Snyder presents new foundation to fellow owners at NFL meetings

Gary L. Edwards, chief executive officer of the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, talks to The Post's Mike Jones about his group's mission. (Mike Jones/The Washington Post)

ORLANDO – The day after he issued a four-page letter to fans, announcing the founding of a foundation that will aid Native Americans, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder presented his vision to his fellow owners at the NFL’s annual meetings.

Snyder also introduced the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation chief executive officer Gary L. Edwards to NFL officials and solicited their support.

Snyder declined comment when asked to speak on the meeting and the founding of the charitable organization. But general manager Bruce Allen and Edwards both said that the team received positive response.

“The league has been very supportive of what our direction is and continuing now,” Allen said after the morning session at the meetings ended. “After this presentation, we’ve already heard from these other teams who want to jump on the foundation’s bandwagon.”

Allen said that the creation of the foundation came in response to the reaction Snyder received from a letter that he issued to fans in October, insisting that despite criticisms, he didn’t intend to change his team’s name.

Edwards – a Cherokee, who recently retired as deputy assistant director of the United States Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security, and also serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the National Native American Law Enforcement Association – said a former coworker who lives near Allen suggested the two meet because of the belief that Edwards could help the Redskins.

“We found some real common ground as far as my cultural background and some of the needs there and [Snyder’s] cultural background and some of the needs there, and my desire to help my people and his willingness to help the American Indian, his fans and his people,” said Edwards, who said he had always dreamed of creating an organization that would benefit his people.

Snyder already had started visiting some reservations, but Edwards provided further guidance and conducted a survey of 100 reservations, asking them about their most pressing needs. Edwards said that he and a team of individuals that at times included Snyder and Allen wound up visiting a total of 26 reservations, meeting with just more than 40 tribes across 20 states including Arizona, New Mexico, California, Montana, Iowa and Oklahoma.

Edwards, who himself said he has “no problem” with the name said that the team’s revealed that the Indian people they talked to cared very little about the Redskins’ nickname, and instead they shared “more pressing needs.” Snyder began working to meet those needs, donating 3,000 coats to tribes and assisting with the purchase of a backhoe for one tribe in Nebraska. Another 40 projects currently have begun, Edwards said, reiterating what Snyder wrote in his letter.

“When you go across Indian Country, the needs are clear across the continuum. It’s like the basic needs of food, water, shelter,” Edwards said. “And then there are needs that relate to youth and academic and programs and facilities, and then the third tier is complex issues such as wellness, such as economic development, such as health care. So, what we’ll try to do, and what we’re going to do in this foundation is we’re going to be very, agile, very mobile, to where we can look and help the tribal people who want to be helped and ask to be helped.”

Some of the efforts, Edwards said, include donating Kindles and iPads to students, assisting with the digging of new wells on reservations who lack running water because of contamination stemming from oil spills, improving the living conditions of elderly Native Americans, improved health care, the founding of youth camps and more.

Neither Allen nor Edwards would put a dollar figure on the amount that they expect to invest in the improvement efforts. But Allen said that the foundation will have 501c3 non-profit status and so all records will be public.

Edwards, who will run the foundation out of the PriceWaterhouseCoopers building in Tysons Corner, said the officials don’t want to put a limit on the financial contributions.

“Well, we’re just getting started,” he said. “Today is the first day, and as you can see, the way Dan Snyder is, he wasn’t just like, ‘Let’s wait until that day to get started to get busy doing stuff.’ We’ve hit the ground running, as you can see. Being new, we’re hoping the amount will grow large so we can help more people. But we won’t really know those answers, and it’d be unfair to say until we look at the tax forms at the end of the year, because we want to be able to say. We want to help as many as we can.”

Gary Edwards discussed the vision of the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation at the NFL meetings in Orlando. (Mike Jones/Washington Post) Gary Edwards discussed the vision of the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation at the NFL meetings in Orlando. (Mike Jones/Washington Post)

Critics in the past 24 hours have accused Snyder of trying to buy support for his keeping the team name. But Allen and Edwards strongly disagreed.

“If anyone says that, they’re insulting Native Americans and I would take offense to that on their behalf and they obviously don’t know what they’re talking about,” Allen said.

Said Edwards, “I find that to be insulting. I find it to be uninformed of the people who are saying that. All you have to do is go back and look at the NFL and you’ve got to look at their diversity policy where it talks about respect, where it talks about inclusion, where it talks about opportunities for all people in America, to all races in America, and probably one of the ones that have been left out the most is Indian Country, and Dan, through this awareness of the surveys and the things going on, he realized, ‘Hey, we can do more.’”

Have a football question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.

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Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @Insider | Insider on Facebook

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.

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