News & Politics

Dan Snyder Says PR Campaign to Defend “Redskins” Is Not PR

The Washington NFL team owner's latest attempt at sincerity falls flat.

Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

Dan Snyder gave a rare interview yesterday when he appeared on WTEM-AM after a day spent at his NFL team’s training camp in Richmond. After spouting off some optimism about the team’s chances in the upcoming season, Snyder’s conversation with tight end-cum-radio yakker Chris Cooley turned to the ongoing criticism about the name of Snyder’s team.

The 49-year-old owner didn’t deliver a full-throated “NEVER—you can use caps,” as he did in 2013, but Snyder hasn’t really moved on the issue at all in the past year.

“It’s honor. It’s respect. It’s pride,” Snyder told Cooley. “And I think that every player here sees it, feels it, every alumni feels it, and it’s a wonderful thing, it’s a historic thing. It’s a very historic franchise, it’s been a pleasure.” (DC Sports Bog has the full transcript.)

Snyder also said that criticism of his team’s name, which most dictionaries define as a racial slur against Native Americans, overlooks the outreach he’s been making this year to native communities through the team’s new “Original Americans Foundation,” which he says has included several visits to reservations around the country.

“What I did see that got me and touched me and really moved me, and I think you know because you’ve visited a lot of reservations yourself, is the plight of Native Americans,” Snyder said. “Things that people don’t talk about. You know, it’s sort of fun to talk about the name of our football team, because it gets some attention for some of the people that write it, that need clicks, or what have you.”

Once again, Native American leaders who have been whaling on Snyder since the last NFL season took issue with the Washington owner’s latest statements.

“Washington team owner Dan Snyder’s comments are proof that he is living in a bigoted billionaire bubble,” the National Congress of American Indians said in a press release. “For him to claim that a racial slur is ‘fun’ is grotesque. There is nothing ‘fun’ about his desire to continue promoting, marketing and profiting from a term screamed at Native Americans as they were dragged at gunpoint off their lands.”

It’s good that someone of Snyder’s net worth is making charitable contributions to communities that suffer from extreme unemployment, poor public health, and crippling poverty, though the burst of financial generosity isn’t actually divorced from the controversy about the team’s name. Snyder’s put up burgundy-and-gold playgrounds on underserved reservations, but he’s also had his money thrown back in his face by tribes like Arizona’s Fort Yuma Quechans, who rejected Snyder’s offer to build a skate park as “bribe money.”

Before ending the interview yesterday, Snyder insisted again that it’s all sincere:

“And this is not PR, we don’t have PR people doing this stuff, this is really genuine, and from that standpoint, just like our foundation here locally, it’s 16 years running that we’ve been doing this. You talk about the millions of dollars this year, it’s been every year, and we don’t really brag about it, it’s not something that we’re going out doing.”

Snyder probably should have stopped when he called out statistics like the 67 percent unemployment rate he says encountered on a visit to a Pueblo tribe in New Mexico, because when it comes to public relations, few people employ more spin doctors and attempt more soft-touch community initiatives than Snyder. In the past year, it’s been reported that Snyder has sought advice from the likes of über-fixer Lanny Davis, wedge-issue wordsmith Frank Luntz, and Iraq War pitchman Ari Fleischer. He also briefly employed Virginia political consultant (and occasional Washingtonian contributor) Ben Tribbett with the specific purpose of defending his team’s name.

And don’t forget to whom Snyder gave this interview: Cooley, who agreed with Snyder’s every word, works for a station owned by Red Zebra Broadcasting, which is owned by none other than Dan Snyder. The former tight end is also one of the ex-players attached to, ostensibly launched last month by a grassroots network of team alumni but, in actuality, set up for the team by spin factory Burson-Marsteller.

What was that about not having PR people do this stuff?

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

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.