Hush Money and Ransom: An Open Letter to Dan Snyder, the Idiot

Gyasi Ross

"Why me?"
"Because you buy your way out of trouble. You're a payer. You did it once, and now you're gonna do it again."
     Jimmy Shaker, Ransom


I'm a movie nerd. So I wanna start this letter with a short review of one of my favorite movies.


There's a Mel Gibson movie called Ransom, wherein a corrupt cop steals Mel Gibson's kid. It's a compelling movie because I think all parents have had nightmares about that scenario and try to think through what they would do in that hypothetical. Terrifying. Plus, Mel Gibson plays the crazy white boy like nobody else (and in light of his various outbursts, it may be art imitating life).

The thing about it is that Mel Gibson, in the movie (as in real life), doesn't necessarily have clean hands. In fact, he admits (to the FBI, no less) that his company's workers were about to strike and so he gave the union president hush money to call off a strike. Turns out, the union president went to jail while Mel Gibson's character escaped prosecution. That is why Jimmy Shaker, the corrupt cop, refers to him as a "payer"—he's a rich boy who thinks that money is his eternal "Get Out of Jail Free" card, allowing him to do bad stuff with impunity and get away with it.


Danny, as the owner of the Washington Redskins, you've been catching hell over your refusal to change the Redskins' name (many people think it's racist, including a lot of Natives). On Monday night you announced that you will start a foundation to benefit Native Americans. You said that the foundation will give a good amount of money to fight very real problems within our communities such as suicide. It's called the "Original Americans Foundation."

Here's the thing: I, like a lot of other Natives, don't give a damn about the Washington Redskins or mascots or any of that. There are absolutely MORE IMPORTANT things to worry about that MOST of the Natives who constantly complain about the Redskins and mascots (yet don't live amongst other Native people or work in our communities) don't see. That's because MOST of those adamantly anti-mascot Natives don't live within our communities (of course there are SOME who do live in our communities, but in our home territories, there are plenty of Native-themed mascots that a lot of us Natives love very, very much. We are proud of them and those folks who want to get rid of all Native mascots definitely don't speak for us).

There are PLENTY of Natives, like me, who don't take subjective offense to the name or to the concept of Native mascots generally.

That doesn't mean, however, that objectively ANY other vulnerable ethnic group (Black folks, Hispanics, Arabs, Jews) would be fair game to be the subject of a mascot. We recognize that.


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wickedgt23's picture
Submitted by wickedgt23 on
Gyasi, well written article with fair points. I like how you understand and point out that most anti-Redskins are not in our communities. I am a Redskins fan and proud redskin (Navajo), and I do read all POVs and try not to drink the kool-aid too much (but the 2012 season was some good kool-aid, and I'm hoping for more). I have posted my views about this foundation, and it's a foundation I think we should be behind and submitting our ideas to help. Here are some comments I have in regards to your 3 points: 1) Danny did do some pre-work and there are projects he started before he announced the foundation. Calling this hush money (or a buy-off as other people have written) is disrespectful to the leaders and people who worked with Danny to identify problems or have received the needed help to start solving those problems. This keeps making the division between Native supporters and non-supporters of the name larger, which only hurts the needed cooperation to solve real problems in our community. 2) This is an action that should have been done decades ago, so yes this a corrective action; but a correction for decades of not doing enough or doing nothing. I always thought they should have done something, but (this is when I was drinking my kool-aid) the on-field success just reminded me that they're only a football team. The players and coaches have never really did anything stupid, and I knew that there will always be the occasional stupid fan(s). I've come across them, but I choose to talk with them, and most times they understand and realize they are wrong in how they act. Choosing "Original Americans' instead of Redskins is the correct name. Calling it Redskins Foundation, Foundation to Help Redskins, or anything with Redskins in the name would only make people and fans think this foundation is only serving the football team and their employees (players, coaches, support staff, etc.) and not our people. It would take the focus away from the real purpose and confuse people. 3) Not really disagreeing with you here, but there is no other way this could be perceived.He's a billionaire, and all billionaires are cocky. If he quietly did this, there would be outrage that not enough information was given, so many tribes and people would not know they could receive help. Then that would only lead to more and more criticism. At least it's out there and public, and now we need to keep on top this and check in for reports. I hope that Gary Edwards provides this information as the Executive Director. Lastly, the Redskins will make some positive steps towards getting better next year, and will start getting on par with Seahawks in the 2015 season. Maybe we'll meet again in the playoffs then. HTTR!

