The first few paragraphs of all the stories about Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) sending a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell urging the league to support a Redskins name change were mostly boring. Cantwell and Cole have both been outspoken in their opposition to the team’s name for months, and the sending of a strongly worded letter doesn’t change that dynamic.
The more interesting thing, I thought, came further down in the stories, where the Redskins offered their response. Quoting from our story:
The letter mentions the league’s tax-exempt status and says the league is “on the wrong side of history. It is not appropriate for this multibillion dollar … tax-exempt organization to perpetuate and profit from the continued degradation of tribes and Indian people. It is time for the National Football League to formally support and push for a name change for the Washington football team.”
Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie responded in a written statement: “With all the important issues Congress has to deal with, such as a war in Afghanistan to deficits to health care, don’t they have more important issues to worry about than a football team’s name? And given the fact that the name of Oklahoma means ‘Red People’ in Choctaw, this request is a little ironic.”
(The New York Times received the same statement.)
Now, both parts of this statement have been used by fans in message boards and blog comment sections for months. You could have copy and pasted any number of comments questioning congressional priorities and bringing up the meaning of Oklahoma from the comment section of my own blog, and created an approximation of Wyllie’s statement. But I can’t remember the team ever responding quite like that.
This led to a Monday morning discussion on Tony Kornheiser’s ESPN 980 radio show — which originates from a Daniel Snyder station. And the discussion was not about the boring congressional letter, but about Wyllie’s cheeky response.
“Did you see the response from Tony Wyllie, the director of PR for the Redskins?” Kornheiser asked?
Kevin Sheehan then read the response out loud.
“I’m gonna say that, for me – I don’t want to criticize Tony Wyllie beyond what anybody else would – that is not a response that I think makes any sense at all,” Kornheiser said. “The response ought to be something like we’ve dealt with this issue before and you know our position on this. What you don’t do is …
“Antagonize,” Sheehan said.
“That’s an UNBELIEVABLY antagonistic response,” Kornheiser continued. ” And very specifically, the second part of it, the Choctaw? What? Who? Who cautions that, right?”
“I don’t care what you think of congress, it’s congress, and you treat it with a certain amount of deference,” David Aldridge chimed in.
“You don’t do that,” Kornheiser said. “It’s like if you’re called to speak before congress, you don’t just sort of walk in without notes and say I’m gonna wing it, as one of my friends famously did some years back, much to the chagrin of others of my friends. So that: wow. That is just, you know, that’s a mistake.”
“Don’t you think they’re better off just not responding?” Sheehan asked.
“Yes, a non-response,” Kornheiser agreed. “Yes. You do a non-response on it. I mean, are we the only people that think that was the wrong way to go? Wow.”
Several hours later, another ESPN 980 show — “The Drive With Cooley and Czabe” — also took on the issue, again focusing on Tony Wyllie’s statement.
“What do we make of the response from the Redskins?” host Al Galdi asked. “I think it’s a response that feels good, I think it’s a response that a lot of people agree with – and I would put myself in that category – but do you want to go defiant in a response like this?”
“Is it defiant, or is just saying hey really, THIS is big on your list of things to worry about?” Steve Czaban asked.
“It’s like when you were in college and the cops come to a party where you’re drinking, and you’re like hey, don’t you have anything better to do man?” Chris Cooley said. “And they’re like, Uh — now you’re dead. Now we’re coming after you, REALLY. Because this IS what we’re doing. This is our job.”
“I listen, I read that response, and it takes me back to initially when Dan Snyder said the name is never changing, you can put that in all caps,” Galdi later said. “Again, it feels good, a lot of people agree with that. But is that necessarily the best path to go down when addressing this?”