On Friday, Redskins general manager/President/it’s-unclear-what-his-actual-title-is-right-now Bruce Allen responded to a letter sent by 50 United States Senators to NFL
czar commissioner Roger Goodell urging him to force the Washington Redskins to change their name. Upon my first reading of it, I thought it was exactly what it needed to be; smart, well-written, un-confrontational, fact checked, sourced. I felt like it was the perfect response, not because I support the name or don’t (I really don’t care at this point), but mainly because for the first time in what felt like months, it wasn’t such an obvious faceplant.
And then Saturday morning came along. And it started to sink in that the same old arguments that had failed to gain traction before we were regurgitated; the AP poll, the Annenberg poll, “we use the name to honor Native Americans”, the disputed origin of the logo. And the weird note about how many championships the Redskins have won (for some reason it neglected to mention it’s been 23 years since the Redskins have sniffed a Super Bowl and they’ve only won their division twice in that span. Can’t imagine why.)
I felt like I’d fallen into a trap; after a year and change of intense scrutiny of the name and watching the Redskins PR staff continue to fall into pit after deadly, spike-filled pit, the fact that they had managed to do something about it without catastrophically screwing it had put me at ease.
On some level, it feels like the national and local media has always had it out for Dan Snyder. Snyder’s reputation as one of the worst owners in sports is largely unjustified. His biggest problem seems to be being a douche, but there are tons of owners that are douchebags, and certainly more so than him.
He’s no Jimmy Haslam. The owner of the Cleveland Browns and CEO of Pilot J Flying (a chain of truck stops) is facing possible federal fraud charges, after Pilot J allegedly cheated trucking companies out of millions of dollars in contractually agreed to rebates. He’s no Zygi Wilf, owner of the Minnesota Vikings, who is having a new stadium built on the taxpayer’s dime, after a New Jersey court found that Wilf and his brothers violated civil state racketeering laws and used bogus booking practices to cut out two other investers from getting their share of revenues from an apartment complex. He’s not Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, the once general manager who ran his team into the ground, the man who just got the lightest of slaps on the wrist after being charged with OUI after getting caught with a briefcase full of pills and $29,000 in cash.
He’s not Donald Sterling, despite everyone’s rush to link him to him. Sterling has always been unabashedly racist and incredibly cheap and otherwise been a vile human being; that didn’t just happen a couple months ago. He’s been getting sued for discriminatory comments since 2003 and has been known to be racist for far longer than that.
There are a lot of sports team owners with lists of crimes that are more serious and worrying than Dan Snyder. And yet, in essense, the owners (particularly in the NFL) are Teflon. Count the number of times you’ve seen a debate about Jim Irsay’s OUI on ESPN or NFL Network in the last couple months. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Yeah. That’s what I thought.
So why is it that Dan Snyder gets the bulk of the crap shoveled on him? While some of it can’t be helped, a big part of the problem — perhaps bigger than most fans want to admit — is that he makes himself an exceptionally easy target.
To borrow from wrestling for a second, if you’re going to be a heel, you had damn well be prepared to take the heat. Meaning, if you’re going to play the role of a villain, you can’t be shocked, dismayed or look unprepared when people treat you like a villain.
Snyder’s always had a knack for getting under the press’ skin, whether it be by restricting access to the Redskins, or making asinine comments like “We’ll never change the name. NEVER — you can use all caps”. He sued Dave McKenna, a relatively small time reporter for the relatively small Washington City Paper, a move the only served to elevated McKenna’s stature and create a long time grudge that still creeps up until this day. They threatened a lawsuit against 106.7 The Fan for a series of dumb parodies.
His gaffes as a young owner — charging for training camp in 2000, suing an elderly fan, etc., — hang over him no matter how much he contracts from the team and tries to stay away. But it’s only because he sticks his chin out to get hit. Repeatedly. By several people at once.
The Redskins PR department is a joke, that’s only managed to exacerbate issues. In 2012, as the controversy about the name started to pick up steam, rather than try to calmly address the issue, the Redskins Blog immediately began to publish several articles in defense of the name. Several of these articles had to do with football teams around the country that used the name. High school football teams. A multi-million dollar organization with people that are paid high salaries pulled the same card you did when your parents caught you drinking the first time. “But Mom, Kelly was drinking too, and no one is complaining about her!”
Except that a few of those high schools, including Neshaminy High School in Philadelphia, had students that opposed the name.
