I believe Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins, when he says that he will never change the name of the team.
In a story in USA Today 13 months ago, Snyder described himself as a "lifelong fan" and added "that the Redskins fans understand the great tradition and what it's all about and what it means."
Because Snyder views this situation through the prism of passionate fandom and not through the cold perspective of business, he doesn’t get it. Hardly anyone who objectively looks at this situation could envision a scenario where Snyder can win, and eventually he will have to change the name.
Think about it: a team in the nation’s most popular sport operates in the capital of a nation that purports to welcome people of all ethnic backgrounds. How, then, could that team be named for the color of someone’s skin? And how could the owner of the team continue to countenance such an insult in 2014?
The United States Patent and Trademark office, no doubt, wondered the same thing last week when it denied six trademark registrations to the Redskins. The team is appealing the decision, but stands to lose millions of dollars if they lose.
The answer to the first question comes with the purchase of the Boston Braves football franchise in 1932 by George Preston Marshall. According to lore, Marshall changed the team’s name because the coach’s mother was thought to be part Native American, Sioux, to be precise. Under Marshall, the Redskins were the last NFL team to have an African-American player, waiting until 1962 to sign Bobby Mitchell. Also, in his will, Marshall ordered that the foundation he created could not provide money towards anything that promoted integration. This was in 1969.
Now, even if you don’t buy all that history, you do have to admit that it is unusual to use skin color or race to name a business, which, after all, is what a professional team is. Really, can you envision any scenario outside of a sports stadium where you would refer to a person or group of people that way?
Snyder, who has owned the team since 1999, has attempted to change the subject by forming the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, presumably to battle poverty among Native American groups. It’s an admirable goal. Too bad the man Snyder hired to run it was accused of trying to con Native Americans out of $1 million in federal funding.
By digging in his heels, Daniel Snyder is probably bolstering his image among diehard Washington football fans, but is also hurting the team’s brand. And that’s where the rest of the NFL comes into play. Remember: Donald Sterling’s 30-plus year track record of racist sayings and actions didn’t become a problem for the NBA until sponsors pulled out and money was about to be lost.
When businesses refuse to associate their names with the Redskins name, it won’t be long before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the other 31 team owners remind Snyder that tradition doesn’t pay the bills.
You can reach us via e-mail with your questions and comments at sports [at] large [at] wypr [dot] org. And follow me on Twitter @sportsatlarge.