Dan Snyder defends 'Redskins'

Updated: October 10, 2013, 11:34 AM ET
By John Keim | ESPN.com

ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder again defended the franchise's nickname, this time in a letter to season-ticket holders, pointing to tradition and arguing that the team's past "isn't just where we came from -- it's who we are."

Snyder wrote to fans that he wanted them to "hear straight from me on the issue."

Snyder The name was never a label. It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor.

-- Owner Dan Snyder, defending team name in letter to season-ticket holders

"The name was never a label," Snyder said in the letter. "It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor."

Snyder said that four players plus the coach were Native Americans on the first Boston Redskins roster. There is controversy as to whether coach William "Lone Star" Dietz was a Native American.

There has been a surge of interest in changing the team's nickname, starting in the offseason.

President Barack Obama said Saturday that if he were the owner, he would consider changing the name. Through it all, Snyder has remained resolute about not changing it.

"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," Snyder wrote. "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."

That's much softer than what he told USA Today Sports in May: "We'll never change the name. It's simple. NEVER -- you can use caps."

Snyder said there's a plaque on a wall at Redskins Park that was given to former coach George Allen from the Red Cloud Athletic Fund, which is located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Snyder said in 1971, Allen consulted with the Red Cloud Athletic Fund to design the emblem on the Redskins' helmets, changing it from the "R" to the current American Indian head. Allen's son Bruce, the team's general manager, talked about this in February as well.

"Washington Redskins is more than a name we have called our football team for over eight decades," Snyder wrote. "It is a symbol of everything we stand for: strength, courage, pride, and respect -- the same values we know guide Native Americans and which are embedded throughout their rich history as the original Americans."

Snyder also talked about his link to the team, going to games at RFK Stadium as a 6-year-old with his father. And seeing his father smile when singing the team's fight song, "Hail to the Redskins."

"That tradition -- the song, the cheer -- it mattered so much to me as a child, and I know it matters to every other Redskins fan in the D.C. area and across the nation," Snyder wrote.

Snyder pointed out that the Annenberg Public Policy Center polled nearly 1,000 self-identified Native Americans from across the continental U.S. and found that 90 percent of Native Americans did not find the team name "Washington Redskins" to be "offensive." And he cited a 2013 Associated Press survey that found 79 percent of respondents said the team should not change its name -- and only 11 percent believed it should.

"When I consider the Washington Redskins name, I think of what it stands for," Snyder wrote. "I think of the Washington Redskins traditions and pride I want to share with my three children, just as my father shared with me -- and just as you have shared with your family and friends."

He closed the letter with a nod to opponents of the nickname but clearly with a desire to keep the name.

"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. 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. We are Redskins Nation ... and we owe it to our fans and coaches and players, past and present, to preserve that heritage."

In a statement, the Oneida Indian Nation, which has been running radio ads calling for the team to change its name and hosted a symposium on the topic in Washington this week, said Snyder continues to miss their point.

"The marketing of this racial slur has had -- and continues to have -- very serious cultural, political, and public health consequences for my people and Native Americans everywhere. It is clear from Mr. Snyder's letter that he does not understand those consequences," Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter said.

John Keim

ESPN Washington Redskins reporter

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