Daniel Snyder’s incompetence in the two decades since he bought the team he grew up rooting for has done nothing to compromise his bottom line. Since paying $800m for the franchise back in 1999, Washington’s NFL team has become a national punchline with five times as many head coaches (10) as playoff wins (two) in 21 years, yet Forbes valued the team at $3.4bn in September, which is surely more a testament to the NFL’s bulletproof business model than Snyder’s gridiron acumen.
It’s enough to make one wonder if the team’s wholesale lack of success and once-unthinkable slip-slide into irrelevance under Snyder has contributed to his intractability when it’s come to Washington’s racist nickname: the Redskins. The team has been hemorrhaging fans for years on merit and maybe you’re not in a hurry to leave the past behind you when any positive associations with your brand are derived from things that took place decades ago.
“We’ll never change the name,” Snyder told USA Today in 2013: “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
That appears to be changing. On Thursday, the team’s title sponsor, FedEx, called on Snyder to abandon the Redskins nickname, which has been described as a “dictionary-defined racial slur” by experts and advocates. PepsiCo quickly joined the dissenting ranks while Nike appeared to remove all Washington gear from its online store.
Within 24 hours, Snyder issued a statement saying the team will begin a “thorough review”, a process NFL insiders say will end with the team replacing the nickname. Which means after decades of campaigns, lawsuits, petitions, documentaries, resolutions and boycotts, all it took was a spot of corporate pressure on Snyder’s pursestrings to get the wheels in motion.
The name will come down like so many Confederate statues and the Mississippi state flag, but not out of any introspection or empathy or reflection on what for many is a symbol of subjugation. It’s a business decision, pure and simple.
This doesn’t simply look bad for Snyder’s legacy. This is his legacy: a total loser.
The death of George Floyd beneath the knee of a Minneapolis policeman has brought about a season of sorely needed reassessment of age-old institutions. The people in the streets are calling for the removal of racist systems. The powers that be, for now, have responded with the removal of racist symbols. It’s a start.
Companies who have weathered criticism for years over branding that perpetuates racial stereotypes are finally doing the right thing. Quaker Oats’ announcement that it was buying Aunt Jemima will soon be followed by Uncle Ben’s, Mrs Butterworth’s and Cream of Wheat, whose mascots are based on archetypes of the enslaved and stand-ins for servility.
Other symbols, like the Confederate emblem in the canton of Mississippi’s flag, are so deeply offensive it’s shocking they existed 50 years ago let alone today, yet so embedded in the culture they feel indelible. That’s gone, too. Times are changing. Even the NFL’s milquetoast commissioner Roger Goodell, who called Washington’s nickname “a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect” in a 2013 letter to Congress, apologized for not listening to the league’s players when it came to matters of systemic racism and police brutality against black and brown people.
But the swiftness of the eradication of these symbols only underscores a frustration with why it took so long in the first place. FedEx, PepsiCo and Nike could have done this years ago. Instead, they’re capitalizing on a moment. They’re being followers, not leaders.
Snyder could have changed the team’s nickname to any one of the many proposed replacements, a long time ago. For years the opportunity to be on the right side of history was there for the taking. Now when it happens anyway, he’s simply bowing down to pressure, which is hardly a ringing endorsement of his legacy. When Snyder’s time with the team ends, the new management will eliminate his name from the history books. And you can be sure no one will protest.
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