So Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins professional football team, visited 26 Native American reservations over four months and discovered a reality that just about everyone else in the country already knew. Native Americans on reservations are disproportionately mired in poverty; affected by alcoholism, diabetes and elevated suicide rates, among other health issues; and lack many of the basic necessities of modern life, including reliable access to potable water.
So Snyder has formed the Washington Redskins Original American Foundation, handed out coats and sneakers on some reservations, announced "40 additional projects currently in progress," and says "that our team name" – a racial epithet – "captures the best of who we are and who we can be." You have to wonder when the souvenir "Original American" hoodies go on sale at the team's gift shop.
If Snyder is genuinely taken with the plight of many Native Americans, good for him. And if native people want to take his gifts, good for them.
But Snyder still needs to change the name. All the money and foundation work in the world won't alter the racism behind the word "redskin." Yes, there's a tradition involved: The team has carried that name since its early Depression-era days in Boston. But there's a tradition behind the word, too, as a pejorative description of a race of people.
Years ago, Coleman A. Young, the first African American mayor of Detroit, said something to the effect that the victims of racism, not the perpetrators, are in the best position to recognize it. While Native Americans aren't unified in their rejection of the use of the name, enough are to signal that it's long past time for the team to make a change. Unless, of course, stubbornly embracing a racial epithet is, indeed, the "the best of who we are and who we can be."