The Washington Redskins NFL team has long been facing controversy over the question of whether its name is insensitive, if not racist. Supporters of the team say that the name "Redskins" is a term of endearment, and has connotations of bravery and honor. Critics charge that it appropriates a culture that the team has little connection to and that that the name itself is a slur. According to a new report by ThinkProgress, the team has taken on Frank Luntz, a prominent Republican strategist, as a consultant to do a focus group in order to determine people's views on the name.
A recent CBS Sports poll found that 79% of sports fans support the Redskins keeping their name, but that may not be enough to keep the heat off. The claim that the term "redskins" is not a slur has been met with derision by Native American groups, who equate it to the N-word in its offensiveness. The team's earnest defense of its name as a point of "pride" has also failed to convince members of Congress. A bill is circulating in the House of Representatives that would remove trademark protection for the name. Team owner Daniel Snyder pledges he will "never" change the name but history, political opinion, and pressure groups are all working against him.
So why hire Frank Luntz? Luntz is known as an expert in the use of language. He once said in an interview, "Eighty percent of our life is emotion, and only 20% is intellect. I am much more interested in how you feel than how you think." This candid statement sums up Luntz's MO. His company's website, LuntzGlobal, makes no bones about it, claiming that they "find words that work" so the client gets "language tailored specifically to shift support towards your issue." Some examples of Luntz's wordsmithing include: "job creators" (corporations), "energy exploration" (oil drilling), and "death tax" (estate tax). Luntz is no stranger to sports organizations. Last year, he did damage control for the NHL during that organization's disastrous lockout, and he has helped navigate the concussion scandal currently plaguing pro football.
On Thursday, Luntz will start a focus group paying $100 dollars per participant, in order determine the current state of opinion on the Redskins name. A preliminary email survey sent out by Luntz's group includes questions for potential participants asking how many games they watch, their opinion of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and their opinion on the "greatest problem or challenge facing the NFL today."
How would these services apply to Dan Snyder's current problem? Does he need help choosing a new name? Doubtful. One doesn't hire a high-powered consultant to come up with a new name of a sports team. What he is trying to change are people's minds. It is spin that Mr. Snyder is seeking, and he has sought out the best in the business.