After pressure from sponsors and advocates followed by an internal review, Washington’s professional football team will retire its logo and name that is widely considered a derogatory racial slur.
The team issued a short press release Monday morning stating that it had completed a “thorough review” of the name, which began on July 3. The release said owner Dan Snyder and coach Ron Rivera are working on a new name and logo design but didn’t indicate what the new name might be.
Many welcomed the announcement.
“Today we celebrate the retirement of the Washington NFL football team name that has long perpetuated racism and harm against Native peoples,” said Crystal Echo Hawk, executive director of IllumiNative, a not-for-profit initiative that advocates against negative stereotypes, including in sports.
“Tomorrow, our fight continues,” she added in a statement. “We will not rest until the offensive use of Native imagery, logos, and names are eradicated from professional, collegiate, and K-12 sports.”
“The years of death threats were definitely worth it,” tweeted Jesse Wente, executive director at the Indigenous Screen Office. “I told you the name would change.”
The years of death threats were definitely worth it.
I told you the name would change. I just didn't know when.
Miigwetch to all of those who have worked for so long, and lived with the threats and bs, to see this day.
The rest will change too. #NotYourMascot
— Jesse Wente (@jessewente) July 13, 2020
The Washington release twice cited concern for “sponsors, fans and community.”
Earlier this month, investors wrote to sponsors like Nike, FedEx and Pepsi asking for change.
FedEx, which has the naming rights for the team’s stadium, called for the team to change its name on July 2, a day before the review.
Potential for lost revenue wasn’t the only pressure on the team. Native American leaders and organizations sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on July 6 demanding a change.
Colorado University Prof. Carla Fredericks, who signed the letter, explained that advocates also pressured sponsors.
“We’ve had a lot of engagement with FedEx, we’ve also had engagements this year with Nike and the Bank of America. But the recent work that we did is really about trying to hold these companies accountable to their stated commitments on racial justice,” Fredericks told APTN News on July 7.
The use of Indigenous imagery in sports – whether through names, logos, mascots or gestures like the tomahawk chop – has been and remains a major issue on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.
Edmonton’s Canadian Football League team announced it will speed up a review of its name, waffling slightly on a previous decision to keep it.
“We intend to complete our review as quickly as possible and will provide an update on these discussions by the end of this month,” the team said in a July 8 statement.
On February 14, the team “decided to retain its name” after getting feedback from Inuit and community leaders in the north and south, saying “no consensus” emerged.
Amid revived scrutiny, in a July 3 tweet the team acknowledged the “increased attention” and committed to further engagement to assess Inuk communities’ views on the matter.
That tweet sparked backlash from many online, including Nunavut’s elected member of the House of Commons.
NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq suggested to APTN then that the debate about team names is a microcosm of many larger issues.
“If people won’t listen to us about this issue how can we expect people to listen to us on bigger items? On items that affect directly choices between life and death for Inuit?” she said.
Other teams recently scrutinized included the Cleveland Indians baseball team – which retired its logo but refused to change its name – the Atlanta Braves, and Kansas City Chiefs.
-With files from Jamie Pashagumskum