a demeaning caricature, but because it's a powerful image. I have a hard time keeping a straight face when people try to compare your logo to Chief Wahoo. Those comparisons would make me spitting mad if I were the owner of the Redskins. Are you mad, bro? Because it's totally cool if you are. I get it. People are screwing you over every time they make that comparison.

But the logo isn't the real bone of contention, is it? The main problem is the name. We've all seen the objection that practically writes itself. "What if there was a team from Detroit called the Blackskins?" the argument begins. "Or a team from San Francisco called the Yellowskins? Or a team from Phoenix called the Brownskins?" Would names like that even be thinkable? So why is "Redskins" even thinkable as a name?

Duh! If people just say those names aloud, their ears will tell them that Redskins sounds way cooler than any of those other options. No lie. It's got a nice ring to it.

But that doesn't mean it's not racist, say the pundits.

And the second you bring racism into the argument, it's impossible for anyone to think straight anymore. It's certainly impossible for people to talk straight. Everybody starts dancing around the subject.

This is when dialogue shuts down. You have some people who cling to the racism of their forefathers as if it's some kind of comfort food. They say things that make everyone uncomfortable. Then you have the people who are sick to death of arguing about language while we do nothing to change reality. "Instead of spending our energy trying to police people's vocabularies," they object, "why don't we use this as an opportunity to enact real reforms that will improve the quality of life on reservations?" Then someone says, "Why do we even use a system that relies on reservations?" Then everybody gets nervous because real change makes people nervous, and everybody agrees to focus on forcing you (as the owner of the Redskins) to make a trivial, cosmetic alteration.

Making meaningful improvements is hard and expensive. Ganging up on an NFL owner is easy and pretty much free.

That sucks for you, Mr. Snyder. I understand that it sucks for you.

But here's the thing: I need to talk to you man-to-man, football fan-to-football fan, realist-to-realist. Maybe it's outrageous that we now live in an age in which people who turn a blind eye to the racism happening all around them nevertheless become hysterical in response to racist language. Maybe that's a problem that we as a society should work harder to correct. Maybe you want to help with that one; maybe you don't. I don't know, and I don't even care because this argument has never been about reality; it has always been about language.

We can argue that language doesn't really matter, but we all know that's not true. If the words we use don't matter at all, then you would have changed the name of the Redskins by now. But you're standing up for your right, as the owner of an NFL team, to retain the name of the franchise that you purchased.

Once again, I get it. You didn't want to fight with a bunch of strangers in the media about language. Other people have backed you into a corner. You would much rather argue about more serious matters, but this was the fight they picked with you, and now you're just standing up for yourself.

Cool. Cool. Keep fighting the good fight I guess.

Or maybe . . . don't.

Remember when I said I wanted to talk realist-to-realist? As a realist, let me tell you that the controversy about the Redskins name has become wearisome . . . stultifyingly wearisome. When a subject is so wearisome that you find yourself digging up words like "stultifying" to describe it, then you know you're dealing with something that is pretty intense in its wearisomeness.

Look, Dan--can I call you Dan? I'm gonna call you Dan--I think we've both been a little surprised at how tenacious the media has been with this story. I thought they would have dropped it by now, but they're not dropping it. I groaned when I heard Mike Tirico call your team the Washington Washingtons, but that's just one of the many euphemistic workarounds that I've had to endure this season.

At first I agreed with you. I thought that if you refused to change the name, then it wouldn't change. But it is changing. Everybody who wants to get in on the argument is coming up with their own way of referring to the Redskins. The verbal acrobatics are making me tired. And I haven't even mentioned the long, earnest lecture from Bob Costas to which I was subjected while trying to watch a football game. I'm sorry, Dan; I know I should stand by you, but I can't help the way I respond to lectures delivered by Bob Costas. The first time it happened, I blamed him. But the next time he does it, I think I might blame you. I know that's not fair, buddy. But I just need you to make those lectures stop--by any means necessary.

Somewhat more seriously, I want you to think of your legacy. I'm not talking about what happens to your memory after you die. You're a billionaire, so I'm sure you'll be fine. I'm talking about what happens to the Redskins when someone else takes over the team. I'm pretty sure the first thing the new person in charge will do will be to change the name--probably to something really stupid. I don't want to see the Redskins become the Washington Districters or Senators or Potomacs. I don't want to watch a game between the Giants and the Lobbyists or the Eagles and the Campaign Finance Reformers or the Cowboys and the Founding Fathers. We already have the Houston Texans; I'm not sure the league can survive another completely stupid name.

So, while you're still alive and in charge, would you please consider shortening the name to the Skins (which is what everyone calls the Redskins anyway)? Stop for a moment to consider how many good reasons there are for making this change:

1) People already refer to your team as "the Skins" (just as we call the team from Arizona "the Cards" or the team from Green Bay "the Pack").

2) If you print the name "Skins" in red ink, people who value tradition will understand that you still are (and always have been) the red Skins.

3) When kids want to play football even though they have no uniforms to distinguish one team from another, they routinely pit "Shirts" against "Skins." The shortened name would therefore tap into the youthful exuberance that the NFL loves to celebrate.

4) The new logo wouldn't have to be ugly or problematic. It could be a plain, crumpled T-shirt on the ground--suggesting a piece of clothing abandoned by any kid who plays for a "Skins" team.

5) People in the media would stop coming up with annoying euphemisms just to avoid saying "Redskins."

