News & Politics

Blogger Hired to Defend Redskins’ Name Quits After Two Weeks

Ben Tribbett says he resigned because he didn’t want to be at the “forefront” of the controversy over the team’s name.

Photograph by Flickr user Kevin Coles.

Three weeks ago, the Washington NFL team hired Democratic political consultant Ben Tribbett, well known in Virginia political circles for his “Not Larry Sabato” blog, to help the franchise defend its oft-criticized name.

Instead, Tribbet ended up defending himself, and last night tweeted his resignation after deciding that too much of the debate over the team’s name had focused on him. (Tribbett is also an occasional contributor to Washingtonian.)

“I don’t want to be a distraction to the team as the political attacks have shifted towards being personal towards me,” he wrote. “So I’m going to send in my resignation to the Redskins.  Hopefully that allows debate to move back to where it should be.”

Tribbett was brought on in late June help the team counter the long-running narrative that its name disparages Native Americans. His hiring came days after the US Patent and Trademark Office stripped the franchise’s federal trademark protections of its name and logos, and about a month after 50 senators sent the NFL a letter urging the team to adopt a new moniker.

In an interview Tuesday with Washingtonian, Tribbett says his position supporting the team’s name, which most dictionaries define as a racial slur against Native Americans, has not changed.

“The team name is not what people are making it out to be,” he says. “I don’t agree with what’s going on with the attacks on it. I was on record with that long before I joined them. Frankly, the Redskins, when I was growing up, brought the community together more than anything. I don’t want to see them change the name. I just don’t want to be at the forefront of the debate.”

As soon as Tribbett’s gig in Ashburn became public, though, he became a target for the team’s critics, many of whom found an irony in seeing Tribbett, whose big break came in 2006 when he posted video of then-Senator George Allen’s infamous “macaca” moment, take a job working for Allen’s brother, team president Bruce Allen. Some of Tribbett’s fellow bloggers noted that during the George Allen episode, Tribbett’s blog linked to a list of racial slurs to demonstrate that “macaca” was indeed a slur; that list, his critics say, also included “redskin.”

Yesterday, Indian Country Today Media Network also dug up tweets that Tribbett had posted during a 2010 vacation in Las Vegas, in which he described a poker-table encounter with man wearing traditional Native American garb.

Tribbett tells Washingtonian that Indian Country Today is taking his tweets vastly out of context, saying that his poker opponent was intoxicated and wearing a headdress when he sat down for a late-night hand.

“It was 2 AM in Vegas,” Tribbett says. “A drunk guy who was dressed up at 2 AM in Vegas at a poker table. Twitter’s not the greatest place to get depth on things.”

While Tribbett says he wants to get back to his political career and away from the forefront of the controversy surrounding his former employer’s name, it’s tough to see how his brief career in professional football isn’t another fumble for the team. (The disastrous “#RedskinsPride” social media campaign comes to mind.) Sure enough, some of the franchise’s biggest opponents have been quick to count Tribbett’s resignation as another victory.

“In trying to continue profiting off of a racial slur, Washington team officials have attempted to assemble a political attack machine, but that has only underscored their insensitivity,” the Oneida Indian Nation, a New York tribe that has waged a year-long media campaign against the team, writes in an e-mailed statement. “Then [Dan] Snyder hired a blogger to defend the name, even though that person previously publicly insulted Native Americans and also admitted the team’s name is a racial slur. The fundamental lesson in each of those humiliating episodes should be obvious: there is simply no way to justify promoting, marketing and profiting off of a dictionary-defined racial slur.”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.