Ron Rivera waded gingerly into the controversy over the Washington Redskins name Monday, telling a Chicago radio station that the debate is all “about the moment and the timing.”
In an interview with 670 The Score, Rivera did not say whether he thinks the name should change, saying it was a conversation for “another time.”
Rivera, who undoubtedly knows Redskins owner Dan Snyder has vowed the name will “never” change, sounded noncommittal either way.
“I’m just somebody that’s from a different era when football wasn’t such a big part of the political scene, Rivera said. “That’s one of the tough things, too, is I’ve always wanted to keep that separate. People have wanted me to get in politics while I’m coaching and I keep telling them, ‘It’s not for me to get up there and influence people.’ I have my beliefs, I know what I think, I support the movements, support the players.
“I believe in what they’re doing. There are certain elements to certain things. It’s all about the timing and the best time to discuss those things.”
The Redskins, like other institutions and businesses across the country, are under renewed pressure to address past and present racial insensitivity in the wake of the death in May of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police.
NASCAR has banned the Confederate flag, food companies are dumping racial stereotypes like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben and universities are scrambling to rename buildings named for slave owners.
The Redskins organization itself has begun purging founding owner and segregationist George Preston Marshall’s name from all team materials, but critics say the team also must take action on a name that some find offensive.
The Redskins, for their part, have announced a series of community initiatives to address race, including town halls and the creation of a network to help empower Black employees. Snyder committed $250,000 to fund those initiatives and more, Rivera said.
But celebrities, politicians and some American Indians say none of that matters until the team changes its name.
Film director Spike Lee called on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to force Snyder to change the nickname. “He should approach (Snyder) and say if the Confederate stars and bars, good ole boys, they could do that, you gotta do something,” Lee said, referring to NASCAR’s recent action.
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticized the team when Washington participated in “Blackout Tuesday,” an online movement that expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement. “Want to really stand for racial justice? Change your name,” she tweeted.
District Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has in the past supported the idea of a new stadium in the city for the team, said recently the name is “an obstacle” to the effort, saying it’s “past time” for Washington to change it.
Amanda Blackhorse, a member of the Navajo Nation, was the lead plaintiff in a 2006 lawsuit over the team’s trademark last decade. Blackhorse withdrew that lawsuit in 2017 after the Supreme Court ruled in a separate case that a federal law banning trademarks that “may disparage” was unconstitutional. The atmosphere today, though, “feels a lot different,” she said because of the increased focus nationwide on racial injustice.
“If the Washington team is going to make any change, now is the time to do that,” Blackhorse said. “All I can have is hope that they will be pushed enough to do that.”
The Redskins have given no indication that they’re considering a change, and Snyder vowed in 2013 Washington would not do so. Snyder has been adamant the name is a “great tradition” and honors American Indians.
A Washington Post poll from 2016 that showed nine in 10 Native Americans don’t find the name to be offensive. But a newer 2020 study from U.C. Berkeley found that 49% of the 1,000 Native American respondents to the poll now consider the name racist.
The change in attitudes may be reflected in the constant flurry of social media posts demanding Washington stop using “Redskins.”
In the past, the Redskins couldn’t post a new tweet without fans calling for the firing of (now former) team president Bruce Allen. These days, hashtags of “#Changeyourname” or “ChangeTheName” can be found consistently in replies.
“People are starting to jump on board and be allies to us and demand for these changes to happen,” said Jordan Marie Daniel, the founder of the Raising Hearts Coalition, a group of Native American activists. “Hopefully with Roger Goodell, who’s made statements about talking about how things need to change moving forward, I hope that message is being heard from Dan Snyder of the Washington football team. … This name needs to be changed.”
Goodell has previously come out in support of the Redskins’ name, saying in 2018 that he didn’t expect any change for the foreseeable future. But in a video this month, the commissioner condemned racism — raising the question of whether the NFL will act on the team’s name.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that “people inside the game say the name change must occur,” but the decision would ultimately be left to Snyder.
Mary Phillips, an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe and Omaha, is a District resident who runs the group No Name Change, No Stadium. She said she hopes Snyder meets with Native American groups in the future to discuss the issue.
“To them, we’re the opposition,” Phillips said. “I hope the Washington football team can … come to the table with us. We are the people who have been calling for a name change over the past many decades. He can no longer ignore that he has not met with us.”
• Matthew Paras can be reached at email@example.com.
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