• Jonathan Brannan

THE RACIST TEAM NAME THAT'S SURVIVED EVERYTHING EXCEPT MONEY

Updated: Aug 16, 2020

The NFL's Washington D.C. franchise is dropping its controversial 'Redskins' moniker.


The move comes ten days after the franchise launched a review of the team’s name, which has long been considered offensive to Native Americans.


'Today we are announcing we will be retiring the Redskins name and logo upon completion of this review,' a statement said.


No replacement name has yet been announced, with the team saying owner Dan Snyder and coach Ron Rivera, who also effectively serves as general manager, were still considering alternatives.


“[They] 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.”


Snyder had previously vowed never to change the name, familiar to sports fans across the globe, but pressure has been growing amid the broader discussions on race which have followed the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Franchise


As a team, the Washington franchise can trace its history back to 1932. Businessman George Preston Marshall would launch his new football team, the Boston Braves, taking the name of the baseball team in which they shared a stadium.


After only one year the franchise would move to the home of the Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park, and would take on the name the Boston Redskins.


There is no real understanding of why the new name was chosen. However, it is widely theorized that the team's head coach William Henry "Lone Star" Dietz, who claimed to be a member of the Sioux Tribe, did affect Marshall’s thinking.


As the team failed to successfully draw in fans in Boston, Marshall decided to relocate the team to Washington D.C., in 1937.


In Washington D.C. the team would find success and a loyal fan base, as the team became NFL champions on five occasions. The most recent championship coming in 1991.


Furthermore, the team has consistently been followed by controversy. Team founder Marshall was a supporter of racial segregation and resisted efforts and pressure to integrate his team's roster. Washington would become the last NFL team to sign an African American player to their roster in 1962. Only coming after Interior Secretary Stewart Udall threatened to revoke the team's 30-year lease for the team's new D.C. Stadium which was on federally owned land.


Furthermore, Marshall had the team's marching band play "Dixie" on the field for 23 years.


After Marshall's statue, which stood on the grounds of RFK Stadium, was vandalized last month, the decision was made to remove the statue.


Max Brown, the chairman of the Events DC board of directors, and Greg O'Dell, the president, and CEO, released a joint statement explaining the removal.


"This symbol of a person who didn't believe all men and women were created equal and who actually worked against integration is counter to all that we as people, a city, and nation represent," the statement read. "We believe that injustice and inequality of all forms is reprehensible and we are firmly committed to confronting unequal treatment and working together toward healing our city and country."

Money Talks


The franchise's nickname has come under criticism before.


In 1972, the franchise launched its 'Indian head' logo which replaced the 'R' logo on players' helmets. The same year a delegation of eleven people representing a variety of Native American organizations met franchise president Edward Bennett Williams and requested that he change the name. Explaining that it was a "derogatory racial epithet."


"I listened, and that's all," Williams later said of the meeting. "It was a listening session for me."


Ahead of the Washington's championship game against the Bills in 1992, over 2,000 Native American activists protested the team in Minneapolis.


"We say to [team owner] Jack Kent Cooke, this is 1992," said Vernon Bellecourt, the director of the American Indian Movement. "The name of your football team has got to be changed."


Later in the same year, Suzan Shown Harjo and a group of six other Native Americans filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, asking it to revoke the team's federal trademark registrations on the grounds that they are disparaging.


In 1997, the only remaining Division 1 college using the Redskins moniker, Miami University, changed to the RedHawks.


"I don't think it was a politically correct move: I think it was a humanely correct move," said Wayne Embry, one of the trustees who voted unanimously in favor of the change.


When Dan Snyder took over the team in 1999, he announced that he may look at selling the naming rights to the team's stadium but had no intention of changing the team's name. He would later double down when again pressed on the issue in 2013.


"We'll never change the name," he told USA Today. "It's that simple. NEVER - you can use caps."


It looked as though the name would remain until at least a new owner came along in the future. However, this began to change when a number of investment firms and shareholders worth a collective $620 billion wrote letters to organizations such as Nike, FedEx, and PepsiCo asking them to terminate their business relationships with the Washington franchise unless the team agrees to change its name.


“This is a broader movement now that’s happening that Indigenous peoples are part of,” Carla Fredericks (@cbassnyc), director of First Peoples Worldwide. “Indigenous peoples were sort of left out of the civil rights movement in the late 1960s in many respects, because our conditions were so dire on reservations and our ability to engage publicly was very limited because of that. With social media now, obviously everything is very different.”


Money finally spoke when FedEx, which paid $205 million to be the team’s naming rights sponsor, formally asked Snyder to change the name.


Retailers Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Nike all added pressure by removing team merchandise from their e-commerce stores.


“We have been in conversations with the NFL and Washington management for a few weeks about this issue,” a Pepsi spokesperson said. “We believe it is time for a change. We are pleased to see the steps the team announced today and we look forward to a continued partnership.”


Furthermore, ESPN stated that it would stop using the team logo, which depicts a Native American man.


The team initially announced that they would be undertaking a review of the name.


