Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians Working on Name Changes
Red lives matter.
Yesterday morning, I noted that FedEx, Nike, and other sponsors were putting pressure on the Washington Redskins to change their name. By the end of the day, not only does it look like that’s about to happen but the Cleveland Indians are apparently following suit.
WaPo (“Washington Redskins move toward changing controversial team name“):
The Washington Redskins moved Friday toward what team owner Daniel Snyder once vowed was unthinkable: changing their controversial name in a bow to pressure from their largest corporate sponsors and the fierce winds of societal reckoning sweeping the country.
After years of resistance, the team said it was launching a thorough review of the name. It did not share any details of the process, but two people familiar with discussions among Snyder, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and league officials that led to Friday’s announcement said the review is expected to result in a new team name and mascot.
“You know where this leads,” one of the people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “They’re working on that process [of changing the name]. It will end with a new name. Dan has been listening to different people over the last number of weeks.”
Indeed, while the sponsor moves doubtless hastened the process, Synder is under pressure from all directions.
One of the people familiar with discussions between the team and league said the change could take place before the 2020 season, scheduled to begin Sept. 10, and the other said, “It’s trending that way.”
The team said the review “formalizes the initial discussions the team has been having with the league in recent weeks.” It did not announce a timeline for the review.
Goodell expressed the league’s support for the team’s review. “In the last few weeks we have had ongoing discussions with Dan and we are supportive of this important step,” he said in a statement released by the league.
League officials have said in recent days that any change would be a club decision, not one originating from the league office. But according to one person familiar with the league’s inner workings, owners of other teams had become increasingly concerned about Snyder’s operation of the team and his long-standing refusal to reconsider the name.
“We have to help him do what’s best for himself and best for the league,” that person said. “I hope this is a wake-up call because that franchise is so important.”
With a review underway, Snyder has little choice but to follow through with a name change, according to this individual, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Otherwise, “I think he’s going to have a major exodus of all his sponsors,” he said.
WaPo columnist Jerry Brewer (“Daniel Snyder no longer has a choice, and he knows it. Battle over name has reached its endgame.“) agrees:
There is no “thorough review” necessary. The process that the Washington NFL franchise announced Friday isn’t to determine whether to change the offensive name that has been attached to the team for more than eight decades. The process is to determine how to rebrand: the timing, the level of transparency, the elimination of unintended consequences and, of course, the intricacies of the proper way to select and market a new name.
The old name is dead. Daniel Snyder wouldn’t backtrack from “NEVER — you can use caps” to a team statement vowing to consider “the best interest of all in mind” without resignation that his obdurate protection of tradition must end. What has changed in the seven years since Snyder drew that hard line? Well, the world. And most of that change has occurred in a four-month sliver of this 2020 gloom because of an escalating pandemic combined with heightened tension and awareness of racism.
During this stunning wave, in which inappropriate symbols and monuments have come down, the ultimate target is the pedestal of denial. Some people hide behind physical things and unchallenged traditions to protect their ignorance and maintain their comfortably blind lives. On this issue, Snyder can’t afford to be in denial any longer. He’s not just fighting Native American activists and other clusters of people who despise that an NFL team has such association with a dictionary-defined slur. To keep the name now, Snyder must contend with corporate sponsors who want it changed and lawmakers at various levels who could make it difficult for his franchise to do business.
And, even though the Redskins are feeling the most pressure, the second-most offensive of the remaining major sports nicknames is going away as well.
WaPo (“Cleveland Indians announce plans to consider name change“):
As Major League Baseball teams began summer camp Friday for their first organized practices in almost four months amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, one club made news for another reason.
The Cleveland Indians acknowledged that they are ready to discuss changing their team name in the wake of news that the Washington Redskins will review theirs before the NFL’s 2020 season.
“We are committed to making a positive impact in our community and embrace our responsibility to advance social justice and equality,” the Indians said in a statement. “Our organization fully recognizes our team name is among the most visible ways in which we connect with the community. We have had ongoing discussions organizationally on these issues. The recent unrest in our community and our country has only underscored the need for us to keep improving as an organization on issues of social justice.
“With that in mind, we are committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name. While the focus of the baseball world shifts to the excitement of an unprecedented 2020 season, we recognize our unique place in the community and are committed to listening, learning and acting in the manner that can best unite and inspire our city and all those who support our team.”
Again, the only reason to publicly announce a review is to prepare fans for the inevitable. The only question is what the new name will be, not whether there will be a new name.
That leaves the Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL, the Atlanta Braves of MLB, and the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks as the remaining major professional sports teams with native American iconography in their names. The protests against them have been milder, especially since Atlanta benched Chief Noc-A-Homa (way back in 1989). Then again, they almost immediately added the offensive “tomahawk chop” and began handing out foam tomahawks to fans in attendance. Still, I suspect those will be gone soon enough.