You know, I woke up this morning really hoping to stay away from this topic. Regardless of its news value, I know that many of my readers are overwhelmed by the quantity of words we’ve published on the Redskins name issue, and they just want to be able to read about sports. Or whatever it is we usually do on the Bog.
But then I read Sally Jenkins’s column. She takes an extremely dim view of Dan Snyder’s letter to Redskins fans, writing (in Snyder’s voice) that he was attempting “to make myself more sympathetic by appealing to gushing sentiment, and reminding people that I am at heart a six-year-old,” and that he had “adopted a different voice: that of a small boy stomping his feet and beating his fists and screeching, ‘IdontwannaIdon’twanna! Betchacan’tmakeme!’ ”
I helped write our news story on the letter that ran in Thursday’s paper, and I really don’t want to blur the lines between writing news and expressing an opinion. So I’ll simply say I think Sally, and others, are overlooking the way much of what Snyder wrote resonated with fans who similarly grew up with the team.
I know that a great number of fans oppose the name, and didn’t like the letter. But our polling has shown that many more fans do not want the name to change. For them — or at least, for the ones I talked to — Snyder (or whoever wrote the text) was actually hitting the right notes this time; not acting like a petulant 6-year old, but communing with fans that have similar memories.
“I loved the letter. I thought it was great,” said Zac Foster, a 28-year-old Redskins fan from Denver. “He’s saying what we’re all thinking, what we’re all feeling. Because it hurts, it hurts to be called a racist, it hurts to be called a bigot. At my core, I’m a bleeding-heart liberal, but this franchise means a lot to me. All those feelings, all those emotions — Hail to the Redskins, the whole bit — he’s exactly right, it’s a part of who we are. And I don’t think any fan is coming from a malicious place, I don’t think any fan says, ‘Yeah, we have a very derogatory mascot and we’re going to rub it in peoples’ faces.’ It’s the name of our football team, and it means a great deal to a lot of people….
“He definitely captured the way I feel. Speaking on behalf of Zac Foster, lifelong Redskins fan, he definitely spoke for me. I thought it was spot-on. I thought he nailed in. In a tenure where he’s batting probably .500 at best, I definitely feel like he got this one absolutely right.”
Now you can disagree with Foster on this. But I think it’s important to understand that a great deal of people almost certainly felt the same way.
The fans I talked to — who, yes, were inclined to be on the team’s side — praised Snyder for moving away from the “put it in caps” language, and more closely reflecting their own feelings.
Michael George, a 37-year-old fan from Virginia, had recently e-mailed the team’s PR staff, complaining about what he saw as an inadequate and inarticulate response to the protests. “The defense of the Redskins’ name by the team has been laughable,” that e-mail began. But he said Snyder’s letter struck a more convincing, and more factual tone.
“I think it’s the right approach, finally,” George said. “I think most fans were kind of happy when he said, ‘I’ll never change the name,’ because it was bold, but I don’t think it was necessarily the right tone….To be dismissive I don’t think is the right approach. You want to listen to peoples’ concerns, and I would like to see a partnership between the Redskins and some of the tribes. Get involved with programs on reservations, do clinics. I’d love to see something like that.”
“I think maybe this was a better reaction, for both sides,” agreed Ethan T. Chu, a 35-year-old who was raised in Virginia and now lives in San Diego. “[Because] that’s how I feel: when I grew up with my dad, we’d go to Redskins games, and you go in the stadium, and I always associated the name Redskins with pride….I’m not sure if I can say this the right way. When I was reading it, I agreed with everything….That whole letter was better than anything I’ve seen from him before on the issue.”
And some fans even said the letter shifted their thinking on the matter. Andre Mitchell, a 28-year-old Washingtonian who writes and podcasts about the team for the HTTR24-7 site, said he was on the fence before reading Snyder’s letter, mostly feeling fatigue over the whole issue. He said Wednesday that he still doesn’t have strong feelings about the debate, but he better understands Snyder’s position.
“I didn’t know Dan Snyder’s full opinion on it, and there were some things in that letter that I actually didn’t even know,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t think Snyder would actually come out and say anything. He actually educated me on some things I wasn’t aware of in the letter. I just thought it was well thought-out — even if you disagree, you have to appreciate that he put out where he stands on the situation, and put it in a better light than he has in the past.”
Again, I know many thousands disagree with all of this. And I know not everyone would agree with the way the letter presented the franchise’s history. But I just think it’s worth recognizing that the finished product resonated with many members of its intended audience.