The Power of the Media and the NFL’s ‘Skins’ Game

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Sunday’s overtime win against the San Diego Chargers gave the Washington Redskins a reason to celebrate, at least temporarily, as the storied franchise continues to make headlines both on and off the field. 

The team’s losing season is only part of the problem.  A new report by the Pew Research Center revealed that 76 news outlets have publicly announced their opposition to the name “Redskins” or have banned or restricted its use in editorial coverage.

Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and anti-defamation groups reignited the decades-old issue earlier this year calling for the removal of the name, saying it is a racial slur and offensive toward Native Americans.

Team owner Dan Snyder has been adamant about not changing the team’s name.  He’s not alone either.  A Washington Post poll found that a majority of D.C. residents (66 percent) are against a name change.

While the 76 news outlets that came out in opposition to the name are only a small portion of the media landscape, they certainly pack a punch.  Several high profile journalists have created national news themselves by opining their reasons for the Redskins name to go.

Whether  a reporter “becoming” the story is bad for an outlet’s credibility will continue to be debated.  Most journalists try not to get involved in their own stories, although that is becoming increasingly difficult in today’s highly fragmented, 24-hour media landscape.  Either way, it makes for good television and sells newspapers.

No doubt the media attention is negatively affecting the team’s brand equity and putting pressure on the NFL, which continues to battle perception problems of its own.  Published reports indicate that the league’s executives have been meeting with Snyder and the Oneida Indian Nation to address the controversy.

The fact is the Washington Redskins are in crisis, a battle with the courts of both legal and public opinions.  And there aren’t any signs of it tapering off.  Even though the owner, team and fans like the name the way it is, the current reality is creating too much controversy around the brand, which equates to lost dollars and can impact future revenues.  That’s a recipe that can’t work in today’s NFL as pro football teams look to sell products, licenses, and TV and radio rights outside their respective locales.

A decision to change the name, if any at all, most likely won’t be made until the end of the NFL season.  Who knows?  Maybe next year the team will have new energy, new blood and a new name.  Everyone loves a comeback story, especially the media.

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