Here are the things that I’m an expert at: Negotiating win-win scenarios with my clients’ suppliers. Applying bandages to my kids’ skinned knees. Remembering that Mother’s Day and my wife’s birthday typically fall within a few days of one another.
You’ll notice that tackling national crises of social conscience isn’t on that list. But since fivethirtyeight.com, The Daily Show and South Park have chimed in on the controversy surrounding the Washington, D.C. football team name, why not Supply Chain ROSCO? I’m not saying that resolving this issue has anything to do with negotiating with suppliers (or bandaging skinned knees or putting the Mother’s Day card on the flowers and the birthday card on the chocolates). Okay, maybe I am.
Caution: This post contains subliminal supply chain optimization messaging.
For those of you who are not aware… There is a professional football team in Washington, D.C. Professional sports teams in the U.S. typically are identified with a city, state or region and have a team name – i.e. Los Angeles Kings, Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots. The team in question has a team name that has received a bit of attention. I won’t type the name here but it has been equated with a racial epithet, but has also been deemed anywhere from benign to respectful by those on the other side of the debate. The word itself uses a color to describe the skin of Native Americans.
(To get an even remotely close epithet, people with “white” skin would need to go back to when our European countries of origin came with the threat of physical violence. Maybe it still exists, but it’s not as publicized when Polish-Americans feel at risk when passing through a German-American neighborhood.)
There are people who feel very passionately that the Washington team should change its name.
There are people who feel very passionately that the Washington team should keep its name.
Here’s the 50,000-foot summary for the “keep the name” side:
It’s a team name that was originally intended to honor a coach with a Native American heritage and several Native Americans players. It’s tradition. It’s not intended, nor has it ever been intended, as a slur or to disrespect anyone. The name conveys the strength and courage of the Native American people.
Here’s a 50,000-foot summary for the “change the name” side:
It doesn’t matter what the origin of the word was – whether it was created by Native Americans to self-identify or bounty hunters who provided scalps to prove their kills. The name – today and for the foreseeable future – has a racist, painful and malicious connotation. In the same way that you wouldn’t use any other racial epithet as a team name, you shouldn’t use this one.
And here are some other tidbits introduced into the conversation:
Keep the name: It would cost too much money to change all the signage, logos, etc.
Change the name: The net potential windfall from a team name change would be in the tens of millions of dollars. Not just in new merchandise sales, but in the favorable publicity for changing the name to something more positive (or even more innocuous).
Change the name: There are mental health effects on Native Americans exposed to these misrepresentations of their ethnic identity, and the often hostile or insulting behavior by others that occurs when teams use names like the one in question.
Keep the name: Polls indicate that 60%-70+% of Americans favor keeping the name as is.
Change the name: The “keep the name” side concocted those polls and no self-respecting pollster can vouch for them.
Keep the name: Oh, yeah?
Change the name: Yeah!
Etc. Etc. Etc.
While the debate is spirited, the fact remains that only one person can change the name. And he’s stated vociferously, publicly and often that he will not. He is Daniel Snyder and he is the team owner. To date, no one – not the NFL, not Native American reps, not the media – has been successful in negotiating with him about his position.
Now, to how my expertise can help. You’ll note that in paragraph one, I mention my three specific skills. Negotiating with suppliers, tending to my kids’ minor injuries and remembering my wife’s birthday. It takes a certain amount of empathy to do those three things. So I really only have one useful skill – empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. And here’s what my empathetic skillset tells me – Daniel Snyder won’t negotiate.
Have you ever tried to convince a toddler to stop crying? Sometimes, you just need to go to another room and turn up the radio.
Snyder will keep the team name unchanged for as long as possible. And he has a very good reason.
Since Snyder took over the team in 1999, the team has a win-loss record of 105-147. He’s had eight head coaches in that time. He’s been known to sue season ticket holders who have requested to be let out of their agreements due to financial hardship. His franchise quarterback is about as durable as George Plimpton in Paper Lion. And his team just got blown out 45-14, at home, by a New York Giants team that many had written off as dead. What he needs is for people to talk about his team name and not about his team. He’s doing what he needs to do.
I’m not trying to pile on here. Check out Dan’s Wikipedia page to read about the philanthropic work he does. Check out the rest of the Internet to read about the team name issue. (Okay, I’m piling on.)
For those of us not named Dan Snyder, the issue revolves around maintaining the status quo versus being on the right side of history. For Dan, the issue is, “Why aren’t more people up in arms over this? What do I have to do to create a greater spectacle, to distract you from our 7th last place divisional finish in the past 10 years? Hey, look, it’s Kevin Durant wearing my team’s logo!”
I’m guessing that if Dan Snyder were a supply chain manager, his company would have a very pretty PowerPoint detailing its metrics, but if you went down into the warehouse – you’d find empty beer cans littering the shipping dock and franks on the Hibachi in QC. Supply chain optimization, like fixing a bad football team, requires crawling into the guts of an organization and pulling the cancer out with your fingernails. You might need to fire suppliers. You may need to tear warehouse racks out of concrete to improve workflow. Supply chain optimization can’t bluster on during an OTL interview about how it’s never going to paint the building. With supply chain optimization, you’re going to be measured by results.
Results, you say? The current Daniel Snyder-led process will yield another losing season, while he keeps the current name. Would Washington fans prefer Dan move on from this controversy, optimize his current process and focus on wooing free agents and scouting impact players who can be drafted in the second, third and fourth rounds? I’m sure Dan would have even more fans (and even more revenue) with a 12-4 team, even if it were called the Washington Nobles*. Those on the “keep the name” side ultimately care more about winning than fighting over a relic, but they only have this blanket of controversy to wrap themselves in these days.
Just like supply chain optimization, fielding a consistently good team is hard. It’s easier to throw up a distraction than do the difficult work. And if Dan’s afraid of doing what’s best for his team, its fan base and the Washington community – then he’s doing exactly the right thing.
*How can the Washington Nobles not be the name of choice here? Talk about honoring a people’s strength and courage. With a name like Nobles, you might not even need to change the logo. And who wouldn’t root for the D.C. ‘Nobes?