Story at a glance

  • The Washington Redskins are set to change their name and logo after 87 years.
  • Owner Dan Synder previously stated that the team would “never change the name,” but a broad conversation on race in the U.S. sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement has prompted quick responses from corporations, politicians and individuals.
  • A new name has not yet been announced, but is expected to come in the following days.

When Dan Snyder bought the Washington Redskins in 1999 for $750 million, he was a multimillionaire who made his money through marketing firm Snyder Communications, which went public in 1996 and then was bought by global media agency Havas in 2000 for more than $2 billion. 

Now, after more than 20 years of ownership by Snyder and 87 years with a controversial name, the Washington Redskins moniker will soon be a thing of the past; on Monday it was announced that a name and logo change are officially in the works. The landmark announcement came just a few days after the team said that a "thorough review" of the Redskins’ name, widely denounced by Native American groups as an ethnic slur, was under way.

The change, which many are saying is long overdue, follows years of pressure by Native American advocacy groups, the United Nations and even former U.S. President Barack Obama — though it wasn’t until monetary pressure from sponsors, such as FedEx, that the team ultimately decided it was time for a name change. 

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In fact, for years, Snyder argued that the Redskins' name was an indispensable part of the team's history, one that dates back to the early days of the NFL and includes three Super Bowl titles. About seven years ago, he declined to so much as even entertain the idea of rebranding the team.

“We'll never change the name," he was quoted as saying. "It's that simple. NEVER — you can use caps."

Snyder is now singing a much different tune, as the team’s new head coach, Ron Rivera, said in a July 4 interview that he has been working with the owner on the name change process since late May or early June. The seemingly sudden change comes amidst a wider national conversation about racial equality, sparked in part by the police killing of George Floyd at the end of May.


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"Dan Snyder and Coach (Ron) Rivera are working closely to develop a new name and design approach that will enhance the standing of our proud, tradition rich franchise and inspire our sponsors, fans and community for the next 100 years," the team said in a statement.

The power of the dollar

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The decision came quickly after FedEx, the title sponsor of the team's stadium, formally asked the team to change its name. FedEx was the first major backer to call for action, but their request to have the name changed follows decades of frustration from many Native Americans and activists, such as Not Your Mascots, which organized a march that consisted of hundreds of protestors in Minnesota last fall. 

Two other top sponsors, Nike and PepsiCo, followed FedEx in their ask for a name change. Nike is the NFL’s primary jersey and apparel supplier, and some were quick to notice that the apparel brand removed the team’s entire collection of merchandise from its website following their denouncement of the name. According to Adweek, a collection of 87 investors and shareholders worth more than $600 billion had reportedly signed a letter urging Nike, FedEx and PepsiCo to end their relationship with the franchise until it changes its name just a day prior to the formal ask by FedEx. 

Support for the change

"The NFL and Dan Snyder have finally made the right call and Change the Mascot commends them for it," said Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation representative and head of the Change the Mascot campaign, in a statement on Monday. "This is a good decision for the country -- not just Native peoples -- since it closes a painful chapter of denigration and disrespect toward Native Americans and other people of color. Future generations of Native youth will no longer be subjected to this offensive and harmful slur every Sunday during football season."

Politicians such as Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, have also expressed their support for the name change. 

“The football team that represents the nation’s capital should not play under the banner of a racist name that denigrates Native Americans and runs contrary to the ideals that our nation strives to uphold. I am glad that the Washington football team has finally reckoned with the hurtful truth about its name, and I urge the team to listen to and include Native voices as it considers a new name,” said Udall in a statement on Monday.

“The name change is a welcome but long overdue step forward. Now, the franchise has an opportunity to hear from and involve Native Americans in the process of renaming the team, to ensure that they don’t make the same mistake twice.”

Not everybody is supportive of the change though, and many Redskins fans have taken social media sites such as Twitter to express their dismay. Critics believe that dropping the name caters to “cancel culture” and Caucasian liberals, rather than backlash from actual Native Americans. Many of these critics cite a 2016 study by The Washington Post, which found that 9 out of 10 Native Americans polled were not offended by the Redskins’ name. The poll differs drastically from others though, such as one released this February by The University of California Berkeley, whose results showed that 49 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the name was offensive. That number jumped to 67 percent for those "frequently engaged in tribal cultural practices."

A new name has not yet been announced, but experts such as Carla Fredericks, the director of the American Indian Law Clinic and director of First Peoples Worldwide, are cautioning the D.C. team to pivot away from any kind of Native American mentions. One source told ESPN that the team is currently considering including the military in its new name.

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Questions are now popping up as to whether other sports teams with similarly divisive names will make moves to change their names and logos, such as MLB's Cleveland Indians, announced earlier this month that it would explore changing its team name, with Manager Terry Francona among those who have expressed support for a change.

Asked about the San Francisco basketball team, the Golden State Warriors, Fredericks said, "We're just taking a very hard line on all of this, that anything that relates to Native American people or is evocative of Native American people has no place in professional sports. The hard line is important because of the lack of understanding about Native American people in our communities, so the clarity would go a long way toward better behavior by sports teams and fans.”

Though the Golden State Warriors have yet to make any statement about a name change, critics such as NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony have urged all sports teams with Native American-related mascots to make a change. 


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Published on Jul 13, 2020