The toughest job in Washington may not be at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue but rather 20 miles west at 21300 Redskins Park Drive. In those offices reside the communications staff for Redskins owner Dan Snyder. His most recent controversy, beyond the firing of his sixth head coach in 14 years, is the name itself of his prized possession, the Washington Redskins. The term “Redskins” is, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “usually offensive”, and several prominent journalists have stopped using the name, a small, bi-partisan group in Congress has introduced legislation to deny the team its copyright, and a Redskins player, the recently re-signed cornerback DeAngelo Hall, has said the team should “probably” change the name.
As the controversy built, reports surfaced that Snyder was consulting his PR staff and outside consultants to try to tamp it down. The team circulated polling saying that the majority of Americans support the name and vigorously defended it as integral to the team’s tradition and identity. Neither approached assuaged the critics. In response, Snyder switched tactics, and in a letter released yesterday we learned his new strategy. For the last several months, Snyder and his staff have been traveling to Indian reservations around the country to learn how they can help Native Americans in distress. The letter touts the giving away of coats and shoes and announces the formation of the Original Americans Foundation which will be an on-going philanthropic effort.
The effort has the earmarks of a classic PR play when you don’t want to change the offensive behavior: shine the light elsewhere, expose another problem, listen, learn and offer a gesture to solving it. It’s a common strategy, but Snyder’s execution was typically ego-centric. When I read his letter, I was struck by how many times the words “I” “my” and “myself” appears, as in this phrase, “What would my resolve to honoring our legacy mean if I myself.. didn’t stay true to my word?” Snyder’s grandiose condescension is not a solution to the offense of the team name. What he should have done? Announced the foundation and the name change. That would have brought him and his team the honor he so craves.