A growing number of sponsors, now uncomfortable with the name of Washington’s professional football team, has forced the owner into a “thorough review” of its name which is considered a “dictionary-defined racial slur.”
“It’s super exciting and a long time coming,” says Tara Houska, a lawyer and co-founder of Not Your Mascots, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to fighting stereotypical Indigenous representation in sports. “Native folks have been resisting and protesting the racism and the dehumanization of human mascots for literally decades, long time before I was born back to the 1960s so it’s a long time coming.”
The team said Friday it has been talking to the NFL for weeks about the subject and that recent events around the U.S. and feedback from the community prompted the formal review.
“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 it is proud to represent on and off the field,” owner Dan Snyder said.
This review of the name doesn’t appear to be voluntary for Snyder who once vowed that he would “never” change the name.
Watch APTN’s interview with Tara Houska:
The recent national debate over racism renewed calls for the franchise to change the name, and sponsors this week started mounting their own pressure.
Investors this week wrote to FedEx, PepsiCo, Nike and other sponsors asking them to request a change.
FedEx, the title sponsor of the team’s stadium in Landover, Maryland, said Thursday, “We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name.”
Then sporting goods giant Nike, the NFL’s official gameday supplier of clothing and sports paraphernalia, removed all references to the Washington team off its website after being contacted by investors.
While the team posted a statement on Twitter, there is nothing posted on its website about the review.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who had Black Lives Matter painted along a major street in the capital said recently the name was an “obstacle” to the team building a stadium in the District.
“It seems like we’re in this moment of racial justice being prevalent and centralized narrative that’s happening,” said Houska. “The George Floyd protests and Black Lives Matter movement for Black lives has been all over and these monuments and celebrations of genocide and slavery are coming down. Then on top of that you have a situation where a group of folks have basically went after the investors and really got them where their money’s at.
“So I think the combination of all, everything you see on top of where we’re at with race in this country and you know going after the money it’s all added up to getting someone to do something about this.”
Houska says there are other teams on the radar of Not Your Mascots.
“I’ve been a long time believer that you know we went after the Washington football team because it is the most obviously blatant form of racism when it comes to Indian mascots, it is a racial slur for the name, but that doesn’t mean that any of those other teams are not guilty of doing very similar and dehumanizing… on other native people so that may be the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians and the Blackhawks and the Chiefs… they’re all in the same boat.
“So I hope that this one finally coming down and changing will lead to a domino effect with the others.”
The Cleveland Indians have not entertained the idea of changing its name – but the owners did remove an offensive caricature off the hats and sleeves of the team’s uniforms.
In Atlanta, the Braves still use a tomahawk as a brand image – but it appears fans can no longer buy a foam tomahawk. Owners of the team also said officials would reduce the use of fans using the “tomahawk chop” during games.
The Kansas City Chiefs also came under heavy scrutiny recently. The team won the Super Bowl in February. Some saw the team’s playoff run as an opportunity to talk about its name. APTN News contacted the team at the time but it declined to comment.
“We’re doing many, many things always in Indian country so this is one aspect right – racism – but we fight on,” said Houska.
Read More: Not Your Mascot