Washington Commanders’ Sean Taylor Memorial is an Epic Failure
Over the weekend, Washington commanders revealed a new ‘statue’ commemorating Sean Taylor, a former security guard who played for the organization from 2004 to 2007, earn two Pro Bowl nods before his death at 24 years old. Taylor was a phenomenal young talent, family orientedand one hell of a workaholic in the field.
Prior to the unveiling of the “statue”, commanders had tried for years to honor Taylor’s memory. In 2021, commanders withdrew his Shirt No. 21 before a clash with the Chiefs. Besides the ceremony, Washington also printed a large “21” on the side of the pitch, separated by white plastic chains. The ceremony was overshadowed by controversy, however, when Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes annoying brother, Jackson Mahomes, took a video of himself dancing atop the “21” meant to honor Taylor’s legacy, and quickly posted said video on social media.
This controversy led several within the Commanding Officers’ front office to believe that Taylor needed another, more appropriate commemoration that was not encumbered with unforeseen controversies. Enter the “statue”. I put quotes around that word because the end result wasn’t so much a statue as it was a spindly mannequin with several aspects of Taylor’s persona allegedly distorted.
It was the general consensus, one of disgust, contempt and downright disappointment. Amid all the mishandled controversies the commanders had endured for the past three years or so – the cheerleader email scandalteam owner Dan Snyder threatening to release”dirton other NFL owners and commissioner Roger Goodell, former first-round pick Tragic death of Dwayne Haskins — the franchise received a public relations contract layup with the Sean Taylor memorial. How hard could it be to spoil the honor of a deceased teammate? Build a statue. Put it front and center of the team stadium or just outside, and voila, the audience would cheer endlessly. Well, apparently it’s quite easy.
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Despite public displeasure with Taylor’s statue, members of Taylor’s inner circle seemed more than pleased with this memorial. Taylor’s half-brother, jamal johnson, said, “It’s an honor, like I said, again, it’s an honor to get that kind of love and respect from an organization.” Taylor’s daughter, Jackie Taylor, expressed similar content saying: “It was beautiful, honestly. They put on everything he wore – football boots, little things that were special to him and that he did as a player. It was really special.
One aspect of the statue that most of the public seemed to despise, Taylor’s family loved the most. Even as I write this, most casual fans who have seen the statue are upset about the soccer cleats. It is a failure on the part of the commanders in Washington. They didn’t properly communicate to fans what they were doing with each part of the memorial. While the same defense cannot be made for the black gloves that can be made for soccer cleats, I would be hesitant to assume the decision was made in haste and without thought, as many people have assumed. with soccer cleats.
Yet, many questions remain. Commanders would have been congratulated if they had built a normal bronze, copper or stone statue, just as the cardinals of Arizona did for Pat Tilman when he was killed, or the Philadelphia Eagles did it to commemorate the “Philly Specialgame that helped them win their first Super Bowl, so why didn’t they? What measures could the commanders have taken to limit the negative reactions of the statue? Did the horrible public image of the commanders play a role in the massive public reaction the organization received after the unveiling of the statue?
I spoke with Dustin Yorkaassociate pcommunications teacher at Maryville University, on this point. York has a long history in public relations, having worked with notable brands such as Nike, PepsiCo. and Scottrade Financial Services, as well as former President Barak Obama’s political campaign in 2008. York’s initial reaction to the statue was the same as most of us – filled with disappointment. However, as more information about the design choices for the memorial came to light, including his family’s reaction, York’s disappointment grew from blaming the whole organization of commanders to blame it on the organization’s public relations team.
York expressed his displeasure the lack of transparency of the commanders as well as the internal communication before the unveiling of the statue. “Whether it’s hierarchy issues or strategy issues, internal communication with this organization hasn’t lived up to the benchmark that other teams have set,” York said. “This event clearly lacked oversight. He probably didn’t even suffer a red team.
red team is “the practice of rigorously questioning plans, policies, systems, and assumptions by adopting a contradictory approach. Essentially, an idea is presented and a group of people will rip it member by member looking for any angle that the audience might misinterpret as being in bad taste. This group should, in a perfect world, find any loopholes or lack of transparency that would lead to fan outcry for insensitivity, historical inaccuracy, or lack of taste. York has experience in this aspect of public relations and was discouraged by commanders’ obvious overstepping of these basic marketing rules.
“I don’t know if they’re not paying for this, or if they’re paying for the wrong people” cried York. “But those golden rules of presenting those plans and processes are not being followed.” York expressed even more dismay at the commanders’ lack of transparency regarding the decision to put Taylor’s statue in football boots. “Same [Taylor’s] daughter said that soccer shoes represent her hobbies. This was the intention behind this decision. It was supposed to represent his hobbies. [The Commanders] didn’t even communicate well. So now rumors are swirling that they just messed up. ‘Why would you even choose football?’ So even with the things they’ve done ‘right’, the team doesn’t communicate those decisions and then they’re seen in a bad light.”
Obviously, deploying this dummy as a memorial was a risky move, given what an easy home run a bronze or stone statue would have been. Why not give Taylor this sendoff that fans would have deemed worthy of Taylor’s legacy? “I don’t have the exact answer,” admitted York. “Timing is probably the most likely culprit. I mean, commanders have been dealing with a lot of other crises lately, so maybe this memorial has been put on the back burner. I’m sure this was planned a year ago, but due to other stories and issues surrounding the team, maybe something like this that was supposed to be a fan relations softball, got postponed to give resources and attention to other, more immediate, urgent matters.
Dan Snyder and the Commanders’ poor public image likely played a part in the Taylor model’s poor reception as well. “It’s always easy to beat the troubled kid. Whenever an organization has had a series of crises, any other small misstep will shine the spotlight on them. York continued: “If it happened to the Dallas Cowboys, say, would it have had so much bad press? I do not think so. Think of it like this. If there is an NFL player known to be dirty, do you think the referees would watch them more closely and give penalties to that player more quickly? Absolutely, because there is a story. The same basic concept occurs here.
Although York thinks the Commanders’ Taylor memorial was better than most people give it credit for, he doesn’t think the team is done honoring number 21. “What Commanders are really looking for is a PR win, and I wouldn’t I wouldn’t be surprised if there was anything else planned, because obviously it wasn’t a win. If that’s the case, hopefully, commanders will review their decisions a bit more thoroughly before launching them out.