Washington’s NFL team announced Monday that it will change its name, following decades of pressure to stop using a dictionary-defined racial slur.
A new name and logo will be announced at a later date after a thorough review, the team said in a statement Monday morning.
"Dan Snyder and Coach 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.
For now, arguably the most polarizing name in North American professional sports is gone at a time of reckoning over racial injustice, iconography and racism in the U.S.
Surprising many, the team said on July 3 that they would “undergo a thorough review of the team’s name” as pressure built to change the name that Snyder, the team owner, vigorously defended for years.
Prominent corporate sponsors FedEx, PepsiCo, Nike and Bank of America urged the team to change its name. Stores including Walmart and Target stopped selling team merchandise on their websites.
FedEx is the title sponsor of the team's stadium in Landover, Maryland, and CEO Frederick Smith is a minority owner.
More than a dozen Native American leaders and organizations wrote to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week demanding an immediate end to Washington’s use of the name. They said they “expect the NFL to engage in a robust, meaningful reconciliation process with Native American movement leaders, tribes, and organizations to repair the decades of emotional violence and other serious harms this racist team name has caused to Native Peoples.”
Snyder said in a statement July 3 that initial discussions with the league had been underway in recent weeks.
“This process allows the team to take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise but also input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the National Football League and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field,” he said in a statement.
Snyder, who bought the team in 1999, said for years that he would never consider changing the team’s name, which has been criticized as racist for decades.
Head Coach Ron Rivera said in the team's statement on July 3 that the issue of the team's name was of "personal importance" to him. Rivera, who is of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent and is the only Hispanic head coach currently in the NFL, added he'd work closely with Snyder during the process.
Native American advocacy groups tried for decades to force a change, and a peer-reviewed UC Berkeley study released earlier this year revealed 67% of those surveyed who strongly identify as Native agreed or strongly agreed the name was offensive. The death of George Floyd in Minnesota and other examples of police brutality against Black people in the U.S. sparked protests worldwide and changes to various brands considered racially insensitive.
Fans in the D.C. area have had mixed reactions to a change.
Season ticket holder Dave Lysinger previously said he would give up his seats if the team decided to change its name. It’s part of the organization’s history, he said. Others said it’s time for a new name for the team they love.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recently revived her call for the name to be changed.
"I think it's past time for the team to deal with what offends so many people,” she said on the “Doc & Galdi” radio show on The Team 980. “This is a great franchise with a great history, that's beloved in Washington, and it deserves a name that reflects the affection that we feel for the team.”
Washington recently started cutting ties with racist founder George Preston Marshall, removing his name from the Ring of Fame and renaming the lower bowl at FedEx Field for the team’s first Black player, late Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell. Marshall, who renamed the Boston Braves the Redskins in 1933 and moved it to D.C. four years later, was a segregationist and the last NFL owner to integrate their team. The current logo shows the profile of a red-faced Native American with feathers in his hair.
Long removed from the glory days of winning Super Bowl titles in the 1982, 1987 and 1991 seasons under coach Joe Gibbs, Washington has just five playoff appearances in 21 years and no postseason victories since 2005. The team has lacked a nationally marketable player since Robert Griffin III’s short-lived stardom, and the 2020 schedule features zero prime-time games for a franchise that used to be a draw.
Re-branding with a new name and logo — and perhaps the same burgundy and gold colors — coupled with turning football operations over to Rivera could be a boon for Snyder on and off the field. Even if a segment of the fan base opposes the change in the name of tradition, winning could more than make up for those losses.