Under mounting pressure from sponsors and retailers, Washington’s NFL team said it will no longer be known as the Redskins, an offensive term for Native Americans.
The club began a review of the name July 3 and “will be retiring the Redskins name and logo upon completion of this review,” according to a team statement Monday. Dan Snyder, the principal owner, and Ron Rivera, the head coach, “are working to develop a new name and design approach.”
It’s a stark reversal by Snyder, who for years refused even to entertain the possibility. As recently as 2013, when the franchise was defending its name in court, Snyder told USA Today, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple.”
This time, sponsors and other financial partners left Snyder little choice. Earlier this month, FedEx Corp., which holds the naming rights to the team’s stadium in Landover, Maryland, told the team to make a change. Walmart Inc., Target Corp., Amazon.com Inc. and Nike Inc. stopped selling the team’s merchandise. The National Football League said it would support a change.
The support for the name change suggests the power of the current reckoning on race in America. Protests over the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of police in late May have expanded to target systemic racism across U.S. industry, government, culture and sports.
The NFL, the most popular sports league in America by a wide margin, has been grappling with the growing Black Lives Matter movement for years. Then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began protesting police brutality by kneeling during the pregame national anthem in 2016, a controversial demonstration that divided fans, players and league officials. In June, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized on behalf of the league for “not listening to players” and failing to encourage and support peaceful protest. He didn’t mention Kaepernick by name but later told ESPN he’d encourage a team to sign him.
The Washington team has a long history of racism beyond its name. George Preston Marshall, who founded the team in 1932, actively opposed integration; the team was the last in the league to sign a Black player. It did so in 1961, and only under threats from the government.
That Black player, Hall-of-Famer Bobby Mitchell, is getting new attention as well. The team retired his number last month, making him the second player in the history of the organization to receive that honor, and a section of the venue will be named in honor of Mitchell. It had previously been named for Marshall, who will no longer be recognized in the stadium or in team materials, the team said.
Late Sunday, “Hail to the Redskins” trended on Twitter, with several fans who both supported and opposed the move saying they wanted to sing the team’s fight song one last time.
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