Lessons Not Yet Learned: New Washington Redskins Foundation CEO Under Federal Investigation

File:Joe Gibbs during Redskins training camp, August 2005.jpg

Earlier this week, The Washington Redskins announced that in light of the increased criticism regarding their racially offensive team name, they had created a “Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation” intended to “offer genuine opportunities for tribal communities”.  New revelations show that Gary L. Edwards, the recently hired CEO leading the foundation, is currently under federal investigation for “defective contracts” said to have cost the Bureau of Indian Affairs nearly 1 million dollars.

While Team Owner Dan Snyder claims to have visited over 26 tribal reservations in 20 states prior to coming to the conclusion that a foundation was the best way to address protests regarding the team’s name, it’s hard to believe that the takeaway was to create a foundation bearing the same team name. The Washington Post editorial board also weighed in saying as much:

But no matter how much Mr. Snyder’s foundation accomplishes, it cannot make his team’s name any less offensive — or negate the need to change it.

We take Mr. Snyder at his word that he doesn’t see the name as a slur. It has a storied tradition, polls show it retains many supporters, it is not intended to wound. None of that changes this fact: You would not, by any means, call an Original American a “Redskin” to his or her face. Why not? Because it is a slur — a hurtful, demeaning label. Language changes over time. The respectful response is to acknowledge that and move on.

What makes the situation so infuriating is the team’s indignation in the face of hurt feelings and racial stereotyping.  Earlier this year NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell explained that the league was reviewing feedback regarding the team name.  I didn’t find his rationale credible then and I don’t find the reasoning behind bypassing a name change and creating a new “Redskins Foundation” credible now.  Yet that’s what happened.  The team claims that they’re listening to the feedback from audiences and they’re paying attention.  Yet they couldn’t even manage to properly vet the person they put in charge of the foundation?

These revelations suggest that the point of view they’re pandering to is one that they see as little more than an inconvenience.  The distraction this has caused for the team is an embarrassment and what’s desperately needed is solidarity across all types of people saying as much.

That said, even solidarity can sometimes be a complicated ordeal as demonstrated by Stephen Colbert over the past few days. Colbert took on The Red Skins by creating an offensive character of his own with its own corresponding “sensitivity” foundation. However, Colbert’s faux character serves as its own cautionary tale.   When a context-less tweet on the subject was sent out after the episode Twitter erupted in protest with the #cancelcolbert hashtag.  Context or not– the message being sent was that it was okay to degrade one group of people in order to show solidarity with another. Best intentions aside, that’s not okay either.

The ultimate takeaway from this back and forth is that words matter and nobody’s perfect.  An earlier draft of this post mentioned Colbert’s bit without acknowledging the problematic implications.  It’s easy to assume the best intentions and keep moving–  but solidarity isn’t easy.  It’s important to listen and pay attention and work to think beyond your circumstances best intentions aside.

So along those lines the course of action should be clear. People have repeatedly said that the term “redskins” is offensive. There are hurt feelings as a result of the team name and the already problematic team foundation.  Those feelings will carry far more weight than however many games are won, or how many team sweaters are sold. Those feelings will be remembered as a result of those who do speak up, foundation or not.

I’m willing to bet that some day in the not too distant future the concept of an NFL team named The Washington Redskins that went down kicking and screaming will be a point of dismay and embarrassment for sports lovers far and wide.

It’s time to change the name.

Visit Change The Mascot for more information on how to get involved.


Photo by dbking under creative commons license

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