Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder says respect goes both ways when it comes to the debate over the team’s nickname.
The man who ultimately gets to decide whether the name stays or goes offered his thoughts on the matter Tuesday in a letter to season-ticket holders, the first time he has addressed at length the change-the-name campaign that has picked up momentum this year.
The tone of the letter suggests that no change is under consideration.
"I’ve listened carefully to the commentary and perspectives on all sides, and I respect the feelings of those who are offended by the team name," the letter states. "But I hope such individuals also try to respect what the name means, not only for all of us in the extended Washington Redskins family, but among Native Americans too."
The letter recalls Snyder’s experience when he attended his first Redskins game at age 6 and cites polls and anecdotal evidence that indicate support for the name from Native Americans. It states that the original Boston Redskins had a Native American coach before the franchise relocated to Washington, even though research shows that it is unclear whether William "Lone Star" Dietz was an actual Indian or whether he stole the identity of a missing man from the Oglala Sioux tribe.
"The name was never a label," Snyder’s letter states. "It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor."
While there have been groups calling for a name change for decades, a series of events this year has put the Redskins on the defensive like never before. Snyder has hired Lanny Davis, an adviser in the Clinton White House who specializes in managing political crises, as an adviser on the matter. The letter released Tuesday shows more sensitivity than the owner’s last on-the-record comment on the topic, when he told USA Today in May: "We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps."
In recent months, local leaders in Washington and some members of Congress have called for a name change, and some media outlets have stopped using the name. It is also the subject of a long-running legal challenge from a group of American Indians seeking to block the team’s federal trademark protection.
Last week, President Barack Obama told The Associated Press that he would "think about changing" the name if he owned the team. This week, the NFL said it will meet with an Indian tribe that has been pushing for a change, and Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday that the league needs to "carefully listen" to critics of the name and "make sure we’re doing what’s right."
Goodell has said that it is ultimately Snyder’s call as to whether the name will be changed. For now, it appears the owner is not budging.
"I respect the opinions of those who disagree. I want them to know that I do hear them, and I will continue to listen and learn," the letter states. "But we cannot ignore our 81 year history, or the strong feelings of most of our fans as well as Native Americans throughout the country. 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."