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From Redskins Sponsors, Mostly Silence — 'They Are Not In Position To Take Public Stands'

Washington Business Journal, June 25, 2014

By Mark Holan

When Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was sidelined for racially charged remarks, brewing giant Anheuser-Busch made a full-court press to seek the moral high ground.

"We applaud the NBA for taking swift and definitive action to address the offensive and reprehensible comments by Clippers owner Donald Sterling," the company said in an April 29 statement, the day the league ousted the owner. "There is no place for such intolerance in the NBA, in sport, or anywhere else for that matter."

But Anheuser-Busch, like other companies affiliated with the Washington Redskins, hasn't been as quick to make statements about the team's name, even as opposition to the R-word has grown beyond the ranks of Native American activists. President Barack Obama, members of Congress, the D.C. Council and several high-profile sportscasters and journalists have voiced their opposition. Last week the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cancelled the team's trademark, ruling the name is "disparaging." The team has promised to appeal the decision and owner Dan Snyder has vowed to "NEVER" change the name.

One major difference between the Sterling episode and the Redskins name, sponsorship expert Jim Andrews says, is that the name controversy evolved over time, while the Sterling case erupted in a flash.

"I don’t think anyone looked at Sterling and saw anything but blatant racism," said Andrews, senior vice president at Chicago sponsorship consulting firm IEG. “With the Redskins, there are differences of opinion, but the tide is turning."

My calls and emails to Anheuser-Busch specifically asking for the difference or distinction is drawing between its Sterling statement and the Redskins issue were not answered over several days, though the company promised to call back.

Anheuser-Busch "could be taken to task for that [Sterling] statement, and why are you not applying it in the Redskins case," Andrews said. But companies "typically don’t move quickly" on such issues unless pushed to a tipping point by consumers, shareholders or the general public.

Andrews said sponsors generally do not what to be involved in controversy. "I’m sure they are having very direct conversations with the team,” he said. “They see this issue isn’t going away, but they are not in position to take public stands."

I've reached out to other corporate sponsors of the Washington team, including Bank of America, Ticketmaster, Kayem Franks and Ameritel Corp. Bank of America and Ticketmaster have not yet responded, and Kayem Franks declined to comment.

"It's not our place to have a decision on the name," David Kaufman, president and CEO of Ameritel, said in a voice message reply to my call on the name issue. The Rockville-based copier and office supply company sponsors the Redskins.

"We do trust the business relationship we have with Mr. Snyder and know he will make the appropriate decision regarding his team and the community," Kaufman said.

A group of investment companies, including Bethesda-based Calvert Investments, has joined one Native American tribe in asking FedEx to consider the reputation damage of being associated with the name via its name on the team's Landover stadium. The Tennessee shipping giant, whose top executive owns a 10 percent share of the team, is trying to block the issue from a shareholder vote.