It’s a mangled kindergarten imitation of virtue, some crayon-scribbled picture of what he thinks actual principle looks like, or at least what he thinks the teacher wants to see. “Look at me, I cleaned up my mess after eating my snack!” Then he throws the crumbs under Johnny’s chair.
If the latest rendition of this farce is particularly galling, it’s because Snyder’s unabashed recitation of his own singular nobility in helping Native American communities was particularly insistent.
“I’ve listened. I’ve learned. And frankly, its heart wrenching,” he wrote in 2014, before creating his Original Americans Foundation, which was meant to prove that his billion-dollar company was not merely paying lip service to its supposed admiration of Native Americans. “It’s not enough to celebrate the values and heritage of Native Americans” he wrote. “We must do more. I want to do more.”
“I know we won’t be able to fix every problem. But we need to make an impact,” he wrote.
“In speaking face-to-face with Native American leaders and community members, it’s plain to see they need action, not words,” he 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,” he wrote.
“Because I’m so serious about the importance of this cause, I began our efforts quietly and respectfully, away from the spotlight, to learn and take direction from the Tribal leaders themselves,” he wrote.
And then, just as quietly, his team flipped off its flow of money to the Original Americans Foundation.
The team donated $5 million to the foundation in its first year, as public battles raged over the team’s controversial name, leading to $3.7 million in giving to Native American tribes. By 2016, the team’s donations had dropped by 80 percent, and the foundation’s giving similarly declined. As other outlets reported this summer, the giving dipped more in subsequent years, and donations nearly disappeared. Then, after The Washington Post’s Will Hobson asked about harassment allegations last month, the team said it would stop funding the nonprofit altogether.
Now that the team’s name no longer is “a symbol of everything we stand for: strength, courage, pride and respect” — as Snyder once wrote — it is cutting ties with the foundation and instead will build “a philanthropic strategy that has lasting impact on our communities which includes Native American communities.”
And so why was the foundation created, if its mission so easily could be included within the team’s other charitable efforts? Why was a foundation that was once a vital piece of Snyder’s urgent “action, not words” strategy now shuffled off to the bin of discarded marketing brainstorms, even as tribal requests for help paying for coronavirus tests are denied?
Why? Because the point of every new idea this genius marketer thinks up is to calm waters still trembling from his last great idea. You didn’t like my Washington Football-branded face-eating leopard? Okay, but have you seen my Washington Football-branded face-eating leopard repellent?
Our weather-averse visor-loving coach is too flaky? We’ll find a Hogs-loving true believer. Our front office needs a true football man? We’ll hire that out-of-work guy ESPN just profiled, the guy our fans suddenly love. Our virtually nonexistent human resources department spawned one scandal after another? Don’t worry, we’re about to make a great new human resources hire.
Our insistence that fans use our team-branded credit card to pay for their tickets is too predatory? Okay, cancel it. Our ban on signs critical of the front office is too Orwellian? Okay, cancel it. Our plan to charge for admission to watch summer practices is too unseemly? Okay, cancel it. Our refusal to take the name of an avowed racist off our stadium’s lower level is raising alarms? Okay, cancel it.
The pinnacle of this policy-by-PR-pushback approach always has been Snyder’s approach to the team name. Years before his all-caps insistence to USA Today that he would never change the name, Snyder told CNN’s Bob Novak that “I’ll never change the name of the Redskins. You have my word on that. In addition to that, it’s really what the Redskins mean that’s not quite out there. If you look at the facts, the facts are what it means is tradition. It means winning.”
When he finally reversed himself this summer — out-of-season, without enough time for a proper rebranding — it wasn’t out of some acknowledgment that his heartfelt definition of that word wasn’t the only one in the universe. It wasn’t because the facts had changed. It wasn’t because linguists had made any new discoveries, or because Snyder had reconsidered the minimum number of offended people that constituted a problem.
It was because sponsors told him that the name had to go. And so, barely two weeks into a “thorough review” of a name that had been unchanged in his 20 years of ownership, Snyder announced the name would be retired.
Without the controversial name, there went the justification for a foundation whose existence proved the name wasn’t just a moneymaking convenience. Without the name, there went the heart-wrenching connection to communities that once needed action, not words. Without the controversial name, there went the money, which supposedly had proved that the allegiance to the controversial name wasn’t just about money.
The way to show that this wasn’t a game, that he wasn’t using human suffering as a prop in a long-running corporate fight, that the point was to offer some form of compensation after decades of profiting off Native imagery, was to keep funding this minimal do-good effort for less than it costs to sign a linebacker named Kevin Pierre-Louis. But the world no longer demanded it, so why bother?
“The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation will serve as a living, breathing legacy — and an ongoing reminder — of the heritage and tradition that is the Washington Redskins,” Snyder once wrote. The living and breathing part didn’t last a decade. The ongoing reminder did: Daniel Snyder will continue to stand for principle, so long as the principle is whatever’s most convenient for Daniel Snyder.