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Daniel Snyder: People who talk about the name ‘Redskins’ are missing the point

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder spoke to former player Chris Cooley about his team’s name and the foundation Snyder created to help native Americans. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Chris Cooley, in his role as co-host of ESPN 980’s “The Drive,” was out at Redskins training camp this afternoon, and he had a chance to interview the owner of the team, Mr. Daniel Snyder himself. After some talk about the team, Cooley got down to business, asking Snyder for his thoughts on the team’s name.

You might have heard that the name is a bit of an issue these days, and Snyder, who didn’t seem surprised at all that Cooley would pose such a question, offered his most expansive comments to date. Snyder spoke at length about his many visits earlier in the year to Indian reservations, which informed his decision to create the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.

Snyder talked about how moved he was by the “plight of Native Americans,” and repeatedly suggested that folks who were engaging in “chit-chat, cocktail talk” about the team’s name should focus their attention on poor conditions of reservations.

Here is a transcript of Cooley’s interview with Snyder.

C: So when I look at my career, and I want to ask you about this some more as we go, I’m so proud to be a Redskin. I remember Joe Gibbs explaining to me what a Redskin was, it was pride. It was integrity. It was a never-say-die spirit. We got to the point where my babysitter and I, Mark Brunell, would un-stitch the S on our jerseys so we could be a Redskin. Dan, what does it mean to be a Redskin?
S: It’s honor. It’s respect. It’s pride. And I think that every player here sees it, feels it, every alumni feels it, and it’s a wonderful thing, it’s a historic thing. It’s a very historic franchise, it’s been a pleasure.
C: You said a year ago, “I’m not going to change this team name.” What would you like the fans to understand, factually, about our name and what we’re doing going forward?
S: You know, I think it would be nice, and forget the media from that perspective, but really focus on the fact that — the facts, the history, the truth, the tradition. People talk about the logo, and when we tell them the story, that in 1971 a chief of  a tribe named Walter “Blackie” Wetzel actually came to the Redskins. He was the president of NCAI [National Congress of American Indians] and a Montana tribe called Blackfeet Nation at the time, and he said, “Hey, I want to create a logo for the team, because we really think it should represent us.” And he went back to Montana and helped create that logo that we all love.
And that’s one example of just the facts, and the truth, and the things that a lot of people ignore, and I think  that it’s time that people look at the truth, and the history, and real meanings, and look at us for what we are. We’re a historic football team that’s very proud, that has a great legacy, that honors and respects people.
C: Now you’ve had a chance to go out and talk to a lot of Native Americans. You’ve had a chance to go to a lot of states, to visit a lot of reservations. It wasn’t something that you just said, “We’re not going to change the name, and I’m going to forget about it now.” Tell me what you’ve seen, as you’ve been out in these communities, and what you’ve started to understand.
S: I said, I wrote a letter to the fans last, I think it was last October, and I said I wanted to make sure that I would listen and I would learn. So I set about, and I traveled around, and I remember my wife saying to me, “Where are you going now?” I said, “We’re going to Arizona,” or “We’re going to New Mexico,” or “We’re going to South Dakota,” and all these different states all over the country. And I wanted to meet with the leadership, as well as tribal members, and it was a great, great, uh, quite frankly a lot of fun. It was quite a trip, and we enjoyed it, and it took months to do.
And what I learned, what I listened and learned, is really that they love this team. They actually have a tremendous amount of fans on reservations, not only for our team, but many teams that have Native American imagery — the Atlanta Braves, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Blackhawks. And they really are proud of these teams, and I think that I learned more of the truth.
And what I did see that got me and touched me, and really moved me, and I think you know because you have now visited a lot of reservations as well, is the plight of Native Americans. The things that people don’t talk about. You know, it’s sort of fun to talk about the name of our football team, because it gets some attention for some of the people that write it, that need clicks, or what have you. But reality is, no one ever talks about what’s going on on reservations, the fact that they have such high unemployment rates, health care issues, education issues, environmental issues, lack of water, lack of electricity.
No one wants to talk about that stuff, because it’s not cocktail, chit-chat-talk, it’s a real-life need, real-life issues. And I think they don’t want to focus on that, and I dedicated an effort to do that. And I said after what I saw, and listened, and learned, it moved me. It moved me, it moved my wife, it moved my family, it moved everyone who went with us — Bob Rothman, Dwight Schar, some of my partners went on many of the journeys. And we would go back the airport afterwards, saying, “Gosh, we gotta do something, we gotta help.”
And you mentioned the local community charity that we have, the Washington Redskins charity that have here in the community. And you talk about what we do for kids, and we said, you know, we can do something big for Native Americans, and we can do something for Indian country. We can bring to light a lot of the real-life issues, a lot of the real-life needs. Things that are going on that are not fun, chit-chat, cocktail talk about the name of our football team , but really talking about the fact that — I went out to Zuni, for example, in New Mexico, they’re a Pueblo tribe. They have 67 percent unemployment. We talk in our country that we’re now at six percent or whatever unemployment and that’s too high. How about 67 percent unemployment? You’d sit there and say, “No, it can’t be.” Well, it is. You talk about, in South Dakota, that they have unbelievably cold weather, and conditions that are just horrific, and they need some assistance.
And I think that those are the real issues that America should be talking about.
C: Famous quote, one of my favorites, from John F. Kennedy, “You can’t help everybody, but everybody can help somebody.” You’ve reached out your hand, and you’ve helped somebody here. Is this an opportunity to turn something that’s maybe been negative over the last year into a positive influence, where our country gets a chance to see what we need to do to help these people?
S: I think that when you go out there, and I would just encourage people — the politicians that have fun with our football team’s name — I would encourage them to actually go out there and learn, and listen to really what’s happening in Indian Country, so that they could help Indian country.
And this is not PR, we don’t have PR people doing this stuff, this is really genuine, and from that standpoint, just like our foundation here locally, it’s sixteen years running that we’ve been doing this. You talk about the millions of dollars this year, it’s been every year, and we don’t really brag about it, it’s not something that we’re going out doing. This is even more so that way, this is something that needs to be done, that — we were moved. And it’s something that I think that in five years, in 10 years, in 15 years, in 20 years, we’ll be very proud of.