Posted At: October 25, 2013 10:15 a.m.
by Ashley Jones
One of the world’s most expensive and historical sports franchises is under pressure to change its 80-year-old beloved brand. The Washington Redskins, a National Football League team, is facing criticism from President Barack Obama, the Oneida Indian Nation and even Howard Stern for its derogatory team name.
For decades, several professional sports teams have found themselves in the hot seat for names referencing Native Americans. Teams such as the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves and Chicago Blackhawks have all faced some level of disapproval from the public, but no team has gained as much national attention as the Redskins have.
The Oneidas, a First Nation and Native American tribe with several bands in the United States are the leading advocates behind the Redskins’ name change. The tribe revived the controversy after launching its national campaign, “Change the Mascot,” which calls upon the NFL and its commissioner, Roger Goodell, to bring an end to the use of the racial epithet.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, President Obama commented on the campaign and offered his opinion about changing the team’s name.
“If I were the owner of the team and I knew that the name of my team, even if they’ve had a storied history, that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it,” said Obama.
Shock jock Howard Stern didn’t beat around the bush when he took to his radio program to weigh in on the dispute.
“It’s so offensive. And that logo is that big Redskin. It’s like you had the Washington N-Words and you had Sambo with his watermelon. Just change the [expletive] name. Home of the free, land of the brave, meanwhile we came over to this country, stole their land… and killed them all. So give them an [expletive] bone and change the name already.”
Despite public backlash, Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder has remained persistent in his view against changing the team’s name. Snyder, one of the most successful business owners in America, is challenged with a public relations crisis far worse than any coaching or quarterback controversy.
If the Redskins organization and NFL side with Snyder, the team can shift its focus solely to football, but the name issue will continue to loom for years to come and has the potential to lose future Redskins fans in the process. If the team decides to change its name, Snyder and the Redskins will be tasked with challenging and expensive rebranding issues, but the controversy will subside.
With the amount of national support “Change the Mascot” has received, a San Francisco-based graphic design company, 99designs, started a contest to help promote a potential mascot transformation for the Redskins. The contest is aimed at finding creative new designs for the organization’s potential rebranding efforts.
According to the company’s PR manager, Lauren Gard, “The goal with this contest is to rebrand the franchise based on three different name suggestions with a logo that’s a little more positive. And to have fun with it!”
So, will Daniel Snyder take the advice of Gard and other PR professionals who are encouraging the storied franchise to change its name? If I were Snyder and had one of the NFL’s most dedicated and loyal fan bases, I would make the change by including the team’s die-hard fans in the process regardless of tradition or how much it may cost the franchise to rebrand itself.
If the sports and PR industries have taught us anything, it is that change is part of the business.