Washington Redskins: Building and Maintaining a Team Identity

Dan Snyder

Dan Snyder, the owner who dominates the Washington NFL scene, maintains a very polarized public image in regards to how his fan base views the organization. This has become a trend much larger than Washington, as fans of many other teams are starting to take interest. Protests have already taken place in Green Bay and Dallas this season, with another scheduled in Minnesota later this year. Snyder has chosen to suppress the opposition’s voices in his hometown, trying to keep the team identity as strong as possible in the DC area. Those who resist his stubborn stance on the issue are forced outward to other NFL cities to gain support.

Each stadium is unique in its own way, but they all fall under an umbrella of having very similar characteristics. Professional football organizations design their stadium complexes in a certain way to maximize fan enjoyment and promote team identity, while simultaneously limiting activity outside of the gates. While Redskins owner Daniel Snyder will not allow any such occurrence to happen at FedEx Field, the cause is taken up by many other concerned NFL fans at the Redskins’ away games. It is crucial to understand the Redskins’ stance on the issue by examining how FedEx Field attempts to further the team’s identity while keeping out any resistance.

FedEx Field, just like every other NFL home, shoves team identity down the throats of all who come to the stadium. The message that I perceive is this: “We’re the Redskins, and we’re proud of it! We bleed Redskin red and gold, and you should too!” Whether you drive or take public transportation to the complex, you will surely pass numerous signs identifying the destination in the team’s colors, complete with a giant rendition of the Indian chief silhouette logo. Once you arrive in the parking lot, you are greeted with more enormous banners. Some display the colors and logo, while others feature prominent Redskins players and coaches proudly displaying their team’s uniforms. The gates and levels are named after famous figures from the organization’s history. This serves to honor the past and promote the team’s storied success, which actually gave me goose bumps as I took it all in. Even as an Eagles fan, I found myself washed over by the historical greatness and legacies that were visually personified. By highlighting these aspects, it becomes more difficult to protest the Redskins’ name (and likewise their image and associations). So many people have done such great things for the franchise by working hard for the benefit of the team, and by showing courage and determination. These legends are enshrined, sporting the easily recognizable maroon script “R” and the Native American mascot on their uniform.

Inside the stadium, the walkways lead past several merchandise stores, designed for fans to spend their money on gear that allows them to be easily recognized as both supporters and members of the Redskins’ family. These shops sell every Redskins licensed product imaginable, complete with bags emblazoned with the Native American logo. The more fans spend on Redskins merchandise, the more they are investing in the organization. This inherently increases the difficultly of changing the name because of the financial implications involved with rebranding an NFL team. Food vendors sell products that use word play on both notable players and the team’s name, such as the “RGIII Burger” (named after the Quarterback) and the “Skins Rush” (an alcoholic beverage mixed to a deep Redskins burgundy color). Several other items can be purchased that are based on athlete and coaches’ names. By the time one has passed all of these displays and is ready to watch the game, one will notice that even the seats reflect the team’s visual identity. There are three main seating levels, with the first closest to the field entirely made of maroon plastic chairs. The intermediate level is gold mixed with red, and the top level repeats the design of the first section. They overlook a playing field with the team name and logo painted in both end zones, and a giant profile of the Native American mascot’s head covering the center portion of the turf. For any fan, the experience of watching a professional football game comes with a complete bombardment of team identity. Every step of the experience is designed to draw you deeper into the warmth of the Redskins’ home. From the time you arrive at the stadium until you physically sit in your seat, you are reminded of the team name and colors, as well as the history and tradition that goes with the franchise. Various sections and parts of the stadium are named after historical figures from the organization, including the team’s first coach, “Lone Star” Dietz. Dietz, who was Sioux, was given the ethnic nickname by his family and was a favorite of the team’s owner at the time, George Preston Marshall. Marshall wished to change the name from the Braves, which was used simply in reference to their home park (Braves Field) to something more notable. The word “Redskins” was widely used at the time in reference to Native Americans, and in appreciation to Dietz, Marshall decided to rename the franchise in his honor. The Redskins name is not something that can just be thrown away, as this would feel like the death of a crucial part of something that so many support. I believe that the designers of the stadium had the intention of making the fan feel like an integral part of the organization. A fan is more than just a single supporter; they play a role in a national fan base and are a member of the Redskins’ family. The stadium thus serves to build an identity.

With stadiums designed as such, they are also careful to limit protests and generally undesirable actions from occurring outside the gates. Although the goal is to increase support of the identity to the point that fans no longer wishes to protest the name, the ownership still applies its resources on minimizing discourse between those who dissent against the Redskins’ name. Fans are funneled inside, where their actions can be controlled and their game day experience can begin. The Redskins especially exercise constraint over fans that could potentially cause trouble. The use of public transportation is encouraged and the parking lots are not welcoming places. With a parking pass costing each car $50 for a game, there is an economic disincentive to enter the lots, or possibly a preference to the typically more wealthy and reserved fans who can afford the high parking fee. While ownership does support tailgating by Redskins’ fans, space is still constricted and additional security measures are taken to keep fans under control. The constant patrol of officers serves to discourage rowdy behavior, and any form of protests or demonstrations is explicitly prohibited. Dan Snyder has announced that he will not grant permission for such actions to ever occur at FedEx field as long as he is the owner, stating in an interview to USA Today, “we will never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER. You can use caps.” Police are told to move any groups that form to a new location down the street off Redskins property, and extreme resistance can lead to arrests. As a result, fans and lobbying groups have resorted to travelling to away games in order to get their message out. Stadiums in Dallas and Green Bay have already seen large groups of supporters set up outside the gates on game days. Situated by the gates closest to the Redskins’ sideline, these masses, which are cordoned off by police, aim to be as loud as possible. By examining the protests at away stadiums, it becomes clear as to what Snyder explicitly wishes not to see at home, and how the policies and design of the stadium limits these actions.

It is very important to examine how the built space of FedEx field serves to influence the opinions of fans and restrict possible negative actions. This helps us understand Dan Snyder’s agenda and the goals of the organization through their seemingly oppressive measures. Those coming to watch the games are made to feel like a part of a family. Surrounded by objects and visuals of Redskins pride (as previously described throughout the stadium), it becomes almost sacrilegious to support a name change. The team seems to prefer funneling the fans into the stadium (as seen through the small parking lots, heavy police presence, and unreasonably high prices for parking passes) as opposed to allowing them to linger outside. Having entered, they are submerged under the overwhelming maroon and gold images, and find themselves more invested in the organization. Protests are not allowed on the property, and logically are not likely to occur given the circumstances. The security measures forces groups of demonstrators to travel to away stadiums in an effort to reach out to a couple hundred Redskins fan who may make the trip, mostly while symbolically furthering their cause. In this way, team identity is built while simultaneously minimizing any resistance to the organization’s name. Through the carefully designed stadium and field policies, long time owner Daniel Snyder achieves his goals of building Redskins support.

Image courtesy of ESPN.

Will Graboyes
Georgetown University Class of 2017

Connect with Will on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/will-graboyes/80/30a/9a4
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