SportsPulse: The Black Lives Matter movement and recent protests have rekindled the debate about the Washington Redskins by changing their names. Mike Jones explains why change is unlikely to happen anytime soon. USA TODAY
In the face of growing public pressure to change the name of his NFL team, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder wrote in a 2014 letter that it was time to focus on actions, not words.
So, he wrote, he was announcing the creation of the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, a nonprofit organization that “would provide significant and measurable resources that would provide genuine opportunities for tribal communities.”
“I believe the Washington Redskins community should be committed to making a real, lasting and positive impact on the quality of life for Native Americans – one tribe and one person at a time,” wrote Snyder.
Now, more than six years later, the team is undergoing a “complete overhaul” of its name amid a new wave of criticism and public statements from major sponsors.
And after a contagious start, Snyder’s once-touted foundation actually went dark.
According to an audited financial statement obtained by USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday, the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation (WROAF) distributed $ 0 in grants or donations to Native American causes during the fiscal year ending February 28, 2019 – the most recent year for which records are publicly available.
The absence of financial donations in fiscal 2019 is part of a sharp decline since the foundation’s inaugural year.
Tax records show that WROAF donated almost $ 3.7 million to Native American causes in that first year, but less than half that amount ($ 1.6 million) in year 2. The foundation subsequently donated about $ 650,000. in fiscal year 2017 and $ 303,000 in fiscal year 2018 and $ 0 in fiscal year 2019, according to tax records.
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As a result of this decline, WROAF spent more money on maintaining its own team than it did on Native American causes in each of the two most recent years for which records are publicly available.
Brian Mittendorf, a nonprofit accounting expert, said the organization’s finances paint the image of a private foundation that “is just hanging around.”
“They have stopped providing donations to charities involved in these areas. In fact, they have moved to a zero level,” said Mittendorf, an Ohio professor of accounting.
“I think the big question you would say is, what are they doing? And they are paying wages in large part. How that translates into charitable results is unclear.”
In response to a series of questions about WROAF, team spokesman Sean DeBarbieri said the foundation has directed more money to Native American causes than any other professional sports team since its creation in 2014, citing a figure of almost $ 10 million. (He later clarified that only $ 6.25 million was distributed directly to Native American communities and that the $ 10 million figure includes the foundation’s general and operating costs.)
DeBarbieri also wrote in an email that WROAF conducted two football fields, facilitated the donation of 160 pairs of glasses and delivered food and supplies to various tribes in South Dakota during the 2019 fiscal year, which covers the 28-year period. from February 2018 to 28 February 2019.
Boyd Gourneau, a leader of the Lower Brule Sioux, confirmed that his tribe had benefited from the three activities, but said the glasses were donated in the fall of 2019 and the other activities took place about three or more years ago. He said that his tribe, however, has a “great” relationship with the foundation.
“We haven’t had much interaction recently,” said Gourneau early Wednesday morning. “But you know, every tribe is kind of fighting for survival right now. And when it comes, we will accept it. We can certainly use it.”
Although WROAF is still registered as an active charity in Virginia, according to state records, there has been little public evidence of its activity since 2018.
The foundation does not have active social media accounts and its website’s domain name has expired, although the website itself is still accessible. The promotional materials distributed by the team focus on the efforts of The Redskins Charitable Foundation, a separate nonprofit.
WROAF’s lapse contrasts sharply with the bombing with which Snyder, owner of the Redskins since 1999, announced his creation.
In his four-page fan letter in 2014, Snyder wrote that he had visited 26 reserves in 20 states, in an effort to learn about the difficulties facing Native American communities. He also highlighted the charitable efforts that were already underway to resolve them.
“As I am serious about the importance of this cause, I started our efforts calmly and respectfully, away from the spotlight, to learn and be guided by the tribal leaders themselves,” wrote Snyder.
In the years that followed, however, WROAF quickly became a source of tension in some Native American communities, with various tribes or reserves refusing to accept grants or donations from the foundation for fear that they would become props in the ongoing struggle for the team. of the NFL. name.
The Quechan Tribe in Yuma, Arizona, for example, said they declined a WROAF “blank check” that would have built a skate park in the Fort Yuma Reserve.
“We know how to bribe money when we see it,” quechans said in a statement at the time.
Others were more open to the foundation’s offerings. The Chippewa Cree tribe in Montana, for example, allowed WROAF to finance the construction of a gold and wine playground in the Rocky Boy Reserve. According to tax records, the tribe received more than $ 960,000 from the foundation over a three-year period, starting with fiscal year 2015.
Like other tribes, however, the Cree of Chippewa saw that money dry up during fiscal 2018. It received no grant or contribution during that period, according to the WROAF tax return. (A message left with the tribe’s finance department on Tuesday was not immediately returned.)
Mittendorf said he found WROAF’s recent financial records gloomy and unusual. He noted that the foundation had only $ 1,000 in cash in February 2018, for example, and that its employee spending on grants and donations was “quite skewed” – especially in fiscal 2019, when they did not issue any grants. . or donations.
“It is certainly rare for a private foundation not to be involved in donations and also in direct charity activities,” said Mittendorf.
DeBarbieri said the foundation plans to focus on future programming that will have a wider reach than its previous efforts. According to the WROAF tax return for fiscal 2018, the majority of its most recent donations were directed to schools. The median donation or donation distributed that year was $ 3,600.
Contact Tom Schad at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.
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