joenc60's picture
Submitted by joenc60 on
The word redskin has been a term bantered around fringe media outlets for several years now. Because the term is a derogatory word attributed to Native Americans and issues that are important to Natives rarely make the mainstream media it will probably never receive the due it is just. That is what is meant by the statement that it is an issue that has remained at the fringe of media, meaning the fringe of mainstream media. The word has been likened to the derogatory ‘n’ word referring to people of African heritage. To a Native American, itself a contradictory term, being referred to as a redskin is similar to being called the ‘n’ word. Conflict resolution is about being heard and often times the issue of an argument is not necessarily the core issue, it is something else but a person reaches that point where they say “aggghhh, I’ve had it” and snap. At the heart of the issue is typically an unmet need or interest. It would not be entirely inaccurate to say that this issue of the ‘r’ word is not solely based upon a simple derogatory term, but rather a much more grandiose issue; to be recognized and understood. Since the 1960s the civil rights movement has been centered and focused almost entirely on the African American minority segment of the population with images of young African Americans being blasted with water cannons and having police dogs ordered to attack them and this focus is not without merit. The black community has suffered an inexplicable amount of injustice and deserves to have their issues dealt with to bring about a sense of equality, however; for every headline that the African American community has grabbed, a nation of indigenous voices is made more silent. In movies, television programs, radio broadcasts and newspapers the word ‘nigger’ has become taboo. Even white stand up comedians have universally nearly stopped using the term entirely in a medium that knows almost no boundaries and even individuals who are not racially sensitive are rarely caught on record as uttering this word. For all the notoriety attributed to this term, another equally derogatory term is haphazardly slung about with no regard to the impact. Professional sports teams use terms referring to Native Americans with little regard to the cultural aspects or even a hint of respect to the heritage of indigenous people. The arguments used in justifying these terms are nearly as ignorant as the names themselves. Many argue that most Natives polled did not find the term offensive and the owner of the NFL team with the word as a team nickname suggests that the term is used with reverence and honor. All of which may be true, but taken in the context that the Native population is among the poorest in the nation economically, have poor health care in addition to poor health, high concentrations of substance abuse, fatherlessness and suicide it would not be a stretch of the imagination to say that most Natives have other, more pressing, concerns than worrying about whether or not a professional sports team is dishonoring or honoring their heritage by calling their team the Redskins, or the Indians, or the Blackhawks, or the Braves, or…….and so on. Claiming that the names are a manner of honoring the indigenous heritage must be what it feels like to be a tiger and have the city of Cincinnati name their team the Bengals, or be a maple tree and hearing that Toronto has named their hockey team the Maple Leafs. These ‘honors’ aside I’m sure if asked the tiger and the maple tree would rather be treated with equality and respect, but given the duplicity of human nature being enshrined as the mascot of sports team shall have to be sufficient. Yet, in spite of all of these inequities much of the sting of these terms could be alleviated if more attention was placed on the disparity of the economic conditions found on reservations. From an indigenous point of view, under a policy termed the “Doctrine of Discovery” which granted European countries the ‘right’ to ‘discover’ a continent inhabited by between 1.5 million to 18 million people (depending on which historian one wishes to believe) because they introduced Christianity, Natives had their homes invaded and essentially forcibly re-located to areas of convenience (for the government) until forced to re-examine the consequences of that invasion and re-location. That is the Native condition in a nutshell, paraphrased for the sake of the continuity and to remain on topic. While it can be hotly debated as to the morality of using these terms for whatever reason and whether or not it should or shouldn't be viewed in the same light as the ‘n’ word, one thing becomes inherently clear; there is a disparity in civil rights issues. Some people feel that word is not a derogatory term and point to the origin of the word and how it came about from indigenous people when referring to groups of themselves. (Skinner, 2013) While others