Tuesday, October 15

The "Redskins": A Brand at What Cost?

In my new book, HUM, I explain why an organization’s brand should not only be strong, but must be authentic and reflect the organization’s core values in order to successfully reach its true potential. Among the many reasons for organizations to spend the time and energy defining, designing, aligning and refining its brand is that business developments and changing times will inevitably challenge every organization’s brand at some point.  In my book, I discuss how Apple and National Geographic have each successfully adapted their businesses to their respective evolving business markets while staying true to their brand.  

But, what happens if an organization’s leaders believe that its brand is entirely dependent upon its past successes, traditions, and even its own name?  What if an organization feels that any change to its name would jeopardize its brand and risk alienating the loyalty of its consumers and fans, despite the knowledge that the name itself has become widely recognized as offensive?  Is it possible for an organization with a brand so rooted in the past to have a future?  Is it possible that the organization’s leaders have defined the brand too narrowly?

As any football fan could guess, a great example of this issue is the ongoing debate over the controversial name of the Redskins franchise. The article below, written by Jack Baer, my oldest godson, first appeared in The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s newspaper, The Daily Cardinal, on October 7, 2013.  He argues that it’s time for the Redskins name to go.     

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Column: Native American mascots need to go

October 07, 2013 11:44 pm • Jack Baer

The debate over the use of Native American mascots in schools is now up for debate in the Wisconsin Legislature.

This is a complicated issue that pits what some would call the irrationality of sports fandom and tradition against the pain of one of the most downtrodden groups in American history.

Before that debate can be fully engaged however, we need to talk about the Washington Redskins. Because as long as we discuss the morality of Native American mascots, the Redskins will loom large as a truly brutal example of what continues to be defended by sports fans.

The Random High School Indians or the Whatever Prep Chiefs won’t really seem that bad as long as the Redskins continue to exist under their current name. It’s like complaining about a leaky faucet when your basement is flooding.

I grew up in the Washington D.C. area. I’m a Nationals fan, I’m a Capitals fan, I’m a Wizards fan, and I’m a Ravens fan. I’m not a Redskins fan, and the name is a big reason why.

Rooting for what was pretty clearly a racial slur just felt creepy to 12-year-old me.

Maybe it would be okay if the Redskins were partially owned or operated by Native Americans, or at least named by Native Americans. But the reality is the Washington Redskins have always been run by white people, and some notoriously racist white people at that.

The man who brought the Redskins to D.C., George Preston Marshall, flat out refused to sign a black player onto his team until 1962. He only buckled when two cabinet members threatened to revoke the Redskins stadium, which was paid for by the government.

When Marshall was lying on his deathbed in 1969 he asked for a foundation to be set up in his name, under the stipulation that not a penny would go to any purpose supporting racial integration in any form. This is the man who named the Redskins.

Maybe the name would be even slightly defensible if it were coined by some sort of Native American interest. But the fact stands—they were named by one of the most disgusting racists in sports history.

Because of that and so many more obvious reasons, it’s pretty clear the time has come for notoriously stubborn Redskins owner Dan Snyder to change the name.

President Barack Obama believes it, saying he would consider changing the name if he were Snyder.

Bill Simmons and Peter King, two of the most influential sportswriters in the world, believe it, even going so far as to refuse use of the name in their columns.

Even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is beginning to believe it, backtracking on previous statements in which he ironically called the name, one that has prompted endless debate, a “unifying force.”

Snyder can cite tradition, flawed opinion studies of Native Americans and a fake “American Inuit chief originally from the Aleutian Tribes of Alaska” (seriously, google this, the guy’s name is Chief Dodson) all he wants.

The day I believe Snyder truly has no problems with the name is when he invites a Native American tribe to FedEx Field and freely calls them by the moniker he himself has judged to be non-offensive.

Until then, Snyder is just an owner of a badly named business which he’s too stubborn to rebrand.

Unless he reverses course, and quick, we’re going to remember Snyder in the same light as Marshall, a man embarrassingly behind the racial realities of his time.

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