So far, Dan Snyder, the unrepentant owner of the Washington Redskins professional football team, has faced down pressure from President Obama, half of the U.S. Senate, some Native Americans and activists, federal trademark authorities and about 40% of players in the National Football League. But he might finally be facing a force strong enough to make him scrap the racial epithet that is his team’s name.
That force is the Fritz Pollard Alliance, a little-known organization that was instrumental in forcing the NFL into more diversification in their coaching and front-office hires. The group, named after the NFL’s first African American coach, came together after a 2002 report by Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. and Cyrus Mehri that found black coaches were held to higher performance standards than their white peers, which made it harder for them to be hired and to hold onto coaching positions. In its aftermath, the NFL adopted a rule that at least one African American must be interviewed for head coaching or senior staff openings (with some measurable results).
Now the same group is targeting the name of Snyder’s team. The Washington Post detailed the history of the alliance’s behind-the-scene efforts to persuade both Snyder and his team officials, and the NFL, that the name should be changed. Snyder last year put together a public relations campaign to try to counter the demands for the name change, including forming a nonprofit to provide some aid to reservations, many of them marked by deep poverty.
But this isn’t a problem that can be pushed away with a handful of cash.
Members of the Fritz Pollard Alliance told the Post that they decided to go public after their efforts to work with Snyder and the NFL hit a wall, including open hostility by Washington representatives during private meetings. And former New York Giants player Harry Carson, the alliance executive director, said team president Bruce Allen rebuffed him when he approached him on the sidelines of a game in December. The issue, Carson quoted Allen as saying, was over, and was sputtering on only because of politicians seeking to make political hay.
So the alliance has made their opposition public, and is insisting the NFL intervene and force Snyder to change the team’s name. As the Post points out, the difference now is the group making the demand is part of the NFL family (some alliance members work for the league). The alliance might not be able to overcome Snyder’s obstinacy, but it can certainly ensure that the issue won’t fade away, which seems to be Snyder’s hope.
“We have to take a stand. That name has to be changed. We can’t just leave it up to [the team]. We think it’s disrespectful. We think it’s, by definition, demeaning,” alliance chair John Wooten, a Washington lineman in the late 1960s, told the Post. “I truly believe all sides, including the Native American groups who don’t feel the name needs to be changed, they all need to be there, and they should all sit and discuss this. That hasn’t happened. I truly believe that has to happen.”
Maybe this time it will.
Follow Scott Martelle on Twitter @smartelle.