Dear Dan Snyder;
You’re embarrassing us. Please stop.
I thought about starting this letter yesterday. And then I reconsidered. And then I awoke to find that you had written an open letter to season ticket holder of the Washington Redskins. Some would call it “emotional”. I’d personally call it schlocky. But it is just one of the many PR goofs that you’ve made on this issue, ever since the team you owned returned from relative obscurity after last season’s 10-6 season and NFC East Championship.
It’s frustrating, because last season’s 7 game winning streak, and the first division title since you bought the team, signified just how far you’ve come as an owner. At the end of the 2009 season, an abysmal 4-12 mess, something clearly changed. You realized you weren’t handling things the right way, and so you stepped back. You found a general manager who could restore some of the history and tradition of your program. You found a head coach that could build a winner. And though the ride was bumpy, ultimately, you stepping away from the football operations has proven to be the best thing that’s happened to the franchise. Few people realize how little you’re involved in basic day-to-day operations anymore. They still think you’re the puppet master. But that’s fine. Let them be misinformed. You stepping away has undoubtedly helped.
But all that good work has been undone by how poorly you’ve handled yourself away from the field. The near constant public relations failures of this team are as baffling as they are frustrating, if not occasionally maddening. For a multi-billion dollar sports franchise to have a public relations department with so little self-awareness is inexcusable.
This isn’t even about the name. I used to defend the Redskins name with a passion. The more PR blunders that came from the team, though, the more I started to change my mind, and I became pro-name change.
Now I’m indifferent. I’m neither pro-keep-the-name or pro-name change. What I am is exhausted. I’d change the name to the Washington Whatevers if it meant not having to engage in the debate anymore, and not having to watch you fumble your way through the dark on this issue, incapable of finding a way of expressing your pride over the name without also showing the kind of maturity that made Redskins fans despise a younger, more naive Dan Snyder.
For whatever reason, you have embraced the role of the heel in the narrative that today’s media culture has created for you. There are far, far worse owners in sports. You are not being indicted on federal charges like Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. You’ve never been on trial for fraud and racketeering like Ziggy Wilf. That is not to say you’ve been an angel and you haven’t done your fair share of occasionally shady things. But with owners like Haslam, and Wilf, and Donald Sterling, and others, somehow you have surpassed them all and been labeled one of the worst owners in sports.
In your own division, there is an owner that has been more meddlesome and more detrimental to their teams Super Bowl chances than you could ever hope to be. Jerry Jones has given out just as many bad contracts. He’s traded just as many draft picks away. He’s drafted more busts, and somehow managed to have even worse quarterbacks. Since you took over the team, the Redskins have a record of 102-126. Jerry Jones’ Cowboys has 114-116. And Jerry Jones runs every last facet of the team. What most people don’t know about you is how much you did defer to your coach and general manager, particularly when Coach Joe Gibbs returned. You run less on the team than he does. You’ve been practically non-existent in the press since handing the keys to the franchise to Allen and Shanahan. And yet he get infinitely less guff from the media than you do.
Why? Because Jerry Jones has learned a skill you either haven’t learned, or refuse to learn. He has learned how to work the media. He has worked his charm, with that southern drawl, and the smile, and always saying exactly what they always want to here, and keeping his off-the-field issues in the dark. And when he does get criticism from the media, both nationally and local, 90% of the time, he lets it roll off his back. You are not a worse owner than Jerry Jones. The mere fact that you were able to self-evaluate and see that the level of involvement you had with the team was too much more than suggests that. But everyone on the planet still thinks you are.
Because you seem intent on going out of your way to prove them right. The press has branded you a thin-skinned, insecure owner with a Napoleon complex who treats his football team like his own fantasy league. And while most Redskins fans know that you haven’t ever really treated your team like a fantasy team, or think that even though you once did, you have embraced a new commitment to not doing so, that whole first part, that’s the part you seem intent on replaying.
Dave McKenna was a small-time reporter, at a small-time paper, who seemed to have a weird personal vendetta against you. He published a sort-of-funny, sort of dumb “Guide to the Cranky Redskins fan”, which was the kind of “journalism” you’d find on your high-brow, sophisticated news site like Bleacher Report or Buzzfeed. In it he insulted you, which was, admittedly, unfair and stupid. McKenna made it personal, and I can understand why it mad you mad.
I can not understand why you then sued McKenna and the Washington City-Paper for libel. That gave small timer Dave McKenna a big national platform with which to shout your alleged evilness from the roof tops, including a valuable ally in the folks at Deadspin. That gave McKenna an even bigger reason to continue his personal vendetta against you. It prompted ESPN the Magazine to call you the NFL’s most despised owner after Al Davis died, and branded McKenna — the guy who insulted you unprompted — as the every man trying to stick it to your evil corporate douchebag stereotype.
