There is no owner in any sport who wants to win more than Dan Snyder, whose passion runs deeper than Dan Snyder, who brings more burning loyalty to his team than Dan Snyder, and who loves being an owner more than Dan Snyder.
As long as the Redskins have belonged to him, 14 years running, Dan Snyder has been overwhelmed by his destructive alter-ego: the bumbling, heavy-handed, smug and terribly unlucky Damn Snyder who's a lot more offensive than the nickname of his team.
The Redskins appear forever doomed under his leadership, partly because of his poor decisions, partly because he just seems cursed. That's why it's safe to blame Robert Griffin III's knee injury on Snyder. Well, OK, not really. But you get the idea. Everything that's happening to the Redskins under Snyder's Rolex appears destined to flop or backfire or prevent them from winning anywhere except at the register. He might be the only NFL owner who gets richer but never becomes enriched, someone who can't shake a stigma or the belief that everything he touches turns to tin foil.
The Redskins are 0-2 after being wiped out 38-20 Sunday in Green Bay, and RG3 is dealing with the reality of recovery and hearing whispers that he should be benched. This isn't the pace that a potential NFC contender had in mind. But a potentially larger issue, at least outside the Beltway, lies with a nickname controversy that's starting to make the NFL sweat. And so Snyder, off to a sputtering start to the 2013 season, finds himself on the spot for reasons both within and beyond his control, a familiar place for him and certainly an uncomfortable one.
So far, Snyder has refused to get tangled in a public debate about "Redskins" or take any visible steps toward a solution. Other than flatly saying he isn't changing the name -- "never, and you can use caps," he told USA Today -- Snyder considers it a media creation and a rallying cause for the politically correct. That's his biggest mistake, underestimating the opponent. A good owner would remove his head from his back pocket and at least conduct an intelligent town hall-like discussion with the fans of his team and/or the curious general public. If Snyder doesn't believe the name is offensive, he should explain why, instead of ordering his PR people to conduct a screw-you response by citing the number of high school teams in the Washington area using Indian mascots. If it's a money issue, and that a name change would be costly (he can afford it), then he should say it and voice those concerns. At least we'd know where he stood and why, and more importantly, Roger Goodell would know.
After essentially supporting the name and throwing the debate into Snyder's lap at first, the NFL commissioner's knees are starting to buckle. You could almost see him perspiring when he recently said: "We have to do everything that's necessary to make sure that we're representing the franchise in a positive way... and that if we are offending one person, we need to be listening and making sure that we're doing the right things to try to address that."
Translation: "Dan, bail us out here. Help. Do something. Say something. Anything."
Look, you can understand why Snyder feels no massive pressure. Native Americans are small and powerless and underrepresented in the power structure in this country. Their voice reaches as far as an AM station. Also, the team name carries heavy traditional and sentimental value, especially to Snyder, who grew up rooting for the Redskins. Everyone knows that. But it's just a name. Please. What's the big deal?
Of course, there's a larger battle here, the one being waged by conservative folks and Redskins fans who are angry about the PC movement in this country and simply want to defiantly draw the line. There's no other defense for Redskins, and for those who don't think Native Americans mind, approach one and call him or her a Redskin and fill us in on the reaction. And when you're done, go to a busy corner in South Central or Bed-Stuy and yell "brownskin" to no one in particular. Just scream it out loud and point in the direction of a few people. Check back with us after that, too.
The longer he stays silent and inactive, the more this will backfire on Snyder. Already, respectable news reporters and organizations are either refusing to say or write "Redskins" or debating whether to continue mentioning the name. If they protest collectively, it would be embarrassing to Snyder and a powerful statement that can't be ignored. Also, at some point, you'd think one of Snyder's players will muster the courage to speak out against the name, and it's somewhat surprising that a black player in the locker room hasn't done so already (especially after several jumped to support other racial causes, such as Trayvon Martin). Well, actually, two ex-greats did. But Art Monk and Darrell Green, perhaps frightened over being ignored for future team appearances (read: money-making opportunities), lost their backbone and quickly backpedaled.
As a favor to Snyder, because he's so confused by this, I bring a solution that satisfies everyone. He can keep the nickname if he must. Just drop all images of chiefs and spears and head-dresses and Indians and any references to them. By doing this, Snyder can completely kill the debate and claim victory. Adopt a red devil as the new mascot. Use the Redskins' throwback helmet for all games, the one with the burgundy "R," but lose the tail feather. Tell this to the hardcore PC crowd, the one that will never be satisfied and that insists the nickname is forever tainted: The word has been reinvented and redefined. Issue over.
That's the problem with Snyder. For a genius who built a telecommunications Goliath and became tremendously wealthy before he turned 30, he sometimes struggles to find solutions when it comes to running a football team. It's not from a lack of effort. His heart has always been in the right place. He loves the Redskins. From the time he bought the team, he actually thought he could make them both profitable and beloved.
Instead, what followed were so many stumbles and self-inflicted pies in the face. Look at all the Snyder-influenced player signings: Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, Albert Haynesworth. Look at the coaches who came, crashed and went: Steve Spurrier, Jim Zorn, Joe Gibbs Part II, a total of seven coaches in all. Look at Snyder charging fans to attend training camp and suing season ticket holders who couldn't follow through on their payments during the recession.
And look at the Redskins on the field under him: Just four winning seasons and two playoff victories.
In 13 years of Dan and Damn Snyder, the Redskins have printed money and frustrated fans. Sure, it might just be a coincidence, that Snyder is simply caught in the crosshairs of a bad run. And he has backed away from the football operation lately and hired competent people to run it without interference. Still, the shadow he casts over the franchise seems dark and troubled and perpetually cursed, only because it's always been that way. Even now, with a solid quarterback (on the mend, anyway) and an impressive roster, the Redskins have already put Washington on depression alert with a winless start. While waiting for the Redskins to dial back the good old days and make deep runs into the playoffs, Snyder can fix his image and generate goodwill by doing something un-Snyder-like.
He can place the nickname topic on the table for review. That doesn't mean he must cave. That doesn't mean he must take my advice and remove Native Americans from the image. But Snyder should show some humility and flexibility over the issue. He should, if nothing else, do a better job of explaining himself.
That's the challenge for Dan Snyder. He needs to take the proper and necessary steps to get rid of Damn, once and for all.