'Dad, Are They Making Fun of Us?' Being a Parent in the Age of 'Redskins'
Wilson Pipestem is reshaping the ‘R’ word name-change discussion by explaining why tradition should not trump racial sensitivities—especially when it comes to Native youth.
In his letter to fans on Wednesday, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder invoked the name of the Red Cloud Athletic Fund to defend his NFL team’s name, recounting how legendary coach George Allen consulted with the fund, located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, to design the Redskins emblem.
On Friday, officials at the Red Cloud Indian School in South Dakota — the primary beneficiary of the athletic fund — raised questions about Snyder’s account and denounced the team’s name.
“As an organization, Red Cloud Indian School has never — and will never — endorse the use of the name ‘Redskins,’ ” Robert Brave Heart, the group’s executive vice president, and George Winzenburg, the president, said in a statement. “Like many Native American organizations across the country, members of our staff and extended community find the name offensive.”
Allen became involved with the Pine Ridge reservation in the 1960s, when he was an assistant coach for the Chicago Bears, said a Redskins source who was close to Allen but spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation. Allen — the father of Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen — did not do it for “politically correct reasons,” the source said, but because he wanted to help.
George Allen started the Red Cloud Athletic Fund with professional baseball pitcher Paul “Dizzy” Trout and others, according to Red Cloud school officials. The fund was based in Illinois but raised money for athletic equipment and facilities for Red Cloud students. It appears to have stopped operating after 2000, the last year it filed a 990 tax return.
Through the fund, the coach developed personal relationships with Pine Ridge residents, the source said. And for his efforts to help the school, Allen was given a plaque that still hangs in the Redskins’ headquarters and that Snyder refers to in his letter to fans. The inscription on the back reads: “This Indian Prayer plaque has been especially made by the Sioux Indian people of the Pine Ridge Reservation for George in appreciation of the kind and generous help given to Sioux Indian children of the Red Cloud Indian School.”
The fund, said Brave Heart and Winzenburg, “was a generous, independent entity that worked to support athletics at Red Cloud Indian School at one time and benefited hundreds of our students.” However, he said “the Red Cloud Indian School was not involved in conversations around an emblem for the Washington Redskins football team.”
In his letter to fans, Snyder cited the athletic fund’s help in designing the emblem, along with the plaque given to Allen, as one of several examples of Native American support for the team’s name. The coach, who died in 1990, often told the story of how he consulted with Pine Ridge friends about changing the emblem, said the source who knew Allen.
Red Cloud Indian School officials said that it was possible Allen dealt with people whom he personally knew on the reservation, but that, as far as they know, the school played no part in it.