Monday, March 31, 2014

How to Fail At Public Relations the Washington Redskins Way

The Washington Redskins, as the saying goes, can't win for losing.

At least under Dan Snyder, anyway.  Redskins fans date their franchise to the days before and after Dan. "Before" the team won Super Bowls and the ownership reigned over professional football as respected winners do.  The Dan years brought misery occasionally tinged with high, but unrealistic hopes.  Almost worse than losing came the embarrassments.  Snyder cutting down trees on park land, Snyder hiring a college coach who was clearly in over his head, Snyder filing a defamation suit over satire.  But none of those moves seem as oafish as what transpired last week.

Of all the franchises and colleges who, decades ago, used some sort of American Indian reference as a nickname, only the Washington Redskins has still not made their peace.  Many colleges changed their name to something generic. Others, such as Florida State, paid to keep the name without protest.  The Kansas City Chiefs' name strikes many as respectful instead of offensive.  Same with the Cleveland Indians, who changed their name from the Spiders to honor an Indian star pitcher, Chief Bender.

The Redskins alone remain defiant and unrepentant. Despite the historical context, it is much tougher to sell the name Redskins.  On the other hand, the Redskins fan base seems generally uninterested in considering alternatives.

Until now, Snyder and the Redskins kept that public stance.  At the same time, they gobbled up the rights to a number of alternatives, such as "Washington Warriors."  Last week, however, he launched an interesting endeavor called the "Original Americans' Foundation."  Deadspin gleefully dubbed it O.A.F. and likely plans to have no end of fun with it.

Not since Richard Nixon "CREEP"ed back into office in 1972, has a Washington DC based effort been so badly named.

Even worse, Snyder picked a CEO once investigated by the federal government. What was he accused of doing?  It involved a "defective" and "unusable" contract between his group and, wait for it, the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Snyder wrote a four page letter describing the origin and intent of the foundation. Four months of study and research based on visits to 26 Indian reservations went into this organization.  But four minutes of thought should tell a person that naming the organization "OAF" and picking an individual with baggage to lead it smacks of half efforts.

The second most popular professional sport in Washington is piling on Dan Snyder.  He does not represent evil in the world.  Many of his past and present players refer to him respectfully as "Mr. Snyder."  But his new foundation reflects the same lack of thought and foresight that has often characterized his public relations as well as his operation of the football team itself.

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