argue that the word is a derogatory term and should be placed in the same class as the ‘n’ word pointing out that despite its origins it is the connotations in which the word is used that implies its negativity. (Ross, 2013) In much the same way that black men may call out to one another affectionately using the word ‘nigger’, or a derivative thereof, Natives will also use the word ‘redskin’ to refer to one another, sans affection or otherwise. This usage does not lend credence to the argument against using it loosely by professional sports teams or athletic teams in general. This past NFL season the Oneida nation launched a national advertising campaign advocating the removal of the team name for the Washington Redskins and the fervor stirred amounted to several segments on sports talk shows, a widely known sportscaster mentioning his opinion and even the president of the United States vehemently suggesting in non-confrontational manner that maybe the name should be changed. What was largely missed in the Oneida’s campaign was tribal leader Ray Halbritter profits from exercising questionable business practices that have made him a wealthy individual, wealth that has yet to trickle down to the general tribal membership. Interestingly, the same president of the United States that suggested the name be changed appears to have attended Harvard School of Law with the same Halbritter who has launched this campaign, who coincidentally appears to have contributed heavily to the president’s re-election campaign. The point being; that although outwardly it appears in national news that the Oneida nation is waging a campaign to have the nation’s capital professional football team change their name from the offensive ‘r’ word to something less offensive, all the while milking a multi-million dollar revenue generating machine while pocketing a good portion of that revenue. Enlisting sportscasters, albeit un-wittingly, and sports talk shows to perpetuate to the ‘issue’. Meanwhile, back on the reservation advocates on both sides of the ‘issue’ are jamming a microphone into every elder’s face in almighty journalistic attempt to get to the heart of the ‘matter’- “Elder, can you give us your take on some people’s support of the offensive ‘r’ word?” When the reality of the situation is the elder would rather have propane to heat their poorly insulated home and not have to worry about freezing to death when the temperature drops below 32°. Which is really what the issue should be; improving the conditions for Native people throughout the country. The country that is comprised of land taken by decree of a doctrine designed specifically to benefit the very decrier! Regardless of one’s belief in whether colonization of the America’s was just or even justified, can the logic deployed to substantiate the claim of the Europeans to settle the North American continent really be right? The Doctrine of Discovery is the age old European manner of invoking rights of ownership to lands ‘discovered’ whereby stipulating that any peoples not adhering to the dominant religious doctorate of the era, the Roman Catholic Church, were to be brought in under the papal influence and in doing so, relinquished all ‘claim’ to land those peoples inhabited. Once again this is paraphrasing for the sake of continuity yet revisits the point of emphasis initiated earlier; the word redskin is likened to the word nigger and what little media coverage addresses this issue, is missing the much larger picture. In conflict there are three roles, the victim, the villain and the hero. The victim is the party that feels wronged and that an injustice has been visited upon them, and views the initiator of said injury as the villain. The villain feels as though their actions are justified for self serving reasons and often has felt the role of the victim before initiating whatever action the victim experiences. The hero is the party that feels action must be taken to right the wrong and sets about, white hat adorned, to see that justice is served. In the matter of the term redskin, Native peoples have classically played the role of victim, non-Natives who sympathize with indigenous issues play the hero and those who assume the stance that it’s not derogatory, or that Natives should “just get over it” are clearly the villains. What all of this serves to do is put up a smoke screen in front of the real problems that Natives face; low income, health issues like diabetes and heart disease for lack of proper diet, suicide, substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, child abandonment, teen pregnancy, loss of cultural identity, depression and many other problems. Most Native Americans don’t really care about whether or not there is a pro football team called the Redskins, they’d rather have food and shelter, access to good health care and the opportunity to see their children grow in an environment absent of poverty and domestic issues.

