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Tomgram: Jeremiah Goulka, Republicans and the Redskins

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Allow me to introduce you to Dan Snyder. He owns the Washington Redskins football team. Before Snyder bought the team in 1999, the Redskins were one of the most hallowed franchises in the National Football League, with a history as rich as any. Coach Joe Gibbs stalking the sidelines, quarterback Joe Theismann under center, wide receivers Art Monk, Gary Clark, and Ricky Sanders -- nicknamed "the Posse" -- lined up on the flanks. Super Bowl wins in '83, '88, and '92. Under Dan Snyder, however, the Redskins have burned through seven head coaches in 14 years and made zero Super Bowl appearances. Snyder moved the team from Washington, D.C., to a corporate-sponsored stadium in suburban Maryland. He's charged fans to watch team practices, raised ticket prices, and sued the local alternative weekly newspaper when it wrote an unflattering story about him. The best part? He never even read the offending article.

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Dan Snyder may be the most hated man in Washington, D.C.

His latest misdeed to garner attention took place not on the gridiron but on the manicured grounds of his riverfront mansion in swanky Potomac, Maryland. In the latest issue of the Washington Monthly magazine, Tim Murphy tells the story of a "secret sweetheart deal" Snyder finagled with the help of a George W. Bush appointee to cut down some trees on nearby federal parkland so that he would have an unobstructed view of the Potomac River. "What's clear is this," Murphy writes, "by April of 2004, with his new home nearing completion and still no progress on the trees, Snyder was growing frustrated and [former NRA lobbyist turned National Park Service aide P. Daniel] Smith was determined to settle the matter.

"That spring, according to the inspector general's report, Smith met with Snyder's attorney for a business lunch at the Potomac estate, where Snyder had just completed an expansion to build a massive new ballroom, and followed it up with a phone call to the park official who dealt with land acquisitions. Over the phone, the official told the investigators, Smith seemed agitated that nothing had been done yet, and suggested an exit strategy, which he later alleged had come from the Redskins' attorney: most of the trees in question were nonnative; why not clear-cut them and call it an exotic-plant extermination program?"

Snyder got the trees removed. When, as Murphy notes, a park ranger and devoted civil servant named Robert Danno blew the whistle on his bogus "exotic-plant extermination program," Danno was promptly intimidated, demoted, and almost thrown in jail. In the end, a National Park Service inspector general's report vindicated Danno -- but by then, of course, it was too late to save those trees and Snyder had his view.

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So it goes in Dan Snyder's Washington. Yet there may be no bigger headache for the team owner than the matter of his franchise's name: the Redskins. It's offensive, and a growing number of activists and commentators want it changed. But as TomDispatch contributor Jeremiah Goulka writes, there is at least one bloc of public figures that fully supports the name -- and that is the Republican Party. Allow Goulka, a TomDispatch regular and former Republican himself, to explain why. Andy Kroll

Win Today, Lose Tomorrow
Why Republicans Protect the "Honor" of Offensive Team Names
By Jeremiah Goulka

Every once in a while a small controversy comes along that helps explain a big problem.  This National Football League season has provided such a controversy.  The name of Washington D.C.'s football team, the Redskins, is under fire.  "Redskins" is an offensive term and therefore inappropriate for the team representing our nation's capital.  That's kind of obvious, right?

Most Republicans don't think so.  They defend the name, as they do other Native American-based team names, such as the college football champion Florida State Seminoles, calling them tokens of "honor."  They claim that the names celebrate a "heritage" and "tradition" of "bravery" and "warrior-spirit," and they publicly wonder: What's the problem?

The Onion, that fine news source, captured it in one neat, snide sentence: "A new study... confirmed that the name of the Washington Redskins is only offensive if you take any amount of time whatsoever to think about its actual meaning."  So what's keeping Republicans from thinking about it?

For one thing, Republicans tend to wear a set of blinders, crafted and actively maintained by the party's functionaries and its media priesthood.  They also suffer from mental roadblocks shared by American whites more generally, including a thin, often myth-based "knowledge" about Native Americans.  Collectively, all of this blinds Republicans to what it's like to be on the receiving end of power at home and abroad.

That said, the GOP's power brokers know the party is facing a demographic time bomb, so why do they let their media minions form an offensive line to protect the Redskins name?  Nationally, the Republicans' short-term hopes and long-term survival may hinge on whether they can manage to make the party welcoming to non-whites.  Yet they proudly wear these blinders, as I once did, continuing to "honor" American Indians -- as they never would a team called the Whiteskins, the Brownskins, the Blackskins, or the Yellowskins.  Here's a little breakdown on why.

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Republican Blinders

Blinder 1: Intent Is Everything

As I have written previously, Republicans have a convenient belief that when it comes to racism, it's all about intent .  With the Redskins name, this is a particularly powerful blinder because, as one sportscaster said, "I strongly believe that there is zero intent to offend Native Americans among Redskins fans or football fans in general." 

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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