“In light of recent events around our country and feedback from the community, the Washington Redskins are announcing the team will undergo a thorough review of the team’s name,” the team said in a statement. “This review formalizes the initial discussions the team has been having with the league 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, and National Football League and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field," Snyder said in a statement.


This week the team officially announced that it would be changing its name.


“Today, we are announcing we will be retiring the Redskins name and logo upon completion of this review,” the team said in a statement.

About Time


Despite announcing that there will be a new name, the team is set to start the 2020 season with the name as the announcement of a new name being delayed due to pending trademark issues.


Although there looks to still be another year of the name, the news has been welcomed by many.


"The NFL and Dan Snyder have finally made the right call and Change the Mascot commends them for it," Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation representative and head of the Change the Mascot campaign, said 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.


"We have made clear from the start that this movement was never about political correctness, but seeking to prevent unnecessary harm to our youth, since we know from social scientists the many harmful effects this mascot has had on Native Americans' self-image. Today marks the start of a new chapter for the NFL and the Washington franchise, beginning a new legacy that can be more inclusive for fans of all backgrounds."


"About time," tweeted New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland, one of the only Native American women in Congress.


"It shouldn't take a huge social movement & pressure from corporate sponsors to do the right thing, but I'm glad this is happening," she continued. "Huge thanks to everyone who made their voices heard."


Carla Fredericks said she did not want to see the team pivot to a name such as the Warriors. She said it would be considered a tie-in to Native Americans.


"Mostly because we have this really unfortunate history and one thing the Washington team has to think about is not just a change, but also making it right, and that [name] doesn't seem like it's headed in that direction.


"There's no other racial group in America that has endured what we've endured as Native Americans, that has had every Sunday when we turn on the TV and see what we've had to see and experience what we've had to experience, perpetuating that seems out of step with the broader discussion of racial justice in the current moment."


"We came up with a couple of names — two of them I really like," Coach Rivera said.

Currently, it appears as if the nickname the Red Tails is the favorite with the fans, even gathering traction on Twitter. The Red Tails moniker refers to the all-Black group of pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen, who fought during World War II in planes that had their tails painted bright red.


Fredericks further stated, "This is the moment for the Washington team to step into a leadership role, and it could be really positive. If the Washington team says we get it now, we messed up and we're going to change and we'll change in such a way where we don't impact Native American people in anything that happens, that would send a very clear message in professional sports, and even scholastic sports, that we're in a new era. ... As I understand it, franchise owners are a pretty headstrong bunch and certainly empowered on their own to do what they think is right. It'll be an interesting couple of months in every respect."


The MLB's Cleveland Indians announced that they would also be reviewing their team name."We are committed to making a positive impact in our community and embrace our responsibility to advance social justice and equality," the Indians said in a statement. "The recent unrest in our community and our country has only underscored the need for us to keep improving as an organization on issues of social justice."

Team Valuation


In 2019, Forbes valued the Washington NFL franchise at $3.4 billion, an estimate that attributed $231 million specifically to the team’s brand.


However, it is expected that the team's brand is worth“substantially less.”  Peter Schwartz (@pjschwartz1) a sports valuations professional believes that "The ongoing controversy over the team name—including the 2018 trademark dispute—has resulted in a significant decrease in the appreciation of the value of the team. Viewed through that lens, the Redskins’ brand is actually a net-negative.”


Potentially being forced to change the team's name could boost their profitability. Darryl Cobbin, Managing Partner of Brand Positioning Doctors states, “At the moment, only the most die-hard of Redskins fans are buying team merchandise. But if the club were to get a new name and it’s marketed the right way, all of a sudden folks who aren’t even fans of the franchise could be buying the gear.”


In 2019, Washington didn't have a single player within the NFL's top 50 jersey sales. A change to the team's negatively perceived branding could help the franchise rebuild a fan base. In the past decade, the team has seen game day attendace drop by 31%, and their season-ticket waitlist went from 200,000 to zero.


The rebrand could see the uptick in ticket sales that the team desperately need.


Paul Swangard (@PaulSwangard), Instructor of Advertising and Sports Brand Strategy, University of Oregon explained that there is a “massive base of young people [both in and out of market] who care more about what a brand stands for than the product or service it is selling. If the Redskins changed their name, people who never rooted for the club before would begin to because of the perception they’re taking a leadership position as it relates to promoting social progress.”


Morals


Despite the team receiving the praise for changing the name, it does appear to be too little, too late. Especially since it comes more from financial pressure from brands, rather than choosing to listen to the voices of Native Americans.

"Daniel Snyder has used every tactic and opportunity to silence Native peoples and ignore our demands to change the name," said Crystal Echo Hawk, the founder and executive director of IllumiNative, a Native-led nonprofit focused on generating more Native American representation. "Changing the name in response to financial pressure doesn't mean Snyder suddenly has morals or that he's learned something. It's just more proof that he cares about his profits more than the people he's harmed."


However, there is hope that this event can pave the way for more discussions on future topics. The pressure of companies such as FedEx and Nike no longer affects just one of the 32 NFL franchises but due to their shared revenue system, this may pave a way for other owners to demand change within their leagues and help with issues that are affecting modern society, such as racism.