la's picture
Submitted by la on
let's count how many times Ross used the "n word" regarding this stupid franchise/racist owner. & w h a t gives Ross permission to discriminate against Native people, based on their zipcode? why try to alienate urban Natives? de-colonize your mind, dude. its t i r e d to act like Native people who live/work outside their nation/permanent indian wars refugee camp--aren't as valid as your Obviously Better Native Warrior Lifestyle/Profession. i live in one the richest zipcodes around--because my Native partner b e a t my brains out, and i ran away to get safer. so, that makes me a discriminated against loser in Ross's book. some ragged patriarchal, macho, ignorant isht you are projecting. but A C T like you give a isht about violence against women. if it makes you look better. think about it while you are at work for the most privileged tribes...

Zucchero's picture
Submitted by Zucchero on
Just wanted to say that I had been reading you for free too long...... So I decided to support your art, and bought your books.... Very good books BTW!!! I recommend it!!

theGhostofDQ's picture
Submitted by theGhostofDQ on
The same people who will claim this is a "good thing" will jump up and down about Nick Cannon in "Whiteface." I bet dan would feel different if the Jewish community were offended by his teams name so this is just an obvious case of entitlement. Dan Snyder doesnt get to decide what is offensive and write a check to make it look ok in the press. Where are all the natives from the area now known as Washington DC? Where have they gone? Maybe dan snyder should spend some time honoring them and paying them a tribute. Showing some respect to the nations and giving privately would make more sense than writing checks that help nothing but his own guilty conscience.

sikak iskwew's picture
sikak iskwew
Submitted by sikak iskwew on
I don't usually fell the need to comment on articles on this website, because ICT usually draws really informed and intelligent comments from its readers. However, I do feel compelled to address a comment by a poster....the typical attempt to reify the mascots issue as a "non-issue". I suppose if you are the type of person who focuses mainly on what's in front of your face and don't really look at the bigger picture implications of the social reality in which you operate or the systemic relationships, then yes, I can see how you would consider the mascots issue a "non-issue" and that there are other issues that are "more important". But really, any way you look at it, the mascots issue is THE defining issue for every socio-economic problem currently experienced by Indigenous peoples in the USA and in every other region colonized by Europeans...the underlying driving factor for the way in which colonization went down is, in fact, racism. Racism is the reason why genocide was advocated by Frank L. Baum and General Amherst (of the smallpox blanket infamy). It was why a bounty was created for the skins & scalps of the "savage redman" who stood (and still stands) in the way of "progress". Racism is why indigenous peoples were herded onto what Europeans considered the worst lands, why they were lumped together as a "problem" and why Wounded Knee, Sand Creek, Marias River, and the genocides and ethnic cleansings all across "Indian" country even happened. Racism is why Indigenous people in the USA continue to enjoy a seat in the basement, getting crumbs from a government that has no respect for them and a society the vast majority of which that doesn't even know that "Indians" were not all killed off in the "Indian Wars". Last time I checked the USA still hadn't worked out its racism problem, period, let alone when it comes to Indigenous, yes, the mascots issue is more than just a singular issue---it is symbolic of every single socio-economic problem currently being experienced by Indigenous peoples today because at its heart is about racism and colonialism and the utter disrespect and disregard non-natives have for Indigenous peoples' 522 year history of being targeted for extermination in one way or another ONLY because they were/are not European/white. So bravo to the people who continue to wage this fight, because the mascot issue has brought far more attention to Indigenous people in the USA than any other issue has ever.

1wolfphotograph's picture
Submitted by 1wolfphotograph on
While I can see how one might take this as "Hush Money" I would like to point out that My self and people like me. (Native American Fans of the team) Have for a long time been calling on the Redskins Organization to stop TALKING about HONOR and Respect and SHOW IT. During the Month Of November 2013 The Washington Redskins Participated in the Native American Heritage Month by giving some air time to some of our historical figures. The culmination of this was Honoring Veterans day and Native American Heritage month by giving OUR HEROES some long over do National and INTERNATIONAL recognition on Monday Night Football. Being a Fan for as long as I can remember I never remember The Washington Redskins doing such things. Many people just deemed it a PR stunt and severely condemned the Organization and consequently gave the Code Talkers Flak for supporting the Organization. I am a fan no doubt, but I do feel that the Organization could do more to help the Native Community. So that is what we campaigned for. THIS is a Direct result of what we had suggested to the Team. But this is only the beginning. THIS is not HUSH money this is a response to what we, as fans, asked for. Granted this is only a SMALL step in the Right direction, but given the fact that the Organizations main focus is supposed to be a GAME CALLED FOOTBALL I think this is a very positive sign. I remain Cautiously Optimistic and plan to do my part to make sure the promises are kept and that Steps increase as time goes on. I would like to see more EDUCATION on Native Culture and Issues we face as a community but I want the NATIVE VOICES to be heard DIRECTLY. If this Effort and foundation can give a Platform for Natives to speak for ourselves then it can't be all that bad right?