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Parallels Drawn Between NBA’s Sterling and NFL’s Snyder on Racism

A look at how close NBA’s Donald Sterling’s and NFL’s Daniel Snyder’s racism is and the growing pressure from politicians and major publications.

Politicians from both sides of the aisle, major publications and networks, and sports professionals are ramping up calls for NFL Redskins owner Dan Snyder to learn from the NBA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s race imbroglio.

After audio recordings were recently released on the Internet highlighting a private conversation in which Sterling made crude and racist remarks against African Americans, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling from the NBA and fined him $2.5 million. NBA owners are also set to vote on whether to force him to sell the Clippers.

In contrast, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has supported Snyder’s devotion to the Redskins name, despite widespread Native American protests. Snyder has also visited reservations and received support from within the NFL to create an Original Americans Foundation, which many Indians have seen as an attempt to draw attention away attention from the controversy.

The latest support for Snyder to change the undisputedly racist and psychologically-damaging Washington, D.C. football team came May 4 on NBC’s Meet the Press from Kevin Johnson, Democratic mayor of San Francisco.

“I think the Native American community and many others feel that that is not the right name going forward,” said Johnson, a former professional basketball player in the NBA. “I think the NBA set a great example—that you can act swiftly and decisively.”

The Washington Post, The Hill, Politico, and many newspapers and sports publications nationwide have featured articles and editorials in recent days drawing parallels between Sterling’s views on race and those of Snyder, who sees nothing wrong with the Redskins moniker, despite many Native Americans explaining to him and his staff that it is a racial epithet.

The Washington Post on May 1 featured former Redskins player London Fletcher saying on an NBC sports program that Snyder needs to listen to Native Americans on this matter.

“You know, I spent seven years in Washington and hadn’t really thought a whole lot about it until this past season,” Fletcher was quoted as saying. “You heard more about it in the news, more things were coming out about it. So I started to really look at it, and started to kind of take hold and get a true understanding of what the word Redskin meant. Get a history lesson, in a sense. And I started feeling a little bit uneasy about it. Voiced my concern to General Manager Bruce Allen, and suggested that Mr. Snyder, the owner, should go and speak with some of the Native Americans, just to get their thoughts on it, to find out how they truly feel about the name.

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“It’s his football team, and he’s been adamant about saying he’s never going to change the name, but I think if he goes and has some conversations maybe he might look at it a little bit different,” Fletcher added.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) said in the past week that Snyder should change the name. A clip of Reid’s message was shown on Meet the Press during Johnson’s appearance.

“Since Snyder fails to show any leadership, the National Football League should take an assist from the NBA and pick up the slack—it would be a slam dunk…,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “For far too long, the NFL has been sitting on its hands, doing nothing, while an entire population of Americans has been denigrated.”

“I do believe that, if I were him (Snyder), I would sit down with Native American leaders,” McCain said on a May 2 airing of the Dan Patrick radio show. “I’d call the Native American leaders together. And I’d sit down with them, and I’d say, ‘OK, what is it that you want? How do you want me to do it?’ If I were him, I’d have a dialogue. And if they think it’s that offensive and terrible I would certainly probably — I’m not the owner, he has the rights of an owner — but frankly I would probably change the name. Myself, I’m not offended, you’re not offended. But there are Native Americans who are.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who stepped down as chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in February, has also called on Snyder to change the name, as have House Reps. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, and at least a dozen others.

“I’m not asserting that Snyder’s comments are the exact equivalent, but they have, on our Native people, the same effect as Sterling’s on African Americans,” Holmes recently told The Washington Post. “The only difference is that Native Americans have to see that name everywhere, all the time, where [Sterling’s] was a one-time exposure to a man who apparently holds deep racial views.”

Despite the increasing alarm over the Redskins name, Snyder has again dug in his heels.

“We understand the issues out there, and we’re not an issue,” Snyder said in an April 22 Associated Press interview. “The real issues are real-life issues, real-life needs, and I think it’s time that people focus on reality.”

Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation representative and CEO of Nation Enterprises, parent company of Indian Country Today Media Network, responded in a statement: “If he (Snyder) wants to focus on reality, here’s a reality check: the longer he insists on slurring Native Americans, the more damage he will keep doing to Native American communities, and the more he will become synonymous with infamous segregationist George Preston Marshall, who originally gave the team this offensive name.”