The old name is dead. Daniel Snyder wouldn’t backtrack from “NEVER — you can use caps” to a team statement vowing to consider “the best interest of all in mind” without resignation that his obdurate protection of tradition must end. What has changed in the seven years since Snyder drew that hard line? Well, the world. And most of that change has occurred in a four-month sliver of this 2020 gloom because of an escalating pandemic combined with heightened tension and awareness of racism.
During this stunning wave, in which inappropriate symbols and monuments have come down, the ultimate target is the pedestal of denial. Some people hide behind physical things and unchallenged traditions to protect their ignorance and maintain their comfortably blind lives. On this issue, Snyder can’t afford to be in denial any longer. He’s not just fighting Native American activists and other clusters of people who despise that an NFL team has such association with a dictionary-defined slur. To keep the name now, Snyder must contend with corporate sponsors who want it changed and lawmakers at various levels who could make it difficult for his franchise to do business.
Snyder, whom Forbes estimates to have a net worth of $2.6 billion, often can refuse to listen to anyone about anything. Wealth is a different kind of freedom. But as the managing partner of a franchise valued at more than $3 billion, he still answers to the almighty dollar, and this cash-cow business he took over in 1999 won’t be impenetrably lucrative if he doesn’t embrace the call to change.
His option isn’t as simple as changing the name or abandoning hope of a new stadium in the District. It isn’t even as simple as changing the name or finding a way to replace sponsors such as FedEx and PepsiCo, which are applying pressure. The demand is more pointed: Change the name or watch one of the most valuable organizations in sports get reduced to financial impotence.
This controversy has entered its endgame.
If Snyder ever entertained thoughts that this would blow over as it has before, he had to face a new reality on the eve of Independence Day. It’s illogical to think he can lose longtime corporate sponsors and find new ones willing to shell out tens or hundreds of millions — in this climate of pandemic and racial unrest — to a losing franchise with a racist name that has been in a constant state of instability for more than 20 years.
It has been clear for a long time that, with Snyder, a moral appeal has no impact. Business logic is more his language, and it is speaking in harsh tones right now. There is virtually no sane justification for keeping the name when the upside of rebranding is so obvious. It wouldn’t just appease corporate partners. There is considerable money in merchandising and in goodwill among disgusted fans who may give the team another chance. There is automatic renewed hope that connects with the energy of new coach Ron Rivera’s rebuilding effort.
Some have long argued that changing the name would damage the brand and erase the proudest parts of the franchise’s history. That’s nonsense. The actual team isn’t dying and going to PC heaven. The championships go nowhere. The glory goes nowhere.
There is a definite difference between starting over and refreshing. History isn’t fragile. The past is permanent. This opportunity to redirect is about the future, one that will be weighed down by pessimism and shame until the obstinance ends and the organization redirects from embarrassment.
A team with a cringe-worthy name is still worth more than $3 billion, and that’s after two decades of disastrous management. So imagine the possibilities of reinvention.
This is no longer a unilateral decision for Snyder to make, either. The league clearly wants a change to occur — and in this moment. As The Washington Post reported, Snyder and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have been talking for a few weeks. A person familiar with their discussions said of the name, “It’s not a matter of if the name changes but when.”
So “thorough review” is just a coded way of saying, “We’ve got to get this right and make ourselves look better in doing so.”
It needs to feel like an appreciation, if not a celebration, of evolution. Snyder can bemoan an ending or stir excitement about a fresh beginning. The rebranding needs to involve significant public input and perhaps, after whittling down options for new names and mascots, an opportunity for feedback that — though it might fall short of a true voting process — carries significant weight. It takes time to iron out details, and no matter how you feel about Snyder, he finally seems to be doing the right thing in this attempt at a thoughtful revision.
However, until there is clarity, the image of Washington’s NFL team as we have known it is a zombie, dead but still lumbering, moaning and groaning. When alive, the name was controversial and defiant. In this limbo, it’s frightening and hideous.
There is nothing wrong with Snyder being thorough, but he also should be fast and purposeful.
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