And that other time, where Redskins lead broadcaster and shiller-in-chief Larry Michael hosted Chief Dodson, an “indian chief”, who represented “more than 700 tribe members”, who turned out to be completely and utterly phony. So eager were the Redskins to get a Native American — ANY Native American — to defend the Redskins name, that they didn’t even do a cursory background check to see if the man was 1.) actual Native American, 2.) actually a chief and 3.) was actually a Redskins fan. (Dodson was an Eagles fan.)
There was Dan Snyder’s open letter to fans (and only fans), wherein he quite literally preached to the choir. Snyder started the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation (or OAF, in case it wasn’t clear enough that the Redskins don’t really think their PR moves through), an idea that seemed a blatant PR move, made only worse when it was discovered that Gary L. Edwards, the director of OAF, was chief executive of the National Native American Law Enforcement Association when it was cited in a Department of the Interior report for allegedly biking the Bureau of Indian Affairs out of nearly a million dollars.
The NNALEA was charged with the responsibility of recruiting Native Americans to work in law enforcement on Indian land. What was found was that of the 748 applications that were filed, none of them were usable. In fact, of the 514 applications the inspector general reviewed, only 22 applicants were actual a Native decent.
Dan Snyder hired that guy to head his charitable organization to help Indians. See what I mean about “sticking his chin out to get hit” now?
It’s no wonder why it’s so absurdly easy for a
con-artist liar coach like Mike Shanahan to essentially set the organization ablaze on his way out the door, severely damaging the reputation of it’s star player, and almost everyone universally agrees that somehow Snyder was at fault. It doesn’t matter how far he is away from the team; the stench of moves like these follows the team and hangs above it.
And the PR teams gaffes helped perpetuate all the controversy around Mike Shanahan and Robert Griffin III. As if no one had sat the both of them down in a room and had a discussion about how they were going to handle the delicate situation going forward. Coach and QB in-fighting in the media with seemingly no filter to ease the tension and come to some sort of consensus on what the message was going to be.
On top of that, the continued debate of the name seems to be tearing the fanbase apart. Social media and message boards basically tear themselves apart at the seams anytime one of these issues pops up.
For yours truly, it’s not even about the name anymore. The debate over the name is circular, and there is no real consensus about it. The truth, as with most things in life, probably lies somewhere in the middle, in the gray area. Some people think the name is offensive, some people don’t, others don’t care, others just want the Redskins out of the news.
Here, I’ll put it in caps like Dan — I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE NAME. THIS POST ISN’T ABOUT THE NAME, OR WHETHER I THINK IT’S RIGHT OR WRONG.
The Redskins continue to embarrass themselves by making dumb, simple, avoidable mistakes. They don’t operate the way a corporation should. They leave themselves open to attack, and then rather than think of a smart counter punch, they get defensive, lash out, and then get knocked the hell out.
Snyder’s first mistake has been his refusal to acknowledge other points of view on the issue. Every response is tinged with the thought of “other people thinking this issue is wrong doesn’t matter, what we think matters.” In none of Snyder’s response (or Bruce’s, for the matter), do any form of the words “we have taken other people’s opinions under advisement” appear. This makes everything they do seem like an excuse and less than sincere.
Snyder’s second mistake? Thinking like a fan. Fans don’t know anything about business. They react on instinct and emotion instead of with business savvy and public reaction. “Put it all in caps — NEVER” is the kind of thing I’d say no Twitter, or to my friend on the couch , not in a business setting with the world listening. In today’s world, everything is news. Everything.
Here’s how Dan Snyder should have responded —
“At this time we have no plans to change the name, but we take other people’s points of views seriously. We’ve taken this issue under advisement and plan to meet with several Native American leaders as well as people who oppose the name, and we’ll move forward accordingly.”
At least then, you’re lying about giving a damn. At least then, people can’t take an issue potshot at you for easy clicks on the internet and your face doesn’t show up on SportsCenter in a way that makes you out be a goof.
The third mistake is Dan Snyder surrounding himself with bad employees who tell him what he wants to hear and shill for him. Tony Wylie is the Redskins Senior Vice President in charge of communications. Wylie is also really bad at his job. He and the team around him embarrass the team constantly. The Redskins lag behind small market teams when it comes to online content and media relations. They openly antagonize local press, going so far as to snatch microphones from reporters asking questions they don’t like. Larry Michael is a great team spokesmen and not much else, and his status as a corporate shill is well known.
In business, you can’t surround yourself with people who 1.) tell you everything you want to here, and 2.) are bad at the jobs you pay them to do.
Dan Snyder has come a long way as an owner. It’s a shame that his continued gaffes and blunders make it seem like he’s the same young, inexperienced guy that bought the team nearly 15 years ago.