Dan Snyder said he was fulfilling a lifelong dream in 1999. The 34-year-old billionaire became the owner of the Washington Redskins, the team he grew up rooting for. He loved the team’s history. The color scheme. The name.
But Mr. Snyder’s team announced Monday what he once vowed to never do. The Washington Redskins are changing the team’s name.
Caught in the undertow of a nationwide reckoning on race and history, Washington will retire the name “Redskins” upon the conclusion of its ongoing review, putting an end to a moniker that has stood for 87 years.
Washington did not reveal a new name and said it will continue to use “Redskins” until the process is complete. On July 3, the team announced it was conducting a “thorough review” of its name under pressure from activists and corporations.
Washington also said it would retire its iconic logo of an American Indian man.
“Dan Snyder and Coach [Ron] Rivera are working closely to develop a new name and design approach that will enhance the standing of our proud, tradition rich franchise and inspire our sponsors, fans and community for the next 100 years,” the team said in a statement.
The decision marks a stunning reversal from Mr. Snyder’s declaration in 2013 that the name would never change. The owner was adamant that the name honored American Indians.
But Washington’s path toward a change, in some ways, has felt inevitable in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man, while in Minneapolis police custody in late May.
Sports teams, food producers, university administrators and more have grappled with names, images, symbols and monuments deemed racist and offensive and have scrambled to dissociate from their pasts. NASCAR, for instance, banned the Confederate flag from its racetracks. Food products such as Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s will be rebranded.
The national conversation inevitably turned to the Redskins — with renewed demands that the team change a name some find derogatory.
On July 2, the team’s biggest corporate sponsor, FedEx, came out against the name and the dominoes began to fall.
Nike, Target, Walmart and Amazon announced they would stop selling the team’s merchandise online after FedEx, the team’s naming rights partner for its home stadium in Landover, Maryland, alluded to canceling its 27-year, $205 million sponsorship “for cause.”
In Monday’s 100-word press release, Washington specifically mentioned “sponsors” twice and put them before “fans and community.”
A FedEx spokesperson said, “We appreciate the team’s decision to change its name and logo, and we look forward to the outcome of the next step in the process.”
Director of First Peoples Worldwide Carla Fredericks, who helped lead a group of investment firms that pressed FedEx, Nike and Pepsi to sever ties with the Redskins unless they changed their name, said she was “elated” about Monday’s news. She said it represented a “half century’s worth of work” from American Indian groups and their allies.
“The last 10 days have really been incredible for the Native American community,” Ms. Fredericks said. “We had a very significant win in the Dakota Access Pipeline case. We had a significant win in the McGirt case before the Supreme Court, this. It does feel like a changing tide for us.”
It could take time before Washington announces a new name. While monikers such as “Warriors” and “Redtails” have been floated as popular alternatives, the team has to clear hurdles such as obtaining trademarks.
Current and former Washington players seemed receptive to the inevitability of the pending name change.
Quarterback Dwayne Haskins tweeted that as a child growing up in the DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia) area, “it’ll always be #HTTR,” but he added that he was looking forward to the future. Rookie center Keith Ismael suggested the name “Washington Natives,” but said he just wants to “represent the great city of D.C.,” no matter the name. Former defensive lineman Phillip Daniels tweeted: “The name will change tomorrow, but memories will remain forever #HTTR.”
Former player Fred Smoot understands Daniels’ viewpoint. The former cornerback said he felt proud whenever he put on a Redskins uniform but told The Washington Times that the name change is important for a “new era.”
“The history stays the same; we just have a new name,” Smoot said. “When you look back, Darrell Green will still be the interception leader. [Brian Mitchell] will still be the leader in combined yards from scrimmage. The records still stand. It’s like a woman being married: It’s still who she is, but she takes on her husband’s last name.
“But she never forgets how she grew up or where she’s from.”
Appearing on NFL Live, Green said he had a “very positive reaction” to the change. The Hall of Fame cornerback said people who were offended by the name “had to be recognized” and he was excited about the next step. He said he is even willing to give feedback to the team on potential ideas.
“How they go forward, I’d love to be in the conversation because I have jerseys and helmets, and I’m ready to throw them away,” Green said. “Hey, give me another helmet, give me the new helmet.”
By retiring “Redskins,” the die-hard faithful of the burgundy and gold will have to get used to a new moniker, whatever it will be. That hasn’t been easy for everyone to accept.
Bill Bailey, 38, said he is giving up the season tickets he has held for 17 years because he is outraged over recent events.
North Carolina native Chuck Walker, 51, grew up rooting for the Redskins and called the retirement of the name “really painful.” He compared it to the death of a loved one.
Scott Chadwick, 50, called it a “sad day.” Rooting for the Washington Warriors, Red Wolves or any other name, he said, just won’t carry the excitement he held for the Redskins. “To act like it’s going to be the same, it’s not,” he said.
Others have mixed emotions. Kent Zakour, a 34-year-old who grew up in Montgomery County, said he never thought the Redskins’ name was racist but will still root for the team after the change. Likewise, 25-year-old Clay Cole and 37-year-old Phillip Reynolds said their fandom would be unaffected by the decision.
“I’m sad because I grew up on the Redskins, I have Redskins stuff for my kids,” said Mr. Reynolds, a father of three. “It’s sad they’re not going to be the Redskins, but overall, I’m looking forward to the future. More than anything else, I want to see the product on the field.
“If they win, I don’t care what they’re called.”