ORLANDO – Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who has faced criticism over his refusal to change the name of his football team, announced Monday night that he will start a foundation to benefit Native Americans.
In a four-page letter posted on the Redskins Web site, Snyder said his decision to create the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation was the result of four months of research into what Native Americans thought of the Redskins nickname and logo, including visits by Snyder and his staff to 26 Indian reservations in 20 states.
“The more I heard, the more I’ve learned, and the more I saw, the more resolved I became about helping to address the challenges that plague the Native American community,” Snyder wrote. “In speaking face-to-face with Native American leaders and community members, it’s plain to see they need action, not words.”
Snyder’s announcement drew criticism from the Oneida Indian Nation, a New York tribe that has emerged as one of the most vocal opponents to the name. In a statement released late Monday, tribal representative Ray Halbritter reiterated the Oneidas’ hope that Snyder will change the name.
“We are glad that after more than a decade of owning the Washington team, Mr. Snyder is finally interested in Native American heritage, and we are hopeful that when his team finally stands on the right side of history and changes its name, he will honor the commitment to Native Americans that he is making today,” Halbritter’s statement read. “We are also hopeful that in his new initiative to honor Native Americans’ struggle, Mr. Snyder makes sure people do not forget that he and his predecessor, George Preston Marshall, a famous segregationist, have made our people’s lives so much more difficult by using a racial slur as Washington’s team’s name.”
In the past year Snyder has faced stiff criticism over the team’s name, which some Native American tribes have called offensive. Several state and local officials have also spoken out against the name. Last season, the Redskins drew protests at many of their road games, with crowds of several hundred turning out to their matchups in Denver and Minnesota. Groups also have lobbied NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to take action.
Goodell, asked at a news conference earlier Monday about opposition to the team’s name, said: “We have, I think, done a very thorough job of making sure that we understand all perspectives on this and we will continue to do that.”
Snyder, who has owned the Redskins since 1999, maintains the team’s nickname represents the heritage of the 81-year-old franchise and is meant to honor Native Americans.
Snyder said in the letter that the Redskins have already donated more than 3,000 coats to several tribes, as well as shoes to boys’ and girls’ basketball teams on reservations, and that the franchise helped purchase a backhoe for the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska.
The owner wrote that another 40 projects also are underway to improve the conditions of a number of tribes.
“The mission of the Original Americans Foundation is to provide meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities for Tribal communities,” Snyder wrote. “With open arms and determined minds, we will work as partners to begin to tackle the troubling realities facing so many tribes across our country. Our efforts will address the urgent challenges plaguing Indian country based on what Tribal leaders tell us they need most. We may have created this new organization, but the direction of the Foundation is truly theirs.”
Theresa Vargas contributed to this report from Washington.