This spring, in Washington D.C., two powerful forces came into conflict. No, not Obama and Congress; thankfully, Obama is sitting this one out. No, it’s between ten members of Congress and the owner of the Redskins, Dan Snyder. And it promises to be both hilarious and ugly.
The root of the problem is the fact that the Redskins are named, well, the Redskins. It’s embarrassingly racist, and, not unreasonably, several members of Congress believe that having the football team of our nation’s capital sporting a horrible racist slur is something of an embarrassment to the nation and an insult to a people we only recently realized that maybe we should stop murdering and herding into smaller and smaller parcels of useless land. So they’re going to pass a resolution that the Redskins should change their name… and then Dan Snyder is going to invite them to go f*** themselves.
Here’s the thing about Snyder: He’s a scary mixture of true-blue fan and cold-blooded businessman, the NFL owner from a sportswriter’s nightmare. Consider for a minute that the Redskins are so terrible Wikipedia marks everything from 1993 onwards as a “franchise downturn”. Snyder has burned through seven coaches in thirteen years, and managed to get the beloved Joe Gibbs to ruin his reputation as a coach into the bargain. The Redskins lose more often than they win, and haven’t had a prayer of being in a Super Bowl since the last century. Players are hired not because they can actually get a football down the field but because people will pay to see them play, a lesson Snyder learned from the Yankees. In short, they suck, and it’s largely thanks to Snyder that they suck.
And, yet, Snyder has rallied the fans and used the media rights to the team so effectively it’s the third highest grossing team in the entire freakin’ NFL. It nearly edged the Patriots in 2012, you know, the team that actually wins games? He’s used the Redskins to build an enormous sports radio empire that grosses millions of dollars. He’s got their helmet on the tail of his private jet. In other words he’s the kind of guy you find on sports radio talking about how we really shouldn’t be angry at the QB for eating puppies because it’s a stressful job and we just don’t know what he’s going through, but instead of being some sad bastard from Silver Springs, he owns the team.
Make no mistake: Snyder is fully aware the name is racist. This is not a new discussion; I was born in DC and people were arguing about this all through the ’80s, with the argument boiling down to, essentially, yes, we could be nice to people, but who cares as long as they win games? As a businessman, he knows that all the threats to damage his business are empty, because boycotts have been threatened, angry letters have been sent, and yet the team endures. And as a fan, you change his precious team over his cooling, gnarled corpse. He’s got too much money and too much ego tied up in it to change.
Should Snyder change the name? Absolutely. It’s offensive and stupid. By this point in our time as a society, it’s like making your team slogan Hitler Did Nothing Wrong. But he won’t, not until it starts costing him money. And it’s going to take a lot more than just Congress being upset to make that happen.