By Chris Hoenig
Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder pulled the ol’ “I have _____ friends” move over the weekend, and it failed miserably.
Snyder invited outgoing Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly to his box for Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, and, predictably, the publicity stunt was shown on TV during the game.
But perhaps Snyder would have been wise to do a little further research on his guest.
By the time the Super Bowl rolls around, Shelly will no longer be the president of the Navajo Nation. He didn’t even make it to the ballot for the general election, finishing seventh out of 17 candidates in this summer’s primary—with less than a quarter of the votes of the leading candidate. His presidency will end in January after just a single, turmoil-filled term.
Shelly’s support of Snyder and Washington’s team name goes directly against the desires of the Navajo people and the Navajo Nation Council, which voted 9-2 in April to oppose the name. Two major sponsors withdrew from an annual celebrity golf tournament hosted by the Navajo Nation’s radio station after Shelly secretly signed up Snyder’s Original Americans Foundation as a sponsor, against the wishes of tribal elders.
Fraud and conspiracy charges raised eyebrows from the very beginning of Shelly’s term, and Shelly—Snyder’s guest and ally—eventually agreed to repay more than $8,000 that he was accused of stealing from the tribal government.
Snyder has remained steadfast that he will not change the team’s name, despite letters from 50 U.S. Senators calling for a name change, the revocation of the team’s trademark registration by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the refusal of CBS analysts to say the name on-air, the refusal by a former top referee to officiate any of the team’s games, and many high schools dropping the nickname. Oh, yeah, and the fact that the name is a slur against the American Indian people.
Supporters of the team’s name cite the pride and history of the team—despite the fact that the team was founded in Boston and named the Braves—and the widespread acceptance of other American Indian nicknames, such as the Braves, Chiefs, Indians and Seminoles (Florida State University actually has permission from the Seminole Tribe of Florida to use the name), even if none of those nicknames are a slur the way Washington’s team name is.