Everybody who’s anybody (and a few people who aren’t) has already weighed in on the controversy surrounding the Washington Redskins name. Our newest contributor Shawn Paul Wood addressed it on Talent Zoo‘s Flack Me blog this week, concluding that it’s a perfect PR challenge for our era.
Now for the damage control case study. In the face of increasing pressure, team owner Dan Snyder (who is himself a comms vet) finally addressed the issue in a statement that went beyond his usual “Hell no, and you can put that in all caps” response. In this letter to members of fan organization Redskins Nation, Snyder did the smart thing: rather than come out swinging and berate his detractors as PC thought police, he went for emotion and nostalgia.
Let’s review some of his better lines:
- Snyder recalls attending his first game at age six, writing that “The ground beneath me seemed to move and shake, and I reached up to grab my [late] father’s hand” when the team scored
- He notes that “four players and our Head Coach” on the inaugural 1933 Boston Redskins squad were Native American and that the team’s coach “consulted with the Red Cloud Athletic Fund located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation” when finalizing its logo
- He mentions polls concluding that most Native Americans don’t mind the name and that a majority of fans do not feel the name should be changed
- He quotes a tribal chief who says “Frankly, the members of my tribe — the vast majority — don’t find it offensive.”
- He ends “With Respect and Appreciation” and notes that he’s “listening” to those who disagree
We might remember that controversy is nothing new to the Redskins or their owner. They were the last NFL team to hire non-white players, and Snyder cried anti-Semitism after an infamous 2010 take-down op-ed featured an image of his face with horns and a moustache scribbled on top.
If we had to guess at this point, we’d say the tide will eventually turn and the team will have to either change its name or start losing money. But Snyder’s letter is a great example of damage control in action: When you drop the boxing gloves, make your point on an emotional level and rally your fans behind you, you become a less polarizing figure to the public at large.
So PR Win it is…for now.
UPDATE: While we still feel that Snyder’s letter was well-crafted, some follow-up reports addressing the accuracy of his claims have caused us to rethink its ultimate effectiveness.
*Photo via Rob Carr/Getty Images