The NFL’s Washington Redskins announced on Friday that it will review the team nickname after sponsors including Nike, FedEx and PepsiCo. threatened to end their relationships with the organization. Hours later, baseball’s Cleveland Indians said they, too, would “determine the best path forward” for their nickname.
Dan Snyder has owned the Redskins since 1999 and has steadfastly refused to change the name, which is viewed as a racial slur towards Native Americans. The issue has become an annual debate and intensified this year after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer set of protests and unrest around the country.
“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.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell endorsed the measure. “In the last few weeks we have had ongoing discussions with Dan,” Goodell said in a statement, “and we are supportive of this important step.”
Snyder has faced resistance to the nickname for decades but has refused to change it. The collective financial heft of three major sponsors this year contributed to the most significant action to date.
Stadium naming rights sponsor FedEx released a statement this week stating it had asked “the team in Washington” to change it’s name. FedEx founder, CEO and chairman Frederick Smith is a minority owner in the team. The $205 million naming-rights deal dates back to 1998 and runs through 2025, and FedEx is one of four sponsors with prominent placement on the team’s website, featured alongside Anheuser-Busch InBev, Bank of America and PepsiCo.
Nike recently pulled all Washington team gear from its website, and AdWeek reported that the company, along with FedEx and PepsiCo, were among a group of shareholders worth over $600 billion threatening to end their relationship with the Redskins if the name wasn’t changed.
“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.”
“We are cautiously encouraged that the team has taken the step of reviewing their name, but for decades Dan Snyder, the team, and the (NFL) have ignored Native peoples” said Crystal Echo Hawk, founder of IllumiNative, a Native-led nonprofit organization focused on increasing representation and challenging negative stereotypes of Native communities.
“FedEx and PepsiCo are the first of what we hope are many companies that stand by their stated values. The NFL and Washington needs to be on notice the we won’t give up until both the name and the logo both are gone.” Echo Hawk said.
Protests in Washington recently led to the removal of the statue of team founder George Preston Marshall located outside of RFK Stadium. Marshall was a staunch opponent to desegregation. Snyder also removed Marshall’s name from the team’s Ring of Honor.
As for the Indians, the club in a statement said the recent unrest in the U.S. underscores the need for improvement on social justice issues within the organization.
“With that in mind, we are committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name,” the statement said.
The baseball team has used the Indians moniker since 1915. Two years ago the franchise removed the Chief Wahoo logo from its jerseys and hats in favor of a block letter C. The Chief Wahoo logo is, however, still available on merchandise at Progressive Field.
With assistance from Eben Novy-Williams.