6) We could all get back to focusing on the important things (such as how bad the NFC East is) rather than spending our energy debating how terrible a person you are. (Fun fact: NFL fans care a lot about how much the NFC East sucks; they care a little about whether you are a more meddlesome owner than Jerry Jones; but they don't care at all about whether you are a heroic figure or a despicable human being. After all, Al Davis fell into both categories simultaneously for decades.)

7) Most importantly, changing the name of the team won't prove that your opponents are right, and it won't prove that you are a weakling. It will simply demonstrate that you are a gracious man capable of making conciliatory gestures.

I know that last point is tough to swallow. I know that you bought a team that has enormous sentimental value to you because of how much you enjoyed watching Redskins games with your father. I know that you didn't name the team and that it's unfair for you to be labeled a racist just because the team you bought has a name that some folks find objectionable. I know it's super-unfair that people compare the Redskins logo to Chief Wahoo. Everything about the situation is unfair.

But here's something I never thought I would have to say to a billionaire: Life isn't fair. And seriously, Dan, you're in a much better position to be gracious about this particular unfairness than the folks who had a hemisphere taken from them.

I never met your father, but I understand he was a gifted freelance writer, presumably the kind of writer who could appreciate the effective deployment of rhetoric even if he didn't necessarily agree with the speaker. I don't know if you ever had a chance to discuss Custer Died for Your Sins with your dad, but I suspect he would have admired much of Deloria's prose, such as this passage on Native American identity:

Experts paint us as they would like us to be. Often we paint ourselves as we wish we were or as we might have been. The more we try to be ourselves the more we are forced to defend what we have never been.

Deloria passed away in 2005, but you probably know he was part of the group that put pressure on the Redskins to change their name back in 1992, seven years before you bought the team. I don't know how different things would be now if the Redskins had caved into that pressure before you came into the picture. Maybe you wouldn't have even wanted the team anymore.

But I don't think that's true. I think you can love that team no matter what it's called. And I think you can do us all a favor by letting this one go. Like most football fans, I like the NFL to steer clear of political nonsense. The main reason I enjoy talking to strangers about the Chicago Bears is that it means we aren't talking about the sacred donkeys of the Democrats or the sacred elephants of the Republicans. The never-ending controversy surrounding the name of the Redskins means that the more we talk about your team, the less we talk about football. That controversy has become a tedious distraction. And what would you expect any football coach you've ever met to say about unnecessary distractions?

I'm not asking you to admit to having done anything wrong because I don't think you have. I'm just asking you to take the high road on this one because the low road is getting crowded with a bunch of silly people who just keep chattering non-stop about the Redskins even though they don't know who RG3 is.

If you simply quote that passage from Deloria about Native American identity being complicated and concede that it's possible the Redskin name needlessly complicates the subject even further, you can immediately start calling your team by a name that we're already using (the Skins). Then we can all get back to arguing about the important things in life, such as the Shanahanigans of benching your most electrifying player for the final weeks of the season.


Mike Davis

Survivor Picks - Week 17 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

With most of the games a total crap shoot this week because no one is really sure who will play their starters, I took the "safe route" and stayed with games that had meaning. If this is your "Super Bowl," then why risk your pool on a game where John Doe may be trying out for a job for next season?

#3: Indianapolis over Jacksonville (12-4: KC, NEP, MN, NO, SF, DEN, MIA, GB, SEA, IND, NYG, HOU, DAL, BAL, AZ, SD)

Andrew Luck and company have clinched the AFC South and now are only playing for seeding. Their final regular season game against lowly Jacksonville should be a cakewalk, right? Not so fast. The Jags have covered the spread five of the last seven games and won four of those games. Still, they haven't won a game against a team with a winning record all season. This won't be a pushover as Chad Henne will try to coax as much as he can from his backup wide receivers, but with a home playoff game at stake for the Colts, put your fears to rest and ride them to your Survival Pool championship.

#2: New England Over Buffalo (12-4: DEN, PHL, SF, IND, STL, HOU, GB, SEA, DAL, NYG, SD, DET, JAX, KC, CAR, CIN)

Is there a better December football team than Tom Brady and the New England Patriots? Probably not. The Pats are still playing for the number two seed and a playoff bye week, and if you haven't used Brady and the boys, now is your chance to lock up your pool with one of the best teams at closing out a season. The Bills will try their best to keep up with their division rivals, but their continued futility should continue this week in a game that means a whole lot more to New England than it does to Buffalo

#1: Pittsburgh over Cleveland (11-5: IND, OAK, SEA, DEN, ATL, CHI, SD, SF, CAR, TEN, HOU, NO, NEP, AZ, JAX, DET)

Unbelievably, the Steelers still have a chance to make the playoffs. They will need help from the Chiefs, Bengals and NY Jets, but first they have to go out and win against a Browns team that has lost its defensive edge. Cleveland has lost nine of ten and six in a row since their three-game winning streak early in the season. This week, they should fare no better against a Pittsburgh team that still isn't out of it. This is not going to be a pretty game, but if you are worried about all the other divisional matchups that the NFL has in store for the final week of the season, and don't trust the Dolphins against Rex Ryan and crew to lay down and die, then take a gamble on Big Ben as he tries to rally the troops for what might be his final game in western PA.

Mike Davis has been writing about fantasy football since 1999. As a landlocked Oklahoman who longs for the sound of ocean waves, he also writes about ocean colonization under the pen name Studio Dongo. The latest installment in his science fiction series can be found here.