At this point, it's clear that it's not a matter of if Dan Snyder will be forced to change the Washington Redskins name, but when. Today's decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the team's trademark registrations because the name is "disparaging to Native Americans" is a major blow to Snyder's efforts to cling to the name.
Snyder should have done this years ago, and not just because it was the right thing to do. Once the fight over the name started tarnishing the rich legacy of Washington football and alienating one of the best fan bases in the league, he should have turned the page on the name.
Instead, he has dug his heels in and what has followed has been one long series of public relations disasters. From his pronouncement that he will "NEVER" change the name, to his #RedskinsPride campaign that went horribly awry, to his decision to hire lobbyists to defend the name in Congress, Snyder comes across as both arrogant and out-of-touch.
Perhaps Snyder's biggest PR flub was the creation of the "Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation," which had the laudable goal of ending Native American poverty but reeked of corporate whitewashing, for lack of a better phrase. It seemed as though Snyder's consultants were relying on a public relations textbook from the 1950s. Worse, the man Snyder hired as CEO of the foundation is accused of bilking Native Americans out of $1 million in federal funds. As Deadspin put it: "When starting a foundation to help Natives, step No. 1 should probably be 'Don't have it run by a guy whose last foundation to help Natives just took their money.' "
Many fans defended Snyder's decision to start the foundation, arguing that, hey, at least he is doing something to fight poverty among Native Americans and that's better than doing nothing. This is true, of course, but why couldn't Snyder do that, as well as change the name that so many Native Americans find offensive? Such a move would completely change the narrative.
If Dan Snyder were to admit that he was wrong about changing the name but that he's still deeply committed to helping Native Americans, much would be forgiven. A new name would allow Snyder to begin to tell a new story. He can even keep the same colors since so many fans "bleed burgundy and gold." Further, a study of the economics of college teams who dropped their Native American mascots found that it is likely that "in the long-term the shift away from a Native American mascot yields positive financial returns."
Snyder needs to be pro-active and admit he's been wrong on his own terms rather than being forced to by his fellow NFL owners who finally say enough is enough. (Today's trademark ruling may wind up being the factor that ultimately compels them to pressure Snyder to create a new name. They won't want to risk millions in lost merchandising revenues.) If he does not, the PR disasters will continue to mount, and the steady drumbeat of comments that the name is offensive will only grow louder.
Good public relations starts with honesty, accountability and fairness. These are also the qualities that make up a good leader. Since Dan Snyder is the face of the Redskins, there is no one else who can lead the team out of this mess -- no PR consultants, no army of lobbyists, no one within the Redskins organization.
It's time for Dan Synder -- and the name -- to change.