The NFL’s Washington Redskins faced a major PR crisis this week as none other than the President of the United States called their team name into question. In an interview with the Associated Press last Saturday, President Obama said that if he were the team’s owner, he would consider changing the team’s name in order to not “offend a sizeable group of people.”
As a response, Lanny J. Davis, an attorney for the team issued a statement:
“We at the Redskins respect everyone. But like devoted fans of the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Blackhawks (from President Obama’s home town), we love our team…we do not intend to disparage or disrespect a racial or ethnic group. The name ‘Washington Redskins’ is 81 years old – it’s our history and legacy and tradition. We Redskins fans sing ‘hail to the Redskins’ every Sunday as a word of honor not disparagement.”
Davis also cited a national AP Poll from April 2013 that found that eight out of ten Americans do not see the need to change the team’s name.
The team’s statement generated a lot of controversy on the Internet, as members of the media weighed in and voiced their opinions about the team name. Opinion columnists from USA Today, the Washington Post, and CNN all criticized the team for not listening to the President and updating the team name to something less controversial. In one of the most passionate critiques, Bleacher Report writer Dan Levy posed a question to his readers asking them how they would have handled the situation as the team’s owner:
“What would you do? Would you send your corporate lawyer out to do damage control on the talk show and media circuit, defending your company’s name to the point of utter ridiculousness, turning what was once a silly public relations campaign into an unmitigated disaster for your brand?”
To assert the need to change the team’s name, Levy pointed out that if the AP Poll cited by the team’s lawyer is accurate, another part of the poll found that roughly 11 percent of Americans think the team’s name should be changed. And 11 percent of the population is equivalent to 35 million people, roughly the population of the entire country of Canada.
As a public relations representative for the Washington Redskins, how would you handle this PR crisis? Would you consider changing the team’s name or have the team’s management, players or attorney make a statement? Would you ask for Native American players and community members to speak out in support of the team’s name?