First the N.F.L. team in Washington removed the name of its founder, George Preston Marshall — the man who named his team the “Redskins” — from inside its stadium and at its training facility. Then the city of Washington took down a tribute to him that was in front of the team’s old home, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.
On Monday, under pressure from corporate sponsors, the team announced it would drop its logo and “Redskins” from its name, an all but forced turnaround by team owner Daniel Snyder, who for decades said he would never change the name that had long been considered a racial slur.
“Today, we are announcing we will be retiring the Redskins name and logo upon completion of this review,’’ the team said in a statement. The decision came just 10 days after the team said it would review the 87-year-old team name under significant pressure from major corporate partners including FedEx, which had threatened to end its naming rights sponsorship of the team’s stadium. Snyder’s shift from total resistance to grudging acceptance in just a few weeks has been remarkably swift in a league that often moves forward deliberately, if at all. But after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May, the country as a whole has come under pressure to change policies to emphasize antiracism.
The team, one of the oldest in the N.F.L., did not announce a new name on Monday as it continues to evaluate possibilities. Snyder said the new name, when chosen, would “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.”
The move by one of the country’s most valuable professional sports franchises to change its name comes after hundreds of universities and schools have in recent years abandoned team names and mascots with Native American imagery.
“This day of the retirement of the r-word slur and stereotypical logo belongs to all those Native families,” said Suzan Shown Harjo, a Native American activist. She said that the change was a victory for all those who “bore the brunt of and carry the scars from the epithets, beatings, death threats and other emotional and physical brutalities resulting from all the ‘Native’ sports names and images that cause harm and injury to actual Native people.”
The name change is likely to put pressure on the remaining professional teams with Native American mascots and logos to re-evaluate their names and monikers. The Kansas City Chiefs of the N.F.L., the Chicago Blackhawks of the N.H.L. and the Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians of Major League Baseball have long resisted changing their names and logos, though the Indians dropped the mascot Chief Wahoo last year and recently said they would review the team name.
In Washington, official branding is the most immediate task, but it is unclear how the team will address fans who continue to wear headdresses, war paint, and other stereotypical imagery to games or if it will replace its fight song, “Hail to the Redskins,” which contains references to “braves on the warpath” and is played after touchdowns at home games. The team may get to delay making those decisions if fans are not allowed to attend games this season because of the coronavirus.
Washington has been in the spotlight, in part because of its long and checkered racial history. Marshall, the team’s founder, named it the Redskins, which he considered a nod to bravery. Marshall was the last owner in the N.F.L. to sign a Black player, and only under pressure from the federal government.
At the end of June, some of the team’s biggest sponsors, including FedEx, Nike and Pepsi, received letters from investors who called on the companies to cut their ties with the team. On July 2, FedEx, which pays about $8 million a year to have its name on the team’s stadium in Landover, Md., told the Redskins in a letterthat if the team did not change its name it would ask that its name be taken off the stadium at the end of the coming season.
The next day, July 3, the team said a change was likely to be forthcoming, when it began a “thorough review of the team’s name,” after weeks of discussions with the N.F.L. Nike stopped selling the team’s gear, and Walmart, Target and Amazon — some of the country’s largest retailers — said they would stop selling Washington’s merchandise on their websites.
The boycott came after decades of pressure on the team to change the name, which many people (and some dictionaries) consider to be offensive. In 1992, Native American activists began a campaign to compel the United States Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the team’s “redskin” trademark, a legal battle that the Supreme Court ended in 2017, finding that even potentially disparaging trademarks are protected by the First Amendment.
In 2014, 50 U.S. senators sent a letter to the N.F.L. urging the league to step in. And across the country, waves of universities and schools abandoned mascots and sports team names with Native American symbols.
But more than 2,200 high schools still use Native American imagery in their names or mascots, according to a database of mascot names.
All the while, Snyder, who purchased the Washington team in 1999, remained steadfast. “We will never change the name of the team,” he said in 2013, a stance he maintained even in the face of pushback from activists, politicians and some fans.
What finally changed was, seemingly, wider American society around the team. After the death of Floyd, there has been a widespread reconsideration of statues, flags, symbols and mascots considered to be racist or celebrating racist history.
Now that the team has let go of its current name, it will have to find a replacement, a process that requires navigating trademarks and the league’s many licensing deals with partners and which can often take years. Teams use their name, logos and colors to forge a new identity, a process that can include speaking with sponsors, fans and other constituents.
Ed O’Hara, who has designed team names and logos for more than 30 years, said that dropping the existing name first will buy time for Snyder to find a replacement. The team’s existing colors are unique and powerful, he said. A good name, though, should have an easy connection to a mascot, be easy to say and be connected to the market where the team plays.
“The name is always the hardest part,” he said. “You get one chance to make this right for the next 80 years.”