Who Will Destroy Dan Snyder’s Dark Heart of Evil?
In what surely will not be the final insult from the U.S. government, the Supreme Court chose the week before Thanksgiving to deny an appeal by Native American groups who challenged the use of the offensive name “Redskins” by the Washington, DC-based football squad. Despite trademark law which prohibits names that “may disparage . . . persons, living or dead, . . . or bring them into contempt, or disrepute,” the court refused claimants supported by the National Congress of American Indians, who wrote that the Redskins name is “patently offensive, disparaging, and demeaning and perpetrates a centuries-old stereotype.”
A team spokesperson told the Washington Post that there has never been “even a whisper” about changing the nickname under previous ownership or current owner Dan Snyder. Listed as one of the 400 richest Americans by Forbes, Snyder made his fortune with his outsourced marketing company he and his sister founded in 1988, with backing from publishing and real estate giant Mort Zuckerman. Native Americans, on the other hand, have done less well: a 2003 study found a poverty rate of more than 40%, a higher incidence of poverty than other minority groups, and the highest occurrence of severe poverty among the groups analyzed.
Snyder’s firm offered marketing services for Fortune 500 companies, in particular by servicing the sales and advertising needs of pharmaceutical companies. After buying the Redskins in 1999, he sold the company in 2000, but he remains involved in the drug advertising business as Chairman Emeritus of inVentive Health, which was feted last week by the ad industry’s first-ever CLIO awards for healthcare-related ads. Direct-to-consumer drug advertising is banned in every country in the world except the United States and New Zealand (which is currently considering a legal ban), due to the harmful impacts on patient health from biased ads produced by companies that profit from drug sales.
Snyder has long been a lightening rod for criticism during his tenure as the DC-team owner. Earlier this year, he was lambasted for suing 125 former season ticket holders who, mostly due to job losses or other economic setbacks, could no longer afford the team’s steep ticket costs. More recently, bashing the team’s longtime losing record, former Redskins player John Riggins called Snyder “a bad guy” whose “heart is dark.” Riggins went on to warn fans, “(I)f you are going to go to these games and support this team, that money goes in this person’s pocket. And you know what? Bad guys shouldn’t be enriched.”
Thanksgiving celebrations often revolve around football and typically ignore the historic abuse and systematic extermination of Native Americans. In her “Thanksgiving: A Native American View,” Jacqueline Keeler, a member of the Dineh Nation and the Yankton Dakota Sioux describes the relationship between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians, and the subsequent disastrous consequences for Native people:
Among many of our peoples, showing that you can give without holding back is the way to earn respect. Among the Dakota, my father’s people, they say, when asked to give, “Are we not Dakota and alive?” It was believed that by giving there would be enough for all — the exact opposite of the system we live in now, which is based on selling, not giving….
What did the Europeans give in return? Within 20 years European disease and treachery had decimated the Wampanoags….By 1623, Mather the elder, a Pilgrim leader, was giving thanks to his God for destroying the heathen savages to make way “for a better growth,” meaning his people.
In stories told by the Dakota people, an evil person always keeps his or her heart in a secret place separate from the body. The hero must find that secret place and destroy the heart in order to stop the evil.
I see, in the “First Thanksgiving” story, a hidden Pilgrim heart. The story of that heart is the real tale than needs to be told. What did it hold? Bigotry, hatred, greed, self-righteousness? We have seen the evil that it caused in the 350 years since. Genocide, environmental devastation, poverty, world wars, racism.
Where is the hero who will destroy that heart of evil? I believe it must be each of us. Indeed, when I give thanks this Thursday and I cook my native food, I will be thinking of this hidden heart and how my ancestors survived the evil it caused.