August 13, 2014; Salon

The life cycle of Daniel Snyder’s Original Americans Foundation is something to behold.  His Washington DC National Football League franchise has just released a video of Native Americans explaining how many do not find the racially disparaging name of Snyder’s team to be “objectionable”.

The interviews with the Native Americans on the video were conducted by former Washington tight end Chris Cooley, who currently works for the Washington DC sports talk radio station owned by Snyder’s Red Zebra Broadcasting and is also one of five members of a steering committee for a website that defends the team’s name.  The video doesn’t quite reveal, as Dan Steinberg, a sports columnist for the Washington Post does, that most of the Native Americans on the videos were members of Chippewa-Cree tribe at the Rocky Boy’s Reservation in Montana.  The Rocky Boy’s Reservation has been the recent beneficiary of charitable support from Snyder’s Original Americans Foundation which went to purchase iPads for schools on the reservation, a playground, and a traveling rodeo team.

As Jim Newell put it for Salon, “In return for the charitable contributions, the reservation allows…[Cooley’s group] to shoot new videos like this, wherein a handful of Native Americans contend that the name does not bother them and this isn’t a big deal.”

On the steering committee of the group that did the video is former placekicker Mark Moseley, who had an interesting perspective to share about critics of the team’s name, though hopefully he didn’t mean that he believed his description applied to all of the people who think Snyder’s team name is a relic of a racist past.

“[They] don’t know what they’re talking about. They’ve done no research. They’ve never talked to an Indian. They have no knowledge of what Redskins really stands for. They just heard someone say this is like the N-word, and all of a sudden people jumped on the bandwagon and said it’s racist, and that’s ridiculous,” Moseley said. “We know it’s not a racist word.  It’s not something they’re ashamed of. And at the same time, while doing this we found this need which is out there that we can help with, and so that’s what we’re doing.” 

Snyder’s heavy-handed approach of buying Native American support through his NFL team’s Original Americans Foundation raises serious questions.  Newell titled his Salon article, “How team seeks to buy off opposition.”  Is Snyder giving philanthropic support in return for a quid pro quo of support from the tribes that accept his money? How valuable to Snyder are those videotaped statements of support from Native Americans explaining that they aren’t bothered in the slightest by the team’s name?  Is the foundation’s quid pro quo expectation explicit?  Perhaps someone might want to remind Snyder of the quid pro quo principle in charitable giving law, that when a charitable donation is meant to elicit goods or services from the donee in response, the deductibility of the donation is reduced by the value of those goods and services.

For Snyder, the issue is really one of money.  It would cost him money to change the name and branding of his NFL team from its current racially contentious identity.  If enough people decide that they won’t watch or patronize a team with a racially disparaging name, even if some members of the Chippewa-Cree might be persuaded otherwise, then Snyder might change.  Like the Original Americans Foundation’s grantmaking, the team name is a matter of money.  Given the Washington NFL team’s high value, third among NFL franchises behind the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots, the value of those quid pro quo’ed statements of support might be invaluable. 

The Joint Affinity Groups, of which Native Americans in Philanthropy is a member, issued a statement that Snyder’s Original Americans Foundation is “treating Native communities disrespectfully.”  The JAG statement might have added that the foundation is treating Native communities as a tool to help defend the team’s racially disparaging name from criticism.  It would be quite appropriate for organized philanthropy to tell Snyder that he can certainly dispose of his fortune as he sees fit, but when he uses it to buy support or buy off opposition from Native Americans, he should simply call the grantmaking a self-interested business expense and not try to cloak it in the gauze of philanthropy.—Rick Cohen