The end of a mascot: Washington NFL team to 'review' its dictionary-defined slur
The Associated Press
Staff and wire reports
WASHINGTON — The Washington NFL team said Friday it will begin a "thorough review of the team's name."
This comes a day after the title sponsor of the Washington NFL stadium asked the team to change its name.
Owner Dan Snyder said in a news release: “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 is is proud to represent on and off the field.”
Even though owner Snyder had shown no willingness to change the name since buying the team in 1999, the recent national conversation on race has renewed opposition to the name and prompted sponsors to speak up. With support from the NFL, it may finally lead to a new moniker for the long-struggling storied franchise with long-ago Super Bowl success.
“In the last few weeks, we have had ongoing discussions with Dan, and we are supportive of this important step," Commissioner Roger Goodell said.
In a statement, the team said recent events around the U.S. and feedback from the community prompted the formal review.
(Related story: Why Washington? 12 stories that explain )
Native American advocacy groups have tried for decades to force a change, and a peer-reviewed UC Berkeley study released earlier this year revealed 67 percent 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.
Asked last month about the name, a spokesman said the team had no comment. But this week marked a possible sea change on the issue with investors writing to FedEx, PepsiCo and other sponsors hoping they would influence change.
FedEx was the first to act publicly. The title sponsor of the team's stadium in Landover, Maryland, FedEx said Thursday, “We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name.” FedEx paid $205 million in 1999 for the naming rights to the stadium.
Head coach Ron Rivera said in the statement it was an “issue of personal importance to me and I look forward to working closely with Dan Snyder to make sure we continue the mission of honoring and supporting Native Americans and our Military.”
The Washington Post reported Friday NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other league officials said the review is expected to result in a new team name and mascot. “You know where this leads," one of the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They’re working on that process [of changing the name]. It will end with a new name. Dan has been listening to different people over the last number of weeks.”
Several sports commentators also said a review of the team name means the issue is over. ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted: "And let’s be clear: There’s no review if there’s no change coming. "
And USA Today's Mike Jones tweeted that "it's over ... Snyder’s got no choice."
“There is no reason not to immediately announce that the team is changing the mascot, since any real review will lead to the inevitable conclusion that the deeply offensive and racist name of Washington’s NFL team must go now,” said Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter, leader of the “Change the Mascot” campaign. “Dan Snyder can stand on the right side of history and create a new, positive legacy for his team, or instead continue embracing a bigoted slur that denigrates Native Americans and people of color.”
Washington mayor Muriel Bowser said recently the name was an “obstacle” to the team building a stadium in the District. The current lease at FedEx Field expires in 2027, and the old RFK Stadium site in Washington is one of several options for the team's new headquarters, along with locations in Maryland and Virginia.
On Friday Walmart said it would no longer sell team gear. “Given today’s announcement by the NFL and the Washington team’s ownership, we are discontinuing the sale of items that reference the team’s name and logo,” Walmart said.
The MLB team Cleveland Indians released a statement Friday evening.
"We have had ongoing discussions organizationally on these issues," read the statement. "While the focus of the baseball world shifts to the excitement of an unprecedented 2020 season, we recognize our unique place in the community and are committed to listening, learning, and acting in the manner that can best unite and inspire our city and all those who support our team."
The team in late June removed racist founder George Preston Marshall from its Ring of Fame. A monument of Marshall was also removed from the RFK Stadium site.
Marshall's granddaughter supported those moves and recently told The Associated Press she's fine with the team changing its name.
“I think if anybody’s offended that they should change the name,” Wright said. “I’ve always felt that way.”
Thursday FedEx said: "We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name." That company paid the team $205 million in 1999 for the naming rights to FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.
In addition to the stadium name and sponsorship agreement, FedEx CEO Frederik Smith is a minority owner. Majority owner Daniel Snyder has shown no indications he'll change the name since buying the team in 1999.
Amid the national debate over race, pressure has been mounting on the organization to abandon the name called a "dictionary-defined racial slur" by experts and advocates.
Investors this week wrote to FedEx, PepsiCo and other sponsors asking them to request a change. FedEx is believed to be the first to take action.
On Thursday night, Nike appeared to remove all of the Washington team gear from its online store. The other 31 NFL teams were listed and a search for the Washington team came up with no results. Nike did not immediately respond to an email message seeking comment.
Asked about Snyder changing the name, a spokesman said recently the team had no comment. The team last week removed the name of racist founder George Preston Marshall from its Ring of Fame at FedEx Field, and a monument to him was removed from the site of the old RFK Stadium.
Washington, D.C., mayor Muriel Bowser also said the name was an "obstacle" to the team returning to the District. The team's lease at FedEx Field expires in 2027, and it is still talking to Washington, Virginia and Maryland about building a new stadium.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.