Washington Redskins, Barack Obama & a Name-Changing Public Relations Disaster

Dan Levy@danlevythinksNational Lead WriterOctober 7, 2013

Aug 19, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder on the field before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FedEX Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Let's play a game of "what if…"

What if you were a successful business owner in one of the five largest metropolitan areas in America? "Sounds pretty awesome!"

What if your business was so successful that over 80 years it built one of the most dedicated and loyal customer bases in your industry? "Amazing. The American Dream!"

What if, over time, the name of your company went from innocuous to offensive, leading to the point where the name became part of the national narrative for those covering your industry? "That sounds…unfortunate." 

What if the president of the United States, a resident of your metropolitan area, was asked about your name being racist? "I'd have to listen to what he had so say, I suppose…"

What if the president said in an interview with the Associated Press, via The Washington Post, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that the name of my team, even if they've had a storied history, that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it."


What if all that happened? What would you do? Would you send your corporate lawyer out to do damage control on the talk show and media circuit, defending your company's name to the point of utter ridiculousness, turning what was once a silly public relations campaign into an unmitigated disaster for your brand?

You would? Well, thanks for reading, Mr. Snyder.

Daniel Snyder has dug in his heels so deep on the issue of changing the name of his Washington Redskins that he doesn't even realize the propaganda his lawyer, Lanny J. Davis, has given to the public is doing more damage to the brand than anything a writer, pundit or Leader of the Free World could ever say.

Davis issued a statement in response to President Barack Obama's comments, defending the name with a series of ridiculous arguments. In part, via The Washington Post:

As a supporter of President Obama, I am sure the president is not aware that in the highly respected Annenberg Institute poll (taken 2004) with a national sample of Native Americans, 9 out of 10 Native Americans said they were not bothered by the name the “Washington Redskins.” The president made these comments to the Associated Press, but he was apparently unaware that an April 2013 AP poll showed that eight out of ten of all Americans in a national sample don’t think the Washington Redskins name should be changed.

Now, citing a nearly 10-year-old poll in any debate is dangerous in today's ever-changing realm of political correctness, but rather than dispute the sincerity of those figures in present society, let's just take a look at the numbers themselves.

Nine out of 10 Native Americans are not bothered by the name Redskins, which means that nearly 300,000 Native Americans in this country would be bothered by the name.

That's a lot of people.

Sep 15, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA;   Kathleen Peters from the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin protests the use of the Washington Redskins mascot and logo at Lambeau Field before game against the Green Bay Packers. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It's not, however, as many as Davis' second statistic, a number so shockingly obtuse it's amazing any right-minded political spin doctor would dare to trot it out.

Eight of every 10 people in America don't think the Redskins should change their name, according to the AP poll Davis cited. When Davis went on Fox & Friends to discuss the issue further, a graphic illustrated that 11 percent of those polled thought the team should change the name, while 10 percent didn't know or refused to answer.

Davis wants Obama and the other Redskins detractors to look at his 80 percent figure and back off. Wow, he hopes they'd say, 80 percent of America is a lot of people.

The thing is…so is 11 percent.

This country is made up of nearly 317 million people, which means that if the AP poll Davis cites is an accurate indicator of the national opinion on the Redskins' name, nearly 35 million people want it changed.

Think about that figure. That's nearly the same number of people who live in every metropolitan area from New York to Washington, D.C., combined, all suggesting the Redskins change their name.

But…but…there are more than 250 million people who don't find it offensive! That must mean it isn't.

Or it means it is.

Jan 6, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins fan Chief Zee on the field before NFC Wild Card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks at FedEx Field.  Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Basically, the entire population of Canada would be offended. Seriously, there are just over 35 million people in Canada, which is the 37th-most populated country in the world.

So really, if "only" 11 percent of Americans wanted the Redskins to change their name, that's still more people than 205 countries and dependent territories in the world.

Regardless of what you or I think about the Redskins name—for full disclosure, if you couldn't figure it out by now, I think it makes sense from a cultural and business standpoint for the Redskins to swallow their ridiculous pride and announce a contest to change the name—there are millions of people who think the name should change. Millions.

The Redskins spent years sweeping this issue under the rug by suggesting time and time again that the support to change the name is nothing more than a media creation, and there aren't that many people who care about the name at all, especially not Native Americans.

Then, in the middle of their own spin, they shared two figures that indicate more than a quarter of a million Native Americans—enough to fill FedExField about three times—and upward of 35 million general citizens in this country want the name changed.

Great job, Redskins. Or whatever you'll be called next year.


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