The Washington Redskins: A public relations lesson on what not to do

Who is really running this football team? Washington general manager Bruce Allen will either stay the course or succumb to the dysfunction. Photo: Washington coach, Mike Shanahan/AP

WASHINGTON, December 9, 2013— Washington Redskins fans are among the top five most loyal and yet long suffering fans in the NFL. Owner Dan Snyder has proven he just wants to win. His wealth and personal decisions are his to make. The Redskins name is controversial, but Snyder has maintained his decision and he has made his point that the Washington organization uses the name to honor, not humiliate Native Americans.

Since 1999 when Dan Snyder bought the Redskins, the one constant, other than losing, has been terrible public relations. Whether it is flashy free agent acquisitions, demeaning coaches or hyping a bad product, Washington just cannot improve its image. This is the area Snyder has tried to improve in recent years.

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He has made environmentally conscious decisions to save energy at FedEx Field, his wife has raised money for breast cancer awareness, and he has worked to improve the fan experience at FedEx Field by installing large high-definition big-screens. The die-hard Washington fans notice all of these things.

In 2010, Dan Snyder did the right thing by stepping aside and allowing Mike Shanahan to run the football operation. This decision probably gave him more free time to spend improving the stadium and fan experience. As a casual observer, one could assume Snyder is truly uninvolved with football decisions. Unfortunately, this is a football organization. The lines of demarcation can be gray because football is the name of the game, or business. The NFL has become a business and Dan Snyder is a businessman. This is where RG3 comes into play.

Snyder’s affection for RG3 is no secret. He has been seen in restaurants with his star quarterback on numerous occasions. Other owners probably do the same thing with their star players. Robert Kraft has been seen out and about with Tom Brady. The difference, however, lies in Tom Brady’s three Super Bowl wins versus Griffin’s Alamo Bowl as renowned Washington Times writer Thom Lovarro wrote last month.

Here is the problem. Fraternization is ultimately a public relations issue. It can, and usually does, create a perception of partiality and favoritism. Impartiality and business fairness are critical when it comes to making organizational decisions. Going out to dinner with your quarterback may not seem like a big deal, but it is still fraternization. It undermines your head coach and general manager, who get paid to make impartial operational decisions to help the team win.

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Unfortunately, Snyder has a history of fraternization. In 2008, the Redskins started out the season 6-2. Not long after this promising start, Clinton Portis, a personal friend of Snyder, did not accept coach Jim Zorn’s disciplinary requests. Portis complained to Snyder and it uprooted the entire football operation. In that instant, the inmates were running the asylum. Anarchy followed as Zorn and the rest of the coaching staff were stripped of their positional authority. This treatment of the coach and fraternization led to the franchise’s low point in 2009.

History has a way of revealing true progress. If Robert Griffin III, a 23-year-old who is not listening to coaches, not owning his mistakes and not performing on the field, but has a voice in organizational decisions, the Redskins are still the same dysfunctional team they were in 2009.

Regardless of Griffin’s talents as a player, he is only a player strictly in an organizational sense. Players cannot be given the positional authority to fire coaches, manipulate offensive schemes or make personal injury decisions to stay on the field because it creates a conflict of interest.

This is why teams hire general managers. Players, even RG3, cannot be granted this privilege because 99.9 percent of subordinates, when given the option, will manipulate the organization around their personal job security as a player. While fans might care about RG3’s job security because they like his style or identify with him, few true Washington fans would support Griffin’s job security if it compromised the organizational strength of the Washington Redskins.   


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John Heibel


Born in Southern Maryland, 34 years old, John Heibel grew up a Washington DC  sports fan, playing pretty much all sports. Heibel served in the US Coast Guard for 7 years and has two bachelors degrees.
The writer currently lives in Kensington, MD covering all DC Sports for Communities.

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