The Washington Redskins will undergo a “thorough review” of their name following renewed pressure from activists and corporations, the team announced Friday — a significant decision that potentially paves the way for the franchise to make a change.
A day earlier, FedEx, which owns the naming rights to the team’s stadium in Landover, Maryland, said it had asked the Redskins to change their name, which many view as a racist slur. Nike, another team sponsor, also removed all references to the Redskins on its website.
In a statement, the Redskins said they have been engaging in initial talks with the league over the past few weeks over the name. The team said it was conducting the review “in light of recent events around our country and feedback from our community.”
“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,” team owner Dan Snyder said in a statement.
The review represents a huge shift for Snyder, who famously vowed in 2013 that he would “never” change the name. Snyder, who purchased the team in 1999, has been adamant the name honors American Indians and is a “great tradition.”
But the team has faced intense scrutiny within the last month in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the nationwide reckoning over racism. As organizations like NASCAR banned the Confederate flag and local officials removed Confederate statues across the country, activists, politicians and corporations urged Snyder and the team to take action.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who had previously defended the Redskins’ name, said in a statement that the league was “supportive in this important step.”
Last month, the Redskins had taken steps to dissociate from founding owner George Preston Marshall, a segregationist who didn’t integrate his team until the early 1960s — the last to do so in the NFL. Washington removed Marshall’s name from all team materials and renamed a section of FedEx Field after former running back Bobby Mitchell, the team’s first black player, instead.
Despite the removal, supporters of changing the name argued Washington needed to go a step further and rebrand. District Mayor Muriel Bowser called the team name “an obstacle” toward building a new stadium for the Redskins in the city. A group of 87 investment firms sent letters to Nike, FedEx and PepsiCo — three major sponsors for the Redskins — urging them to sever ties with Washington unless the team changes its name.
FedEx’s request, in particular, was seen as monumental as CEO Frederick Smith is part of the Redskins’ ownership group. The shipping company became the team’s sponsor in 1999 with a 27-year, $200 million deal.
Earlier in the week, Redskins coach Ron Rivera told a Chicago radio station that conversation related to the name was a “discussion for another time,” side-stepping whether he thought the team should change its name.
But in Friday’s release, Rivera said the issue was of “personal importance to me.”
“I look forward to working closely with Dan Snyder to make sure we continue the mission of honoring and supporting Native Americans and our Military,” Rivera said.
The Redskins said they “believe this review can and will be conducted with the best interest of all in mind.”