The NFL’s Washington Redskins have been all over the media lately. Unfortunately for them, it’s not because they’re winning.
The NFL’s third most valuable franchise has come under fire from the media because of the nickname ‘Redskins,’ a term deemed offensive to Native Americans. Redskins owner Dan Snyder has repeatedly defended the moniker by citing Native Americans who don’t mind the name, reminiscing on the team’s eight-decade history, and pleading that the name is meant to honor, not disrespect Native Americans.
This is not the first time the ‘Redskins’ name has been challenged, but clearly something is different about this controversy. That thing: social media.
Social media has taken the United States by storm. Seemingly everybody has a Facebook or Twitter account, and sports are one of social media’s favorite topics. On any given autumn Sunday, the trending list on Twitter is dominated by the NFL franchises and players. The Redskins are not an exception to the NFL’s Twitter success. In fact, they have roughly a quarter million followers on Twitter—sophomore quarterback Robert Griffin III has over a million.
From a marketing perspective, Twitter and the NFL are a match made in heaven. Followers get to hear the latest news about their favorite team, and follow the lives of their favorite players. In exchange, Twitter provides teams with an easily accessed, interested audience, who are likely to follow posted links to the team store and season ticket information.
However, what the Redskins are slowly finding out is that social media is a double-edged sword.
Your average Joe might only see social media as a way to keep tabs on friends, family and their favorite celebrities, but social media agencies understand the power social media harnesses. Thanks to sites like Facebook and Twitter, everyone is a journalist, everyone is a critic, and everyone has a voice. Facebook groups and Twitter hash tags allow for “social media journalists’” ideas to spread like wildfire through the digital forests, lighting aflame the feeds of likeminded individuals.
The history of social media tells us: when a group of people feel vehemently about an issue, they do not let it die. I wouldn’t expect anything different from proponents of changing the name of the NFL’s Washington franchise, and usually, presidential support doesn’t help suppress protestors.
Twitter presents a problem for the Redskins’ front office. They can’t control what is said to their players, and, more importantly, they cannot control what their players say. If social media were at some point able to convince a Redskin superstar that the team they stood for is racist? Does anybody doubt the team would change its name in a heartbeat? What if the NFL, who is constantly concerned about their own image, gets tired of the #racist campaigns on Sundays?
The level of social media outrage about the name Redskins might rise and fall, but it will never go away until a name change occurs, casting a dark cloud over any Redskin accomplishments along the way.
One can imagine the stories if the Redskins, who are led by an African American quarterback, ever prevailed champions of America’s game.
In owner Dan Snyder’s letter to Washington Redskins fans, linked above, he mentions a survey conducted by the Associated Press. The national survey found that only 11 percent of those polled believed that the football team should change its name. Admittedly, 11 percent is a low percentage. However, in the world of social media, the ‘loud minority’ is even louder. What Mr. Snyder will soon realize is that as the number of people needed to make a difference decreases, the number of people that need to be offended to force change decreases also.