Did the “#CancelColbert” hashtag and subsequent uproar really, as so many are saying, let Washington football team owner Dan Snyder off the hook? Did protesting Stephen Colbert’s at best tired use of anti-Asian satire really take all the focus off of Dan Snyder’s wildly offensive “Washington Redskins for Original Americans” foundation, and thereby do him a colossal favor?
So many are saying “yes” to this that it seems to be becoming a self-evident fact, but to really answer this question, you need to know something about Dan Snyder. One of the great curiosities throughout the Washington DC area is Snyder’s wealth. The official word is that he made his fortune through “communications” yet it strains one’s mental faculties to think of someone who has ever been worse at communicating to the public than Dan Snyder. We all have our favorite Snyder gaffes, all mercifully catalogued by Dave McKenna, although nothing can match his aggressive and ill-fated effort to sue the Washington City Paper, ironically spurred by his belief that the City Paper’s cover presented him as a Jewish caricature. Yes, the owner of the Redskins attempted to drive a publication out of business for what he believed was a culturally insensitive cartoon. Snyder’s gaffes are impressive in their variety, yet most of them arise through his ham-handed, meat-fisted attempts to defend the use of “Redskins” as something other than a racist caricature.
There was the time he sent a public letter to fans stating that the “Red Cloud Athletic Fund helped design the team logo in 1971” only to have it revealed that this was a lie and the Red Cloud Indian School was virulently opposed to the name.
There was the time his minions, including hall of fame coach Joe Gibbs, promoted ESPN columnist Rick Reilly's article about Reilly’s Native American father-in-law's love of the name. His Native American father-in-law later said that he not only opposed the name and not only had Reilly misquoted him, but his dear son-in-law had refused to make a correction. There was the time the team aggressivly promoted the endorsement of Chief Dodson, “a full-blooded American Inuit chief” who loved the name and said, “We don’t have a problem with [the name] at all; in fact we’re honored. We’re quite honored…. When we were on the reservation, we would call each other, ‘Hey, what’s up redskin?’ We would nickname it just ‘skins.’” It turned out, as Dave McKenna wrote, Dodson was “not a chief, and probably not an Indian.”
The latest gambit, and the target of Colbert’s skit, was Dan Snyder's roundly mocked, roundly criticized, roundly disparaged new nonprofit organization called the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation. It has already been mercilessly torn to shreds by both Native American leaders as well as mainstream media. Carly Hare, a Pawnee/Yankton and the executive director of Native Americans in Philanthropy described it as, “Poverty Porn meets White Privilege in taking Cultural Appropriations to a whole 'nother level.”
That was the good news for Snyder. Days after the announcement, it was revealed that the man Dan Snyder trusted to run his foundation, Gary Edwards, should not be trusted with much of anything. According to a 2012 report from the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior, Gary Edwards’s nonprofit, the National Native American Law Enforcement Association, was charged by the Bureau of Indian Affairs with the recruitment of 500 Native Americans for police and security training. He succeeded in recruiting none, despite spending one million dollars to do so.
Their assessment of Gary Edwards is brutal. These reports are usually couched in legalese, but this says bluntly that Gary Edwards’s NNALEA "took advantage" of the Bureau and they received "no benefit" from their efforts. (Read the full report here. Or read Aura Bogado at Colorlines for some more damning statements from the report.)
We at The Nation contacted Tony Wyllie, the PR director of the team. He just sent back a curt quote from Gary Edwards that read, “NNALEA believes it met and exceeded all of its obligations under the contract with the bureau of Indian affairs, office of justice services and subsequently was paid after the contract was completed.” Remember, Edwards did not supply one acceptable applicant.
This latest gaffe only further shows that exposure is no friend to Dan Snyder. When Stephen Colbert mocked Snyder’s foundation using racist satire, and Suey Park started her #CancelColbert campaign in response after seeing Colbert’s disembodied, decontextualized tweet, a great many people slammed Park for directing people away from the issue of mascoting and toward her own issues/selfpromotion/ethnicity.
Let’s forget for a moment the smug Colbert fans (and there is no “smug” quite like the “smug” of a Colbert fan explaining satire), who were enraged that Park challenged whether their liberalism insulated themselves or Colbert from criticism. I’m more focused on the dedicated Native American activists who are angered that #CancelColbert “let Snyder off the hook.” The brilliant Jacqueline Keeler, a writer and activist of Navajo and Yankton Dakota descent, wrote, “Native people are messaging me that they feel their work has been co-opted. 90,000 [people] go to stadiums EVERY SUNDAY in redface—how much hashtag trending would that equal in #CancelColbert terms? If our allies did that much twittering for us as they do for a satirical skit, redface would be banned from stadiums tomorrow.”
Keeler is of course correct and it is difficult to not sympathize with her critique. It is also true that if everyone defending Colbert as a genius satirist of n racist name took a minute to email the NFL, we could get the name changed. But I also believe that politically, #CancelColbert brought more of Dan Snyder into the spotlight, onto news stations, and into magazines—like The New Yorker (brilliant piece by Jay Caspian Kang) and The Wall Street Journal—where discussion of his racist branding are not normally found. We can see clearly from the record that attention does Dan Snyder no favors I know for a fact that both the team and the NFL have had to deal with phone calls and queries from a new set of reporters asking them for comment about the entire situation.
Sunlight is not Dan Snyder’s friend. In fact, it is the greatest disinfectant to everything rancid he has brought to the public discourse about Native American rights. Every bit of publicity that gets showered on the reality that we have a team branded with a racial slur chips away at Daniel Snyder's authority. If you think the NFL wants one of their brands at the heart of the story-of-the-moment, as well as a national discussion about whether or not “Redskins is as racist, more racist, or less racist, than an anti-Asian slur," then you do not know the NFL. Dan Snyder is on the clock to change his name. In my view, the more the NFL hears that clock tick, the better.