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Daniel Snyder’s Latest And Contrived Response To Crisis

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Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images.
Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Uh-oh. Daniel Snyder is writing letters again. The last time the good owner dropped a line in my e-mailbox it was to express his unfortunate defiance of the assault on the team’s icky-shivers nickname. The October 2013 letter was an official and more polite follow-up of sorts to his “yelled” declaration to USA Today in May that he would “NEVER” – all caps at his request – bury the “R-word.”

I received another letter from the castle-dweller residing atop Mount Disconnected last week. Snyder’s latest correspondence, sent on official team letterhead adorned with burgundy and gold and sporting that controversial seven-letter word in multiple places, asserts that the owner has visited “…26 Tribal reservations…to listen and learn first-hand about the views, attitudes, and experiences of the Tribes.” Snyder goes on cite some of the deplorable conditions – from poverty, disease and a lack of basic economic and social infrastructure – faced by many Native Americans and express his commitment to help. Snyder ended his three-page letter by announcing the establishment of the Original Americans Foundation – an entity commissioned “to provide genuine opportunities for Tribal communities” – and chest-thumping some of the franchise’s recent work in the Native American community.

Impressive. Here we have the CEO of a billion-dollar corporation taking an inordinate amount of time and allocating tremendous resources to assist the less fortunate. How rare and refreshing. It is an example of the behavior society longs for from its “haves”. All hail the soft heart, conscience and philanthropy of Daniel Snyder. What is not to love and respect about the actions taken by the ‘Skins’ Chairman of the Board?

Oh, I don’t know, maybe the awkward timing and fundamental motivation behind all of it? Following his letter, the Snyder propaganda machine sprung to life like the owner’s private jet used to at the dawn of free agency. A picture of Snyder – where he donned something of a sinister expression (a P.R. mistake?…irony?…karma?…ground truth?) - with a group of Native Americans was emblazoned on the team’s website and a video of an interview company mouthpiece Larry Michaels did with Gary L. Edwards, the appointed head of the Original Americans Foundation (a man The Washington Post recently reported is linked to a terminated contract with the federal government), was posted for all to absorb and applaud. How could Snyder be such a villain if he was capable of all this? And how could the nickname be racist if it could generate so much good?

It was flawless execution of the owner’s and the nickname’s re-branding – if you chose to play along and filter reality. I don’t doubt Snyder visited with all those Native American groups and I’m not in a position to dispute the statistics he presented that challenge the offensiveness and offer support of the team name. What I do question is the objectivity of the entire exercise. There’s a difference between transparently collecting data and collecting targeted data to support a desired outcome or answer. Having followed Snyder’s ownership closely – a tenure that has included cheap marketing bits, shameless money grabs and embarrassing restrictions on free speech within the confines of his empire (the sign-banning incident from a few years ago) - I suspect he knew the answer he wanted (or desperately needed) and cooked the books to support his point.

Every issue has its supporters and detractors. Google “The Affordable Health Care Act” or Ted Nugent for proof. After getting plenty of heat from those opposed to the name, Snyder needed to drum up support for it. So he hopped in a plane and spent a few months on tour, snapping photos, kissing babies and starting foundations. But let’s not mistake his travels for comprehensive research on or open-minded consideration of the franchise’s most pressing issue. I view Snyder’s outreach as a tacky counterpunch, an appeasement of the offended and an attempt to preserve the very profitable “T.M.” slapped on the team’s logo. It is another klutzy misstep by the tone-deaf owner who is so insulated with “yes men” that he long ago lost touch with the carnage his contrived acts inflict on a franchise lacking little, if any, credibility.

If Snyder’s concern was genuine, where were these efforts in 1999 when he bought the team or in the fifteen personally lucrative years since? Snyder assumes the audience is so foolish, so punch-drunk on the NFL and so saturated in burgundy and gold that it doesn’t notice the elephant in the room: the obvious correlation between his sudden philanthropy and the swelling assault on the very foundation of his economic machine. Alas, the fool in this case isn’t the audience; it is the salesman.

Snyder is making hands over fist in profit with a Native American logo and, as Oxford defines it, a derogatory nickname as his economic backbone. He may (conveniently) see it as a sign of respect and a symbol of cultural pride and he may have found representatives of the Native American community that share his opinion. But a lot of people don’t agree with Snyder and are offended by the name. Congress is concerned. Many others in the Native American community have been fighting for change for over 20 years. And what of his corporate sponsors? Is FedEx, the name slapped on the side of Snyder’s stadium, Papa John’s, the official pizza of the team, and a host of other corporate pocket-liners reconsidering their affiliation with the team? Maybe not yet, but I can’t help but think that eventually their association with team-Snyder will do more harm than good to their brand. Could that – erosion of the team’s bottom line – be what ultimately compels Snyder to put his ego aside? I suspect economics carries more influence than conscience in the world of Daniel Snyder. 

In the meantime, it appears nothing will change near-term. Will some good result from the Original Americans Foundation - even if it is 15 years late? I sincerely hope so because its stated intent certainly addresses a very real issue. But if it does, do not confuse the ancillary benefits reaped by the Native American community with Snyder’s primary goal of generating political and economic capital. Snyder’s business is under attack and he’s swinging back, however futile his offensive seems when viewed through an external lens with a wide aperture.

See, here’s what hasn’t sunk in with the good owner: he is on the losing side. Regardless of his foundation’s success, the direction and momentum of the discord will not be altered and will persist until, in my opinion, the inevitable happens: a name change. Eventually Mr. Snyder – or his successor - will resign himself to that outcome, but I suspect only after the current name ceases to be profitable, the NFL weighs in or Congress acts – or all of the above (sadly, that - a nudge from the federal government - is what it took to integrate the team in the early 1960s). Until then Snyder’s defiance and window dressings will likely continue, much to the chagrin of the growing offended and those who have a place in their hearts for Washington’s professional football team.