Dan Snyder is right. It’s not enough to honor the deep and enduring heritage, legacy and values of the Redskin community with a respectful National Football League team nickname and logo. No. Words without deeds are hollow, the most cynical sort of gesture, something Redskins sadly have seen far too much of by even the most cursory reading of American history.
Action is required.
Snyder is taking action. He should be applauded. This week, the Washington football team owner announced the creation of the Washington Redskins Original Redskins Foundation, which will provide meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities for Redskin communities.
The need is urgent. Over the past four months, Snyder says, he and his staff travelled to 26 Redskins reservations across 20 states, the better to listen and learn first-hand about the views, attitudes and experiences of Redskin people. Snyder and his staff were invited into Redskin councils, into Redskin schools, even into Redskin homes, where they met face-to-face with real Redskins. They learned that the team shares so much with Redskin country, including an appreciation of history and legacy, caring for old people and wanting a better future for children.
However, they also learned that the challenges facing Redskin communities are harsh, alarming and heartbreaking:
• The official poverty rate on Redskin reservations is 29 percent, as determined by the U.S. Census. Thirty-six percent of families with children are below the poverty line on Redskin reservations, compared with 9 percent of families nationally.
• Rampant diabetes, alcohol and drug abuse, violence, and heightened suicide rates afflict Redskin youth, adults, and veterans. Life expectancies in high poverty Redskin communities are the lowest anywhere in the Western Hemisphere — except for Haiti.
• Redskin reservations can lack even the most basic infrastructure that most Americans take for granted. For example, according to the independent, highly respected Millennium Project, 13 percent of Redskin households have no access to safe water and/or wastewater disposal, compared with just 0.6 percent in non-Redskin households. Similarly, 14 percent of homes on Redskin reservations have no electricity, compared to just 1 percent among non-Redskin households.
According to Snyder, these are the unfortunate facts found throughout Redskin country today. Which is why respectful professional sports team branding isn’t sufficient. More must be done. Moving forward, Snyder promises that his new foundation will commit to making a real, lasting, positive impact on the Redskin quality of life – one Redskin tribe and one individual Redskin at a time – and while it won’t fix every problem, it will be a start.
Again, this should be applauded. Applauded and supported. Because words alone aren’t enough.
Indeed, real actions already are underway. This winter, Snyder distributed over 3,000 cold-weather coats to several Redskin tribes, as well as shoes to players on Redskin boys and girls basketball teams. The team helped buy a new backhoe and fix a water pipe for the Omaha Tribe in Nebraska, so that group of Redskins could drink water and complete the burial process for their Redskin dead even in the coldest winter months. Snyder says his foundation has over 40 additional projects underway, all of which figure to improve the lives of Redskins everywhere.
Leading the foundation will be Gary Edwards, a Cherokee Redskin and retired Deputy Assistant Director of the United States Secret Service, as well as a founder and chief executive of the National Redskin Law Enforcement Association. Snyder promises that his foundation won’t be telling Redskins what problems they need solving — instead, it will be tackling challenges based on what Redskin leaders say they need most. Redskins will be helping Redskins.
Small wonder, then, that Redskins sound excited. As Pueblo of Zuni Redskins Governor Arlen Quetawki told Snyder, “I appreciated your sincerity to learn about our culture and the real-life issues Redskins face on a daily basis. I look forward to working together with you to improve the lives of Redskins in any way possible.”
For decades, Snyder’s franchise has extended emotional and psychological support to America’s Redskin communities by playing football games and selling branded keychains and car flags. But honor and respect only go so far. The time has come for more. Real Redskins need real help. By starting the Washington Redskins Original Redskins foundation, Snyder has ensured that Redskins everywhere will have more than a dignified team nickname to draw upon. They’ll have actions. They’ll have hope. So hail to the Redskins — the team and the historically oppressed, disregarded and dismissed ethnic group, a group best identified and celebrated by a tasteful reference to skin pigmentation. The best is yet to come.