A better owner would have ignored that, would have just let it slide off their back. But you didn’t. Just as you continue to have an unending feud with the Washington Post, who continue to antagonize you, and you continue to try and restrict their access.
But I’m getting off track. This is about how you’ve handled this particular issue. The name issue. I have no doubt that you have a personal stake in the team’s name, just like millions of fans. And you are first and foremost a fan, a man who grew cheering for the team with your father. One thing that people should always understand is how everything you’ve done is not motivated by ego, but by the unending desire to see your team — figuratively and literally your team — continue to succeed in flourish. I doubt there is an owner in sports that wants to win a Super Bowl more than you. It’s personal to you.
It’s time to put the personal pride aside an re-evaluate how you’re attacking the issue. Because you, Mr. Snyder, are embarrassing us.
I was embarrassed when the name issue flared up once more; when columnist like Mike Wise used the emergence of quarterback Robert Griffin III to push their agenda, more or less calling RGIII a coward for not speaking up, and when Courtland Milloy suggested that RGIII’s torn ACL was “karma” for the name. I was embarrassed because, rather than let these attention seekers continue to wallow in the smug superiority and their moronic responses to a complex issue, you fed right into them.
Through the team’s blog, you began to point out the high school’s that used the team. Seriously. You forced the great people who work at the Redskins Blog to go out and search out high school’s that used the name. This, if you’re not sure, is the rough equivalent of dropping the n-word in mixed company and then saying “No, it’s cool, I have a black friend and they let me use it all the time”. I was more embarrassed when it became apparent that a few of those schools actually had changed their names in a bid to be more sensitive, and that those name changes were actually driven by students.
Teenagers have showed more maturity on this issue than a multi-billion dollar sports empire. This is a problem.
The reaction to those posts was all negative. No one liked them. And yet they persisted. And they only made the issue larger, as symposiums were formed, and national media outlets began to rally against the name. Your immaturity on the issue had taken something that was mainly local, and made it national.
I have no bones about the team-sanctioned television program “Redskins Nation” being used primarily as a vessel to promote the team; most teams in the league have shows that are identical in their homerness. But man, I was embarrassed when I and found out that you had gone out of your way to find an “Indian” Chief.
I was embarrassed that you were so chaffed by the name issue, you actively had to go out and find an Indian chief. And that was bad enough, and it was sort of racist. But I could’ve dealt with that, if you didn’t find an Indian chief who wasn’t even a Redskins fan. And worse yet, he was a Philadelphia Eagles fan. That was insulting as all hell to me, and an embarrassment. But at least that seemed like it would only be a local embarrassment.
…Until your old friend Dave McKenna went ahead and did some research, and found out that “Chief Dodson”, the one Native American you could find to come on your program and defend the name, was a complete and utter phony. “Chief Dodson” is not an Indian chief, and in fact, he may not even be any sort of Indian period. Because you either 1.) knew he was a fake and didn’t care or (and this one is more likely) 2.) didn’t do you research and didn’t know that the Eagles fan you had gotten to come on your show and defend the name wasn’t who he said he was.
But just days after that, in another bone-headed move, at a charitable event no less, at an event where your franchise quarterback raised $33,000 for the American Cancer Society (this is what one would call “positive press”), once again, when asked about the name, instead of being smart and deferring, or making some small, innocuous comment in the vain of “It’s a complex issue , we’re taking it under advisement, we’ll talk about it another time”, you proudly (and dumbly) proclaimed “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER. You can use all caps.”
For some jerk on the internet like me, this response would be perfectly acceptable. For you, Mr. Snyder, as the owner of this franchise, as much as it seemed to earn you brownie points with the fans, I thought that response was despicable. It was tone deaf. It detracted from all the good work you had done. And one again, it made the issue explode nationally. And then everyone found out about the fake Indian chief, which only made things worse.
The President was asked about the name. He’s been getting asked about it for months, and he always deferred, but in a sitdown interview, he gave his opinion on it. However you feel about Barack Obama, he was asked a question, he gave a fairly static answer that wasn’t inflammatory in any way. In light of a government shutdown and a looming fight over the debt ceiling, the issue of the Redskins name probably would be dead…
Had you not, once again, felt the need to respond, again. And this time you did it through Lanny Davis. Davis is a personal friends of yours and has acted as a lawyer and adviser. That’s fine. But at no time has Lanny Davis ever, ever been a spokesman for the Redskins. Nearly every person on the Redskins beat was confused by the distinction. But again, in your hamfisted way, it seemed as though you had searched up a guy who voted for Obama, just to be able to tell him off.
