Ten Yard Fight -- Keeping the Redskins Name Might Not Be the Win Dan Snyder Thinks It Is

Al Messerschmidt

Is marketing still more important than winning to the Redskins organization? The battle over the name change suggests one answer.

1. Sometimes I have that "Michael Jordan feeling," where I worry about taking too strong of a stance on something due to the certainty I have that it will absolutely piss some of you off. Jordan famously suggested that both Democrats and Republicans buy shoes. Similarly, both supporters of the name as well as advocates for the name change bleed burgundy and gold, and the ranks of both sides are full of great people who don't have an evil thought or wish in their hearts. I have refrained from drowning Hogs Haven in endless debate over this, but periodically, the topic requires an honest assessment. Feel free to take issue with any of the points I make (or try to make), but let's continue to keep things civil. Angrily facing off against each other on this does not serve anyone, but thinking about it and constructively talking about it serves everyone.

2. Dan Snyder has mostly himself to blame for the tenor of the situation at this point. I blame him. He may not use the word "blame," but he knows he has steered this boat perilously close to the falls. Without selling short or marginalizing the folks who are passionately arguing for the name to be changed, I fully believe that Dan Snyder missed multiple opportunities to handle this situation in a manner that would have led to a far different path than the one we are on now. Listen, Snyder's PR staff has been guilty over the years of...needling people. This is not an accusation--we know this is a fact. You can take my word for it, or you can dig deeper into the history (suing newspaper writers, Signgate, their famous and ongoing tiff with the Washington Post, etc.). Having the benefit of seeing how similar groups operate elsewhere in the NFL, MLB and NBA, it is clear to me that the Redskins go about things in a...unique fashion. On the good news front, there are some new people over there that are helping to turn the tide, but it won't happen overnight.

3. At the same time, it does feel a bit ridiculous that an issue that Snyder inherited--that was set in motion before he was even born--can be chalked up as being all his fault. He didn't name the team. He didn't inject any personal hatred or bigotry into the formation of the brand. As the steward of the franchise in a community of people who love the franchise, however, he has a responsibility to do more than exclaim--in CAPS--that there is no room for discussion. In this way, he let us all down. In this way, he has painted himself into a corner and he has succeeded in pulling many of us into that corner with him, willing or not.

4. When Dan Snyder bought the team, it was clear that he loved the Redskins. As a lifelong fan, he kind of made it feel like--at least initially--we all had won ownership of the team. Brash and unafraid to spend insane amounts of money to improve the roster, he made very big, very risky moves that galvanized the fanbase and turned people like me into defenders of those decisions. Before long though, something else was happening that not everyone fully appreciated right away: there was a clear and definitive priority placed on the monetization of our loyalty and passion for the Redskins. Over the last 15 years, Snyder has succeeded HUGELY on this front. At times, it became hard to discern whether the organization was more about marketing or football. Our win-loss record suggested an obvious answer to this question. This matters in this discussion because it is the brand that we all pledged allegiance to--not Snyder. We consider the Redskins to be "ours." I use the word "we" relentlessly when discussing this team. It has been difficult to separate our feelings for the only football team we have ever loved from the notion that there could be something inherently wrong with the brand itself. In short, the word "Redskin" has been synonymous with love, passion, loyalty and tradition to a fanbase that has never thought of it any other way. The mere suggestion that it could mean anything else is...well, shocking. Dan Snyder knows this and he has counted on this throughout his fight--he has put us squarely in the crosshairs.

5. Throughout Snyder's tenure as owner, many of us have adopted a sort of bunker mentality when it comes to rooting for this team. Repeated attacks from all directions over the years has caused us all at some point to become extremely sensitive and ultra-defensive. Snyder and the Redskins have been very easy targets, and ammo has not been spared by naysayers and dissenters. Let's be honest, we have all felt that sense of being constantly under attack for being Redskins fans, even when that was not necessarily the case. Our sensitivity to criticism has been magnified. Whether we want to admit it or not, there is a part of us that lashes out at the name change issue because of this. That is not something I take pride in.

6. I am not a Native American. As such, I won't pretend to have an intimate understanding of what all (or any) Native Americans think on the subject.  As a result of being made aware that some people believe the Redskins name is offensive, I have had to at least reconsider my defensive reflex (discussed above) on the subject . At the same time, those of us in search of Native American opinions have been presented with a wide array of them. We have seen and heard those who would support the argument put forward by Dan Snyder, and we have seen and heard those who strenuously object to what Dan Snyder is saying. If you would argue that it is not fair to categorically deny that people are offended, it seems to me that you have to also be willing to accept that there are Native Americans who believe it is not an offensive term. We've heard from both sides. Both sides have been fairly and unfairly represented at some point by various factions involved in this debate. It just makes it hard for someone who has never known a word to be offensive to consider that it is when the people who are or are not offended are split on whether it is or isn't offensive. SERENITY NOW!

