That response wasn’t surprising. But the problems go beyond the media. Look, there were some Redskins fans — many Redskins fans, maybe — who pushed back on yesterday’s criticism. They pointed out that Foster hasn’t played for the Redskins, and that the team said in its statement that he won’t until his latest domestic violence arrest is investigated. They pointed out that a previous domestic violence charge was dropped after Foster’s girlfriend recanted her allegation. They pointed out that, if this move somehow works out, the Redskins might be adding a premiere talent at a minimal cost. And they asked why other teams aren’t excoriated for similarly signing players with checkered pasts.
That’s where the trust thing comes in. Forget the media. The Redskins, at least according to my inbox, have lost the trust of many of their fans. And that goes beyond wins and losses, because the team has been reasonably competitive now for four straight seasons while continuing to alienate some of its supporters. It’s because customers think the team has treated them poorly, and others, too: GM Scot McCloughan, Kirk Cousins, its cheerleaders, its critics.
(Redskins President Bruce Allen masterminded the decision to claim Foster, an NFL official told The Washington Post, while adding that the decision was far from unanimous. And yet the team’s statement was attributed to Doug Williams. That won’t help the trust issues.)
For years, I argued all the fan complaints would go away with more wins, but I’m not so sure anymore, not for some of the people who write to me. People want to feel proud of the teams they root for. And some — at the very least, some — Redskins fans have lost that feeling. The team’s new business-side staff has seemed to acknowledge that, approaching its consumer base with humility and even contrition as it tries to woo back a skeptical city.
The true believers, the many fans who are defending the Foster claim (or withholding judgment) probably aren’t the ones who need wooing. That’s not where trust is lowest. It’s with people who have been turned off by years of embarrassing headlines, who now associate the team with some degree of shame. I can’t quantify how big this group is, but such fans above all want a team to be proud of. And yet the Redskins were the only NFL franchise to claim a guy who has been arrested three times in a year; they jumped to act just two days after his release, before any touted investigation could possibly be completed; they appeared to prioritize the potential value over the potentially disturbing message. These things might not engender pride.
“This team is the exact opposite of ‘every time I think I’m out they pull me back in,’ ” one such fan wrote to me last night. “Every time I want to buy back in, they find a way to repulse me anew.”
I’m probably more hesitant here than most of my media peers, because so much about the situation remains unknown. Maybe this makes sense for the football team, and maybe it’ll work out. But I do know this: The Redskins have turned plenty of complicated situations into public-relations disasters in recent years. How much do you trust them to avoid another one?
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