Washington NFL team drops racist name

Free Press wire reports | 7/16/2020, 6 p.m.
The most polarizing name in North American professional sports is gone.

The most polarizing name in North American professional sports is gone.

Washington’s NFL team announced Monday that it will retire its offensive name and Indian head logo in a decision made after sponsors stepped up pressure to scrap a name that the franchise has used since 1933 but long has been criticized as racist by Native American rights groups.

Team owner Dan Snyder, who bought the franchise in 1999, previously said he would never change the name but softened his stance after FedEx, which owns the naming rights to the team’s suburban stadium in Landover, Md., urged the NFL club to rebrand.

The team said on July 3 it would conduct a thorough review of the club’s name.

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

The team did not provide a timeline for when the review would be completed. Its statement did not specify a reason for the name change, but it comes at a time of reckoning over racial injustice, iconography and racism in the United States.

Mr. Snyder and Ron Rivera, the team’s new head coach, “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.

“We commend the Washington NFL team for eliminating a brand that disrespected, demeaned and stereotyped all Native people,” the National Congress of American Indians said in a statement on Monday. “And we call on all other sports teams and corporate brands to retire all caricatures of Native Americans that they use as their mascots.”

Critics have ramped up pressure on the team to change its name following nationwide and global racial justice protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing on May 25 at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

In June, a group of more than 80 socially minded investment firms, collectively with more than $620 billion in assets un- der management, urged FedEx, Nike and PepsiCo to terminate relationships with the team unless it changed its name. PepsiCo and Nike both followed FedEx’s lead and said they welcomed the call for a review of the team’s name.

The pressure from FedEx was particularly important because Frederick Smith, the company’s chief executive officer, owns part of the team.

FedEx paid $205 million for the long-term naming rights to the team’s stadium. The lease at FedEx Field expires in 2027, and dropping the name keeps open various possibilities in Maryland, Virginia and Washington for the team’s new stadium and headquarters.

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser has said the name was an “obstacle” to Mr. Snyder building on the old RFK Stadium site, which is believed to be his preference. Mayor Bowser said she welcomed the name change but there were still obstacles to overcome before the team’s return from suburban Maryland became a serious possibility.

“Yes, we want to change the name and change the location,” she said. “The Washington football team should be playing in Washington.”