Washington Redskins owner Dan Synder said in a letter Monday that he's done some soul-searching about the controversy over his team's name, and he's decided to keep it -- but the team will be opening a fund for Native American communities to sponsor projects like giving out winter coats.
"As the bitter Arctic winds swept across the Plains this winter, we distributed over 3,000 cold-weather coats to several tribes, as well as shoes to players on boys and girls basketball teams," Snyder wrote in a letter posted to the Redskins' website. (Read the full text of the letter below).
Snyder said Monday he's creating a foundation to assist American Indian tribes, even as some in that community continue to assert that the name "Redskins" is offensive.
"It's not enough to celebrate the values and heritage of Native Americans," Snyder said in a letter to the team's fans. "We must do more."
The letter states the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation will "provide meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities" for Native Americans. The announcement did not state whether Snyder will personally donate any money to the foundation and gave no other financial details.
A major opponent of the nickname said Snyder's move was "somewhere between a PR assault and bribery." Suzan Shown Harjo, a lead figure in a long-running case that seeks to strip the Redskins of their federal trademark protection, told The Associated Press that Snyder is showing the "same arrogance" that he's shown previously when defending the nickname.
"I'm glad that he's had a realization that Native Americans have it tough in the United States," Harjo said. "All sorts of people could have told him that, and have been trying to tell him that for a long time."
Snyder again gave no indication he plans to change the team's name. He said he believes "even more firmly" the name "captures the best of who we are and who we can be, by staying true to our history and honoring the deep and enduring values our name represents."
Snyder has come under unprecedented pressure to change the name over the last year. President Barack Obama told the AP in October he would consider changing the name if he owned the team.
Harjo said the refusal to budge on the name will offset, at least in part, the good that is done with the foundation's money.
"Will (the foundation) do much of anything? No. But it probably won't hurt," Harjo said, "except that it will continue the cycle of negative imaging of Native American people in the public arena."
In the letter, Snyder said he and his staff visited 26 reservations over the last four months. He listed poverty, illness, drug abuse, violence and lack of basic infrastructure as among the problems faced by Native Americans.
"I've listened. I've learned. And frankly, its heart wrenching," the letter said.
Harjo wondered why Snyder, who has owned the team since 1999, is only just now reaching out to Native Americans.
"It's sort of an admission that he was losing the PR battle," she said. "So now he's gone out to find the real story — as if someone was hiding the real story about pressing needs in Indian country."