It appears that the Washington Football Team’s retirement of Sean Taylor’s number on Sunday was what it looked like, read like, and felt like — a half-assed PR ploy.
The announcement of the occasion, a tweet sent out days prior with a link to a press release, came three days after Jon Gruden had to resign as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders when his offensive emails were released, messages which the NFL acquired during an investigation of Washington’s toxic workplace culture. Also, another scandal involving Washington came to light the day of the announcement. The New York Times reported that former team president Bruce Allen was too chummy for comfort with the general counsel of the NFL, Jeff Pash. They shared emails that read similar to the ones that forced Gruden to step down.
Washington’s announcement of Taylor’s jersey retirement was so widely panned that team president Jason Wright issued an apology the same day. Wright said the event had been planned for months, even though Taylor was murdered in 2007, and that the organization made a bad judgement call on announcing it the week of the game by not realizing how many people would want to travel to Washington and be part of the celebration of Taylor’s life.
Wright also re-emphasized some points from the organization’s 12-hour-old PR statement about the event, such as a ceremony formally dedicating the road leading into FedEx Field as Sean Taylor Road. It was announced that the road would be renamed just prior to the start of the 2020 season, two months after a different major scandal had rocked the organization.
So how did the occasion go? Judging from a tweet a reporter who covers the team sent out, Chad Ryan, it looked like it was planned the Thursday before the game. For one, in a picture of Taylor’s family in front of the sign, Sean Taylor Road, immediately behind them is a row of porta-potties. Not one, not two, not three, a whole row.
A logical person would believe that the owner of the Washington Football Team, Dan Snyder, would be front and center, primped and pressed for the occasion. Except, Snyder is kind of sort of serving an indefinite suspension. The league fined Washington $10 million in July 2021 for its toxic workplace culture, and Snyder’s wife, Tanya, is supposed to be running the day-to-day operations for the team for a “few months.”
On Sunday, Snyder looked like someone who hadn’t been to work in a few months. He took a picture with Taylor’s family in a team hooded sweatshirt, ill-fitting, wrinkled khakis, and from the picture his shoes look like 20-year-old slippers. Then during the jersey retirement ceremony, no one spoke.
The day even got Patrick Mahomes’ brother, Jackson, in trouble. He had to apologize for recording a TikTok while standing on a painting of Taylor’s number on the sideline. Surely it was an insensitive thing for him to do, but it was far more insensitive for Washington to put the number in the VIP section.
In case Snyder forgot, this was one of the great tragedies in the history of the NFL. Taylor is injured and goes home to be with his family after a burglary. The house is broken into again while he’s there and he gets shot. The news breaks in the evening, and we go to bed thinking Taylor will be okay. Early in the morning, we find out that Taylor, one of the league’s most promising young defensive players, is dead at 24 years old.
It’s not that Washington needed to spend millions of dollars on some ornate ceremony, but it needed to not look like a 12-year-old started a project 12 hours before it was due.
Whatever good PR Washington tried to squeeze out of this jersey retirement/alumni weekend ended up squirting them in the eye. This organization does not get it, and as long as Snyder is in charge it never will.