Daniel Snyder turned what could have been an epiphany into grudging resignation
By JOHN FEINSTEIN | Special To The Washington Post | Published: July 14, 2020
It is hardly a surprise to anyone that when Daniel Snyder was finally forced, kicking and screaming, to change the name of his football team, that he did it with the complete lack of grace that has come to symbolize his fractious ownership in the past 20 years.
Nothing in this process has suggested genuine transparency, much less an actual crisis of conscience. To be fair, Snyder needed help to get this right, and the one man who might have been able to do that was Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League.
On June 6 — 12 days after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis — Goodell gave his mea culpa to those who have who have spoken out against police brutality and racial inequality. He made it clear he was speaking for the NFL, "We, the NFL apologize . . ."
So far, though, Goodell hasn't followed up on those words in any tangible way. His first phone call, the next morning, should have been to Snyder.
On July 3, when the team finally announced it was going to look into changing the name, there was a vague reference to conversations between the owner and the commissioner, but it wasn't Goodell who got to Snyder. It was Fred Smith, the CEO of FedEx. More accurately, it was the money Smith controls in that role. Smith had backup: Nike, Pepsi and United Bank, all of whom chimed in to say they didn't want to be associated with a team with a racist nickname anymore.
It was, quite simply, corporate blackmail. But let's not get too carried away passing out kudos to corporate America. Smith has been friends with Snyder for years, his corporate box at FedEx Field is right next to Snyder's and he is a minority owner in the team. His decision to tell Snyder that FedEx doesn't want its name on a stadium that is home to a team with a racist nickname is as much about money as the forced name change is for Snyder.
In fact, the only good guys in this story are those who have campaigned for years to have the name changed. Even so, all of them know that their pleas and protests had nothing to do with this happening; corporate money did.
There's a stench to the whole sorry tale. On July 2, FedEx released a statement saying, "We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name."
You can't be much more direct than that. Behind the scenes, FedEx lawyers made it clear to Snyder's lawyers that the remaining $45 million on the FedEx naming deal would not be forthcoming if the team's name wasn't changed.
By noon the next day, Snyder's 2013 vow that, "We will never change the name — put that in all caps" — was as much a thing of the past as Allen's "over-the-hill-gang." Game over. Pepsi, Nike and Bank of America quickly jumped on the bandwagon, but the minute the FedEx statement was made public, the name was done.
No more preening or trying to claim the name was something American Indians should take pride in. No more comments along those same lines from Goodell, whose support for Snyder on this issue was baffling at best, downright foolish and insulting at worst.
So, the team announced it would now conduct a "thorough review," into the possibility of changing the team. What was there to review? The controversy has been there for this entire century. The intellectually honest thing to say would have been: "Our corporate sponsors have spoken. New name to come soon."
Even Monday, when the team announced it was, "retiring," the team name, the announcement came with the old team logo on it and said, "Statement from the Washington Redskins Football team."
You can bet Snyder had to sign off on the continued use of the outgoing team name and on the curtness of the statement itself. Surely no one was expecting him to say anything resembling, "I was wrong."
The on-field record a year ago was 3-13. A coach was fired, an interim coach also was let go and Ron Rivera rode into town as the next savior. Time will tell about that.
Snyder could have at least attempted to be a good guy in all this. He could have come out before the corporate sponsors abandoned ship and made an announcement — not released a statement but made a rare public appearance and answered questions. If he had acted soon enough, he could have at least claimed he'd figured out some things about America in 2020 and post-George Floyd. He could even have said the words, "Black Lives Matter." And then he could have said that any racial slur is wrong.
But that's not who he is. He'll be dragged to the new name, yelling and screaming in some way, shape or form about the unfairness of it all. He'll get no credit for doing something that he's been forced to do, and instead will face criticism from the name's staunch defenders — the current White House occupant, whom Snyder has given money to in the past, already has done that.
Snyder's turned what could have been something close to a win-win into a lose-lose. And if he tries to use "Warriors" as a replacement, he'll be criticized before the new logo is even unveiled.
I'm here though, to help. The team's new name should be "Justice." Snyder wants to move the team back downtown when the lease on his current stadium is mercifully over. That would mean playing again just blocks from the Supreme Court. And, in this moment in time when social justice is on everyone's mind, the name would be a perfect fit.
Snyder might even get a round of applause for it. He could use the support.