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Kolby KickingWoman

Indian Country Today

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

And wow. The heat has been turned up over the last few weeks.

Statues and logos with racist depictions are being dropped like bad habits as momentum continues to grow across the country for racial justice and equality.

On Friday, nearly 90 investors representing more than $620 billion in assets sent letters to three NFL sponsors: Nike, FedEx and Pepsi. The investors are calling for the termination of business and public relationships to the Washington NFL franchise until they change their controversial and racist team name.

Nike and Pepsi are two of the top four companies with sponsorship deals with the NFL, according to an analysis by NS Business. Washington plays at FedExField, which the company purchased naming rights in 1998 for $205 million. The deal runs through 2025.

The letter states the death of George Floyd has sparked national conversation on race, and businesses are working to change problematic logos and images that have been mainstays for years.

The letter cites PepsiCo dropping Aunt Jemima from syrup bottles and the removal of the “Native American” woman from packaging of Land O’ Lakes butter.

Yet, the Washington football team name remains, a racial slur that dehumanizes Native people.

“Virtually every major national American Indian organization has denounced use of Indian and Native related images, names and symbols disparaging or offending American Indian peoples, with over 2,000 academic institutions eliminating ‘Indian’ sports references,” the letter reads. “We need to remember that the franchise name is not just a word, it is a symbol that loudly and clearly signals that Native Americans are not worthy of respect.”

Related: Study finds only harmful effects from Native-themed mascots

If there is one language the NFL and team owners speak and are influenced by, it’s the money language. According to MarketingDaily, sponsorship spending on the NFL and its 32 teams exceeded $1.47 billion last season.

Nike became the provider of NFL jerseys in 2012 and have extended their exclusive partnership with the league through 2028. They have long been considered a socially-conscious company, standing with quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protests of police brutality through kneeling during the national anthem.

Nike made Kaepernick, who hasn’t played in the NFL since 2016, the face of their 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” campaign and released an Emmy award winning ad featuring him.

More recently, the sporting company committing $40 million to support the Black community over the next four years “focused on investing in and supporting organizations that put social justice, education and addressing racial inequality in America at the center of their work.”

A FedEx spokesperson directed any questions about the Washington NFL team name to franchise owner Dan Snyder.

Nike and Pepsi didn’t immediately reply to Indian Country Today.

Although, it is going to take collective effort and holding the right people accountable.

Nick Martin, Sappony, is a staff writer for The New Republic. On Thursday, he penned an article arguing that publishing the R-word is a choice and it’s time for the media to take a stand. Martin writes that for any progress to happen, a little bravery is needed.

“What the newspapers — as well as every sports channel and radio station that covers the Washington NFL team — could do until that day comes is simple: Just stop using the name,” Martin says. “Writing or saying only ‘Washington’ and ‘NFL team’ is not hard.”

Martin’s call to action came just a few days after the Native American Journalists Association, along with the National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association, and Society of Professional Journalists, insisted on the end of use of race-based mascots in the media.

In their press release, the Native American Journalist Association cited scientific research and other evidence of the harm these race-based mascots incur on Native people.

“NAJA demands that all media outlets treat these images, names and logos in the same manner as other racist terms and images and cease using them,” the release states.

In recent weeks, the team has removed a statue of their segregationist founding owner, George Preston Marshall and said they will remove his name from the “ring of fame” within the stadium.

Marshall was the last owner to integrate his team and did so because he was forced to in 1962.

Democrat Representative Deb Haaland, Laguna and Jemez Pueblo, of New Mexico, said it’s important to hold the NFL to the same standard of other companies that have dropped offensive branding.

“We cannot tolerate the use of racial slurs or inappropriate use of Native mascots anywhere, but especially in the nation’s capital. This is a longstanding issue that the NFL has been aware of for quite some time,” Haaland said in a statement. “These mascots actively harm the well-being of our children by dehumanizing Native people and mocking our culture and traditions. Until we live in a country where racist mascots and the use of racial slurs by sports teams no longer exist, harmful stereotypes will continue to put communities at risk.”


The renewed call for the Washington team to change the name has expounded beyond the usual suspects. Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser expressed that it is “past time for the team to deal with what offends so many people,” on a local D.C. sports radio station.

Additionally, Hollywood has joined the conversation, director Spike Lee and comedian D.L. Hughley have said league commissioner Roger Goodell needs to put pressure on Snyder to change the name.

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Even the Washington Post editorial board have come out in support of a name change. The Post has been criticized in the past for publishing polls that suggest the majority of Native Americans are not offended by the team name.

Social media has also been flooded with material opposing the Washington team name.

They all join the chorus that Native organizations have been singing for years.

Friday, the National Congress of Americans Indians President Fawn Sharp, Quinault, called for members of the Washington team to sit out until the name is changed.

Sharp wrote in the Washingtonian that the time is now for players to rise to the occasion and stand up to the team.

“As long as that team name stands, players of conscience should sit at home rather than wear the NFL equivalent of the Confederate flag,” Sharp wrote.

In 2018, NCAI passed a resolution against the Washington football team name that read in part, “despite the team’s arguments to the contrary, the R-word is not a term of honor or respect, but rather, a term that still connotes racism and genocide for Native peoples and for all others who know of this history and recognize that it is wrong to characterize people by the color of their skin.”

The Oneida Nation’s Change the Mascot campaign was pleased to see the initial step of removing Marshall from the team's history, but the most important step of changing the name remains.

Ray Halbritter, Representative and CEO of the Oneida Indian Nation

Ray Halbritter, Oneida, said in a statement that Snyder has a chance to separate himself from Marshall.

“Team owner Dan Snyder has now been given an opportunity to create a different legacy for himself,” Halbritter said. “For as long as he insists on slurring Native Americans with his team’s racist mascot, it will lead to more damaging impact on Native American communities and he will become more synonymous with infamous segregationist George Preston Marshall.”

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. As the country inches toward racial equality and race-based logos and mascots fall to the wayside, the eyes of Americans across the nation have been opened.

The question remains, will the NFL and Washington football team owner Dan Snyder open theirs?

Pressure from the other 31 owners and the league office itself to force Snyder's hand. A Snyder spokesman said the team had no comment, while the NFL did not immediately respond to questions about the future of the name.

“(It) might be easier if the NFL as an institution or a corporation mandates the change because then it takes the pressure off of the Washington team themselves and Dan Snyder,” University of California, Berkeley, assistant professor of psychology Arianne Eason said Wednesday.

A peer-reviewed UC Berkeley study co-authored by Eason and University of Michigan diversity of social transformation professor of psychology Stephanie Fryberg that was released earlier this year revealed 49 percent of the 1,000 Native Americans surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that the name was offensive. That number goes up to 67 percent among those who strongly identify as Native.

“We are very much in a moment of reckoning around equity concerns in this country,” Fryberg said. “At some point, the NFL as an organization is going to have to make a decision whether teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and the Washington football team should be allowed to continue to systematically discriminate against Native people.”

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Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/A'aniih is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

(Indian Country Today, LLC., is a non-profit news organization owned by the non-profit arm of the The National Congress of American Indians. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently.)