7. Re-enter Dan Snyder. His handling of this matter has worked to galvanize the opposition. I suppose it is fair to say that I am not privy to every meeting or discussion held on the matter behind closed doors. Perhaps the public portion of Dan Snyder's comments stem from conversations that have gone poorly. Perhaps he simply doesn't care what anyone thinks...about anything. At this point, his heels are dug in very, very firmly. He has not shown himself to be a man who gives up such positions lightly.

8. Dan Snyder doesn't seem to mind that, in his efforts to protect the brand he has so meticulously marketed as an owner, he has not been portrayed as the protector of anything. Instead, his image is played in slow motion behind audio tracks painting him in a negative light. When he isn't being called straight-up racist, he is held up as an example of the apathy that exists in the billionaire's club in this country. Even when founding a charitable foundation to support Native American causes, he managed to find a way to exclude important constituents from the process. Even when he lays down the party line about the honorable tradition of the Redskins name, he manages to rub huge swaths of the population in a bad way. In short, whether we keep the name or not, Snyder has LOST the hearts and minds of what is starting to feel like the majority of people outside of Washington, D.C. In my humble opinion, this has more to do with Snyder than it does with the actual name. People don't like him, and therefore they line up against him. He doesn't care, and to be fair, he doesn't have to, but inside the beltway/region, a terrible truth has developed: even if you truly believe the name is honorable and not racist, you find yourself in a foxhole with Dan Snyder. This has become more unacceptable than being called a racist to many people.

9. This brings me to yet another sticky point--the tradition of the Washington Redskins. On the subject of racial division, our tradition is...uhhh...spotty. It took John F. Kennedy's administration to become involved in the 1960's for the Redskins to finally become the LAST team in the NFL to desegregate. Feel free to look up that chapter in our history to learn more about it. It is not a source of pride. It's kind of relevant here, since we are talking about the potential for the team name to be an ethnic slur. I'd be real careful about talking about the rich tradition of this organization on this matter. You know one of the MAIN reasons there are so many Dallas fans in this city? It's not hard to calculate. The city's majority African-American population held a huge and rightful grudge against the team for refusing to desegregate. This alone should have caused Snyder to adopt a much different approach to this fight than he did.

10. I don't care about the money made or lost on the outcome of this debacle. Some NFL owners may eventually chafe at the loss of a few million here and there. I feel pretty confident suggesting that Dan Snyder is not one of them. My guess is that he hasn't arrived yet on a price tag for this...situation. As for me, I have said for some time that I remain receptive to a name change. I recognize that there is a group of Native Americans that alleges racism, and a group that argues the opposite. The first group seems to growing and gaining momentum. The second group is beginning to get drowned out. Snyder's actions have stoked the fires of the first group and those flames have spread to powerful places--Congress, government agencies, corporate America and even his own fanbase. Part of me wishes for a new name just so we can move on. Part of me wonders if I will ever go from being receptive to a new name to joining the ranks of those demanding a new name. There is a measure of comfort in knowing that Snyder doesn't care what I think, but that will never keep me from stating my opinion. Put simply, for a laundry list of reasons that should have been made apparent to Dan Snyder a long time ago by people working for him, he needs to change the name. I sit here today and wonder what kind of positive outcome can there be here that doesn't involve changing the name? Regardless of where the pressure comes from and where it takes this process, it feels like the endgame is the same. Does Dan Snyder really want to be the guy that fights this for years only to lose big and cost his business partners loads of money? (I think he might.) Or how about this: Is Dan Snyder rightfully concerned that if he were to start a new brand, a "Dan Snyder" brand, that nobody would follow it? Ouch. He never has to worry about people rocking Redskins gear because we have been fans of that brand our entire lives. As I said above, we identify the logo with positivity and pride. We sing the song loud and proud because we believe in our hearts it applies to each one of us and symbolizes a spirit begun decades ago that still lives in this city. A new logo created by Dan Snyder might give lots of people the opportunity to look elsewhere to place their loyalty. Not me, unfortunately. Like many of you, I will be pulling for the DC team no matter what it is called. I wonder how many fans like me will survive this battle. I wonder if Dan Snyder would ever consider changing tactics. I wonder if he understands that he can still salvage a win on this. I wonder if he still cares more about marketing than winning.

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