After all of the Washington Redskins’ self-inflicted pain a season ago, team officials had reason to be upbeat during the first full-squad practice open to the media this past Thursday. There was a positive buzz at Redskins Park, wherenew Coach Jay Gruden and healthy quarterback Robert Griffin III worked together to prepare for the start of training camp in two months. But those story lines were overshadowed later that day by the organization’s bungled social media campaign on the nickname debate.
As part of their effort to respond to Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) — who has publicly called for the team to change its name because he says it’s widely considered to be a slur against Native Americans — the Redskins last week encouraged fans to contact Reid to express support for the name.
Bad idea. By initiating the fight on Twitter, the Redskins effectively extended an invitation to the other side to use the suggested #RedskinsPride to tweet ridicule for the team’s on-field performance and support for a name change.
Regardless of where you stand on the team’s nickname — despite what either side will tell you, both positions have plenty of support — the episode clearly demonstrated what has plagued the organization for years. Whether it’s blatantly flouting NFL guidelines on a salary cap-free season or ignoring warning signs on high-priced free agents or taking legal action that only amplifies a tabloid opinion piece, the Redskins regularly display an institutional arrogance that refuses to acknowledge dissenting opinions or its own fallibility. That’s among the main reasons the Redskins have finished last or tied for last in seven of the past 10 seasons, and continue to fail off the field, too.
In attempting to initiate a Twitter fight with Reid, whose staff likely knows a few things about winning political battles, the Redskins amplified the debate on this emotionally charged issue, which is exactly what they should be trying to avoid.
Privately, even some Redskins employees acknowledged being embarrassed by upper management’s latest public relations gaffe. Team President and General Manager Bruce Allen had no concerns, arguing that the team received plenty of prominent support.
“The social media is the way people get information now, and our fans have spoken very loudly in support of what we’ve been doing,” Allen said in a phone interview Monday. “We got a very good response from our fans.
“Thousands of our fans responded, including hundreds of Native Americans, saying we are their favorite team. I do think that’s the message we’ve been hearing.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Reid’s staff couldn’t have been happier, either.
“From our perspective, what we saw was just overwhelming opposition” to the team name, Faiz Shakir, Reid’s digital director, told The Post’s Dan Steinberg. “It’s really made our day.”
The Redskins never envisioned the Twitter campaign could backfire. Their misguided outlook starts at the top: Owner Daniel Snyder last May told USA Today, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
People who specialize in conflict resolution will tell you that purposely antagonizing your opponent is a pathway to perpetual war. Instead of trying to build new bridges, Snyder and his top advisers seem determined to detonate the few that exist.
That’s the type of let’s-pick-a-fight-where-there’s-no-need-for-one approach that resulted in Snyder’s decision to sue the Washington City Paper on the grounds that an article that ran in 2010 defamed his character. Any reasonable person who read the article could easily argue it didn’t. Snyder wound up dropping the suit in exchange for, well, essentially nothing.
As for the football operation, Snyder and his people continually put the organization in a bad position. The NFL ruled that the Redskins, who sources said ignored league warnings, structured players’ contracts during the uncapped 2010 season to attempt to gain an improper competitive advantage. They were hit with a two-year, $36 million salary cap reduction penalty that still has ramifications on their roster.
Through the years, coaches often have objected to the pursuit of high-priced free agents and draft picks who didn’t fit with the team’s style of play. Generally, they were ignored.
That’s how the Redskins became the organization that guaranteed Albert Haynesworth more money than any player in NFL history. It led to using a high-round pick on wide receiver Malcolm Kelly, who had such glaring knee problems that in-house medical personnel all but begged Snyder and his inner circle not to draft him. His career cut short by knee problems, Kelly finished with 28 receptions for 365 yards and no touchdowns.
At first glance, it’s easy to blame Snyder for all of the blunders. After all, his name is at the top of the Redskins’ management flowchart. But Snyder pays his top people a lot of money. With the bad counsel they’ve given him, they haven’t earned it.
Until recently, I thought the team name would not change unless substantive economic pressure became an element of the movement. But I didn’t count on the Redskins handling this issue as they seem to handle everything else.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.