The Obama issue did not need a response. It did not need a prepared team statement. It should have died. It was an interesting nugget in interesting times. And instead of letting it die, you, once again, made it a bigger issue. You made it an issue that was debated on all the Sunday debate shows. You, Mr. Snyder, embarrassed me. Again.
And your open letter to the fans — also known as the only people who you think agree unilaterally on this issue with you — is embarrassing. It’s insipid. It speaks directly to the kind of people who will gobble it up and keep their heads buried in the sand on the issue, whether they want the name changed or not. Despite playing lip service to listening to the issue and respecting people’s opinion, time and time and time and time and time and time, and yes, even more time again, you prove you don’t respect people’s opinions. You don’t respect them, because you will never change the name. Did you forget you said that?
That is not showing anyone respect. Being thin-skinned and unable to, occasionally, let the controversy of the moment not bloom into the controversy of the week doesn’t show respect to your team. Loudly proclaiming you’ll never change doesn’t respect the fans who line your pockets while simultaneously being called willing enablers of racism by other teams fans.
Every fan should be embarrassed over the things you’ve done. They show none of the growth you’ve exhibited in handling your football team. It feeds into every mean, ill-informed stereotype ever written about you.
As for that “emotional” letter, a history lesson. When George Preston Marshall moved the then Boston Braves to Fenway Park, he made the monetary decision that he couldn’t keep them named the Braves. So he changed the name to a hybrid to pay tribute to the Redsox and keep part of the Braves heritage; the Boston Redskins. And then they hired Lone Star Dietz, who, despite your romanticizing of him as an American Indian head coach, actually wasn’t, as he’d been accused of stealing the identity of an actual Native American, in order to get out of going to the first World War. (Ain’t that a proud heritage.) It was was a pretty obvious bid to say “Hey, come watch the Indian guy coach the team named for Indians! And they even have Indian players!”, from an owner who had to be forced by the federal government to integrate his football team, otherwise he wouldn’t be allowed to play in RFK Stadium.
Which once again shows the kind of thought provoking research you put into defending the name. Or that you don’t care.
Mr. Snyder. I understand that you don’t want to change the name. I understand that you have a personal stake in it. I understand (like no one else does) that even if you were to have a spontaneous change of heart and wanted to change the name, the NFL has to improve it, and they have a business stake. I understand that crafting a new brand for an 81-year old franchise can be pain-staking, expensive work. I understand that some fans would never forgive you for changing it. I understand there are legitimate reasons for not changing the name, just like I understand there are legitimate reasons to change it.
What I don’t understand is how tone deaf all these responses are. What I don’t understand is how you don’t have people around you, constantly face palming as you careen through this issue, one horrific response at a time, completely unaware of how bad it makes you and the team look. I’m a little tired of seeing my Twitter and Facebook timelines filled with Redskins fans fighting about it, and I’m sort of tired of this issue being an issue and you not letting sleeping dogs lie. I’m tired of head coach Mike Shanahan, and general manager Bruce Allen, and Robert Griffin III, and Fred Davis, and all the players who have been asked, being asked this question. I’m tired of hearing Mike Wise’s meek voice asking the same question over and over again, sneaking into the frame behind RGIII press conferences wearing shirts with American Indians on them. I’m tired of seeing the issue debated on ESPN, and on cable news, and now on broadcast news shows. Poor Dan Steinberg is going to go crazy writing about this every day. I’m sick of it being in the paper, I’m sick of seeing your face on Deadspin, I’m sick of news outlets making bold proclamations that they’re not going to use the name Redskins, usually prompted by something the team did or something you said.
Some fights are going to be loss. You are not going to “win” on this issue, Mr. Snyder. You are not going to wake up and find that the world suddenly agrees with you that because other teams use Native American imagery and because some high school uses it and because the team once had a fake Native American coach and you found a fake Indian guy who liked it and you’ve been using it for 81 years that you people will just agree with you. As I said, this is a complex issue, sir, and complex issues deserve legitimate, adult conversations, of which there have been far too few. Particularly from the team side of things.
You’ve come along way, Mr. Snyder. But the more gasoline you pour on this fire, the bigger the chance that it’ll blow up in your face, and eventually the public pressure will get so high that it won’t matter if you want to change the name, Roger Goodell will force you to change the name. Hire a new PR department, or maybe do some soul searching and ask if what you’re doing is helping or hurting the franchise. Really think about it, and then maybe put some brain power into never responding the way you have before.
Despite a slow start, this is still the most exciting it has been to be a Redskins fan in a long time.
You’ve gotten really good as not becoming a distraction. I’d appreciate it very much if you didn’t continue on this path.
Follow KC on twitter @kcclyburn.