Communication and questionable PR choices

Washington’s football team has a problem. I don’t think they quite understand what kind of problem they have, though. They seem to be under the impression that they can reason their way out of accusations of racism. They also seem to be misunderstanding the nature of communication. If you kind readers will indulge me for a bit, I have a few comments about this issue.

The organization claims that the name is a tradition. Tradition is not a good reason to continue to do something offensive. “That’s just the way it’s always been” doesn’t come off well as an excuse. We as a nation supposedly figured this out a few decades ago. Jim Crow laws had been around for a long time when we finally started fixing them.

There is a significant difference between “being offended” and “choosing not to be offended.” Asking someone point blank if they are offended is probably not the best way to gauge their offense level. Who among us hasn’t either hemmed and hawed or flat-out lied when asked about being offended? It’s the polite thing to do, and when being confronted like that, many of us turn polite, even if we aren’t polite by nature. Maybe it’s a matter of taking the moral high ground. Maybe they just don’t want to fight about it. And besides, if social media has taught us anything, it’s that being offended and being offensive don’t have to be related. One can exist without the other.

So essentially, deciding what is racist (and what isn’t) cannot be done by those in power. And anytime anyone in power has chosen to attempt it, things have ended badly. Please don’t make me give examples of this; they will be harsh.

I mentioned a communication problem up front. I think what the organization is forgetting is that it’s not what you say, but how your audience understands what you say that is the foundation of communication. The writer has total control over the message until that message first runs through the processor of the person reading it. Sun Tzu explained centuries ago that no strategy survives contact with the enemy. The same principle applies here. What you say is ultimately in the ears of someone else, and that person doesn’t have the same experiences to help determine what the words mean. Or the name, in this case.

I’m not a big fan of caving into the minority under normal circumstances. I think that most of the people who do things like demanding that others change are not doing it for the right reasons. But once the so-called issue is out there, being discussed by a lot of people, and you have claimed that you won’t change because of tradition, you’ve already lost. The only thing worse would be to claim that you can’t change because it would cost too much money to change your merchandise.

I’ve been a Redskins fan all of my life (and I’m no youngster). It will be incredibly weird and uncomfortable for all of us fans for the name of the team to change. But the sooner we start the process, the sooner we can all get back to being comfortable again. And dragging this out will help no one. If you doubt that, watch the sales of the team’s merchandise over the next year. People know the name will change, and I think they will choose not to buy Redskins gear and apparel knowing that they will be replacing it with the new stuff soon.

I’m no fan of politics (literal or governmental). But I do think that the longer the organization waits to make this change, the more they will damage themselves. Right now it’s starting to look like they don’t care what people think. I honestly find that hard to believe, but again, perception is stronger than intention.


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