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Is Dan Snyder smart enough to have asked Frederick Smith to publicly pressure him?

NFL-Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Look... this isn’t reporting. It’s not even really an opinion piece.

I’m just spitballing, but, given how fast things have moved over the past few days, I’m wondering if the situation with the potential name change might’ve been orchestrated by the owners.

People have been trying to force a name change on the Redskins franchise for years. They’ve tried media pressure, court action, refusal to say or print the Redskins name, and simple efforts to embarrass the owner, coaches, players, fans and organization.

In 2020, though, things have felt different. The winds of change are blowing all over the country. Confederate statues are coming down, the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy have been banned by NASCAR and removed from the Mississippi state flag, George Preston Marshall is being redacted from Washington’s history — could Dan Snyder continue to thumb his nose at those who want him to change the name of his NFL team?

The last time we heard Dan Snyder address the question of a name change directly — in May of 2013 — this is what came out of his mouth:

“We’ll never change the name,” Snyder said. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

Man, that’s called painting yourself into a corner! There’s no “walking back” from a statement like that. At the same time, refusing to consider a name change in the current environment seems a bit like piling sandbags in the face of an oncoming tsunami. You can try, but you probably won’t succeed.

So, here’s what I’m wondering.

Is it possible that the “new and improved” Dan Snyder — you know, the one who consulted with a bunch of people before embarking on a coaching search a few months ago; the same guy who just fired the President and a long-time Executive VP in a massive organizational shakeup that saw him give broad power to the newly hired head coach — Is it possible that THAT Dan Snyder consulted with people and realized that he was in an indefensible position?

A guy who had used the “NEVER — you can use caps” line — especially a guy like Dan Snyder has always been — would find it really difficult to suddenly announce that he’s changed his mind.

I’m wondering if, perhaps, with advice from other people... maybe Ron Rivera, maybe other NFL owners, maybe the people who advised him in the coaching search... maybe with advice from other people, Dan realized that he didn’t have enough sandbags for the tsunami that was about to hit, and that there would be no better time to change the name.

But there was that huge stumbling block — the “NEVER — you can use caps” line from 2013. Big problem.

We’ve heard now from Roger Goodell who said, “In the last few weeks we have had ongoing discussions with Dan [Snyder] and we are supportive of this important step.” This mirrors the statement from Dan Snyder, which says, in announcing that a review of the name will take place, “This review formalizes the initial discussions the team has been having with the league in recent weeks.” So, if the commish and Dan are to be believed, this discussion has been going on for weeks; it’s not simply a matter of Dan Snyder immediately caving to pressure brought to bear by a couple of large corporations in the past few days.

In my mind, I’m thinking that Dan needed cover to help him rationalize a reversal of his 2013 statement. I can imagine him sitting down with a few savvy people who suggested a plan to him; specifically, arrange for some high profile sponsors to demand the name change. In fact, arrange for Dan’s business partner and minority owner of the Redskins, the CEO of FedEx, who have the naming rights agreement in place for the stadium where the Redskins play, to publicly request the team to change its name. Arrange with Nike to stop offering Redskins gear for sale online. Suddenly, the dynamic will have shifted. Dan can still talk about how proud he is of the Redskins name and its rich tradition, but then go on to talk about the economic realities and current societal changes, blah, blah, blah.

Dan now has the cover he needs to change the team name while insisting that he was forced into it.

Whether that happened or not is pure speculation. But if I were in the position that Dan Snyder has been in for the past few weeks, it’s what I would do.

Making lemons into lemonade

The toothpaste is now out of the tube; the genie is out of the bottle. There’s no going back.

The challenge now is to make the best out of the change that has been set in motion.

This is a chance to re-connect with fans, to deepen involvement and re-brand a franchise that has lost its luster over the past quarter-century. It’s a chance to bring new fans to the team who would otherwise have been put off by the name.

Dan has to do the next part right.

The franchise needs to connect with the fans. Dan and his guys need to listen to professionals who know about branding. Huge decisions need to be made about whether to retain things like color, logo or connection to the Braves/Redskins heritage, or to strike out in a bold new direction as the franchise closes in on its 90th year.

Timing will be critical. We are only about 2 months from the scheduled start of the regular season. It’s an awkward time to announce a potential name change. We’ve seen other awkward situations lately, like the Raiders playing two more seasons in Oakland after announcing that they were moving to Vegas, so it can be managed, but the franchise is going to need to move quickly on this without seeming to act over-hastily. The timing of announcements, decisions and implementation will need to be delicately handled — it’s probably a good thing that the ham-fisted Bruce Allen won’t be around to deal with the process.

Get the next part right, and the franchise can be set up for an exciting new future built around a young team, a new coach and a new stadium “coming soon”.

Get it wrong, and the franchise will likely alienate a large part of its shrinking fan base as it adds another embarrassment to the long list that has been the calling card of the Dan Snyder era.