John Feinstein Blog: Redskins Name Will Change Despite Daniel Snyder’s Arrogance

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(Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

(Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Here’s the problem with being very rich and not very smart: No one is going to tell you that you aren’t smart — and, for the record, being in the right place at the right time in the business world and getting rich, doesn’t mean you’re smart.

More than anything else, that has been the problem for Daniel M. Snyder, who has proven himself to be the worst owner in professional sports since he bought Washington’s NFL team almost 15 years ago. It isn’t just that Snyder has hired and fired coaches the way most people change their socks or that he’s among the most arrogant and obnoxious people on earth.

Lots of owners do a lousy job running their team. Many are arrogant and difficult to deal with although Snyder does take the attributes of a miserable human being to unique levels.

The list of people Snyder has treated badly wouldn’t fit into cyberspace. Even so, that’s not his biggest problem.

Here’s what is: His absolute belief that he can buy anything—including public approval. When he foolishly told USA Today last spring that his team’s nickname would NEVER change — ‘and you can use caps,’ — as in capital letters his utter lack of sensitivity was on display for the all the world to see.

What he meant was this: ‘I’m the owner, I’m rich and I don’t give a damn if anyone’s offended by the name.’

That was the message — loud and clear. Since that interview the backlash has been building. Snyder and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell — who for some reason has decided to ride shotgun with him on this issue — keep referring to an ELEVEN-year-old poll that showed that most Americans and many Native Americans weren’t offended by the nickname.

Since then other polls have not only showed that the numbers have changed but, more important perhaps, that many Native Americans who responded weren’t saying the nickname wasn’t offensive but that they had much more important issues to worry about.

After Goodell made the mistake in August of trying to insist that the nickname somehow, “honored,” Native Americans, he backtracked saying, “If one person is offended we need to take a look at it.”

Maybe he meant EXACTLY one person — not more — or maybe he’s just staring at the name for several hours a day but he’s done nothing since then. In the meantime, someone got to Snyder — Goodell perhaps? — and told him he had to stop being so adamant about knowing what was or was not offensive to Native Americans. When President Obama jumped into the fray by saying if he owned the team he would change the nickname, Snyder had to do SOMETHING.

So he went out and hired well-known spin lawyer Lanny J. Davis to try to somehow soften his position—at least publicly.

Davis, who is famous for trying to talk tainted public figures (Bill Clinton among them) out of corners, drafted a letter under Snyder’s name in which “Snyder,” said he felt really bad if anyone was offended by his team’s name but it had been the name since he was a boy and he really, really liked singing the fight song. So, if you don’t like hearing or seeing the name, I’m really and truly sorry but, you know, I really like that song.

Davis then did a media tour, carefully picking radio and TV hosts he knew he could handle to push Snyder’s agenda.

For the record: I’ve known Davis since I covered his campaign for Congress as a kid reporter at The Washington Post more than 30 years ago. (Davis is a Democrat from Maryland, he lost the election). His son, Seth, was a student of mine at Duke and remains a friend and colleague to this day. So, I asked Davis if he wanted to come on my CBS Sports Radio show to defend Snyder’s position. Davis hemmed and hawed: he was travelling one day; busy the next. Finally when I said he could come on WHENEVER he was free he sent me an e-mail basically saying his job with Snyder was done. “The letter was essentially the end for me,” he wrote. “I’m just a country lawyer from Washington now.”

The implication — as I read it — was that Davis had written the letter, done the softball talk show circuit, collected his fee and was now done. No need to come on with me when the questions might be a little bit tougher. That’s fine — Mark Emmert won’t come on the show either.

The issue continued to simmer until last week. Then, Travis Waldron, who covers sports for the website ThinkProgress did a lengthy story on the issue and, in the process of his reporting, discovered that Davis wasn’t the only person that Snyder had paid to help him try to spin his way out of his self-created corner.

It turns out the Ari Fleischer, once President George W. Bush’s spokesman — who was on the payroll of the BCS at one point — had been hired as a consultant by Snyder. So had Frank Luntz, another Republican strategist most famous for trying to rid the world of the phrase, ‘global warming,’ by referring to it as, ‘climate change.’

And, just for good measure Snyder also hired George Allen Jr. — son of the team’s one-time coach and brother of the team’s current general manager. Allen’s promising political career was blown up in 2006 when, during a campaign speech, he referred to a Native American who worked for his opponent as a “Macaca,” which was once a racial slur used by the French in Africa but more recently has been used a slur directed at Native Americans. Just to be sure no one thought it was an accident, Allen used the word twice.

Who better to defend the use of a racial slur as a team’s nickname than someone who used one during a political campaign?

When Waldron called Tony Wyllie, Snyder’s public relations man who doubles as a stand-up comic (without ever trying to be funny) to confirm that the four were on the payroll, Wyllie told him that only Davis was being paid by Snyder. That was on Thursday.

Late Friday afternoon—during the news cycle known as, “take out the trash time,” because so few people are paying attention going into the weekend—Wyllie called Waldron back to say he had made a mistake on Thursday. In fact, all four people he had named WERE on the payroll. Wyllie said he’d “made a mistake,” by not checking the facts before answering the question.

What I found most interesting about this was that Davis is STILL on the payroll when he had said, “I’m just a Washington country lawyer now,” back in October. When I wrote to ask him about this, Davis said I had “misunderstood,” him. I forwarded his October e-mail back to him and asked, “What did I misunderstand?”

Apparently the ‘misunderstanding,’ was this: Davis is still on the payroll. He’s just not carrying Snyder’s water publicly anymore. He’s advising him privately. If he can ever convince Snyder he’s 100 percent wrong on the issue, he will earn his (very large) check.

Far more important though is the notion that Snyder is paying all these highly-paid lobbyists to try to spin a story that’s un-spinnable. And Goodell, last Friday in his pre-Super Bowl press conference, continued to cite the 11-year-old poll and cling to the “the name honors Native Americans,” line. Funny thing: He never ONCE said the team name in his press conference. He was asked if he would ever call Native Americans by the name — which is a slur in the dictionary — put THAT in caps — and ducked the question completely.

Snyder can spend millions on professional spin-doctors. He can scream at Goodell from now until doomsday that he’s right and the name will never change and the commissioner better stand by him. His apologists can scream, ‘political correctness,’ and that non-Native Americans shouldn’t be offended by the name (why not? — I’m not African American but I’m offended by the n-word?)
None of it matters. The name’s going to change sooner or later for one simple reason: it’s wrong.

There’s no amount of money — even in Snyderworld — that can change that simple fact.

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