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.

FILED UNDER: Race and Politics, Sports
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    Why stop at Native American nick names? We’ve got the Celtics, Canucks and Canadians to consider. Though Boston’s Irish would likely riot if Celtics were dropped.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    We’ve got the Celtics, Canucks and Canadians to consider.

    We didn’t conquer any of those people and engage in a campaign of genocide and ethnic cleansing against them. In the case of the Celtics, it was Irish-Americans celebrating their own heritage. Ditto the Canucks and Canadiens.

    Over time, I suppose we may see even benign human mascots go. The Patriots, after all, murdered Amerindians and enslaved blacks. Lots of schools are considering mascots honoring colonial figures. And, hell, GW is being pressured to get rid of the Colonials nickname because some students are morons.

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  3. JohnMcC says:

    Washington-and-Lee College is apparently re-naming itself. Just read the headline and a sentence or two but it seems to be a joint resolution or something that is joined by students, faculty & alums.

  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    @James Joyner:

    Irony is tough in the written word. Not advocating these and other changes happen, only noting that good taken to its logical extremes is farce.

    How did I miss the Patriots?

    I don’t know how this turned out, but in the 1990’s the Minnesota high school sports federation began pressuring high schools to drop Indian names and mascots. One of the schools being pressured was a reservation school, IIRC, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa. Needless to say the school resisted and they pointed out that for them, the Indian name and mascot was source of ethnic pride.

  5. grumpy realist says:

    Aside from saying “well, it’s about TIME!!” w.r.t. the Washington Redskins name, I suspect that this will play out like any other social revolution. As more and more dubious names get changed, moderate supporters of the movement will drop out because their demands have been satisfied, while the more die-hard supporters will carry on making wilder and wilder demands. At the end we’ll end up with a small radical very touchy group demanding solace from anything that offends them and the rest of America will turn a deaf ear. I saw this happen with what is now called Second-Stage feminism, where the movement finally dwindled to a handful of Marxist rad-fems seated around one table in Manhattan, playing the “who’s a more perfect feminist than who” game and disappeared up its own fundament.

    Bon appetite!

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  6. Bill says:

    The Redskins might want to try out the name the ‘Washington Controversies’. Just what will be the logo on their helmets?

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  7. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    Over time, I suppose we may see even benign human mascots go. The Patriots, after all, murdered Amerindians and enslaved blacks.

    There is a reason why the Amherst College teams are no longer the “Lord Jeffs”. Lord Jefferey Amherst’s actions and opinions were particularly contemptible, but the principle stands more broadly.

  8. Hal_10000 says:

    So … while we’re doing all this feel-good stuff, could we maybe spare some time — just a few moments — to do something about policing?

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  9. DrDaveT says:

    @Hal_10000:

    So … while we’re doing all this feel-good stuff, could we maybe spare some time — just a few moments — to do something about policing?

    Why do you feel the need to focus on the garnish, and pretend that someone forgot to include the main dish? Who, exactly, are you accusing of “doing something” about the name of the Redskins but not doing anything about racist policing? Nike Corporation?

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  10. DrR says:

    I guess I will never understand why liberals are so hell-bent about expunging Native Americans from our cultural identity. I can understand making sure that teams are not being offensive in their names, but removing any connection to Native Americans within our national sports scene allows the country to continue to erase the history of the original habitats of this land from the minds of people. The connotation of words continually changes, and I would debate that before activists dredged up the 18th and 19th century connotation of the word Redskin, that people looked at the Redskin logo of Chief Two Guns White Calf and saw strength, discipline and honor. Ask the people on reservations wearing Redskins jerseys what they think. No, the Woke crowd is wrong on the issue of expunging Native American references from sports and with each of their successes is driving the national culture to a sterile, bland nothingness.

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  11. Tyrell says:

    My favorite teams are the Packers, Giants, Panthers, Redskins, and Bears. I grew up watching the Packers, Redskins, Rams, and Baltimore Colts every Sunday afternoon on CBS.
    If there is a change, will fans be allowed into the games wearing Redskins jerseys, shirts, hats?
    How about the opinions of former and present players? The Redskins have a lot of season ticket holders who have passed those down in their family for decades. That is loyalty. They should have a say in this. Whenever these teams change names, the fans are out some money on merchandise: Examples: Baltimore Colts/Ravens, Milwaukee Braves/Brewers, Raiders/Knights, and the Charlotte Hornets/Bobcats/Hornets circus.
    My main concern right now is putting a winning team on the field. And for the first time in a while, they have the coach who can do that: Coach Ron Rivera. If owner Snyder will work with him.
    I am concerned about the precedent this sets with corporations trying to influence decisions and changes that should be made by the team owners, management, players, and fans. Not some CEO. Why did Pepsi not say anything thirty years ago? The corporations are ignoring the fans.
    I have heard that the Washington Redskins have more Hall of Fame players than any other team. Here are some players I remember from watching football on Sunday afternoons: Larry Brown, Chris Hanburger, Sonny Jurgenson, John Riggins, Bill Kilmer, Bobby Mitchell, Doug Williams, Deacon Jones, Mark Mosely, Darrell Green, Sam Huff, Joe Theisman, Art Monk, Sammy Baugh, Charley Taylor, Russ Grimm. Coaches Vince Lombardi, George Allen, and Joe Gibbs. And of course the Hogs. I could go on for another page. There was a Super Bowl where they were so far ahead of the other team it is said that at halftime the officials asked Coach Gibbs to slow down the scoring – too many people were turning the game off.
    How about the famous and beloved Redskins fight song? Will they just change the words?
    My idea for a new team name: Generals
    There are many other team names that could be offensive: I will get into that later. (Black Hawks?) I will also discuss the curiosity known as the Dallas Cowboys. “How ’bout them Cowboys?” They also seem to have progress with hiring Coach McCarthy.
    “Hail to the Redskins,
    Hail victory,
    Braves on the warpath,
    Fight for old D.C.!”

  12. @Tyrell:

    The Redskins have a lot of season ticket holders who have passed those down in their family for decades. That is loyalty. They should have a say in this.

    They do. They can stop buying season tickets if they like.

    Beyond that: meh. It isn’t like Baltimore Colts fans or Houston Oiler fans or Cleveland Brows fans or St. Louis Rams fans or you get the point had a “say” in more dramatic moves by those teams.

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  13. One of the things about the name change is that after sone grousing, almost all fans will adapt. It is still their team, after all.

    They aren’t going to all root for the Eagles in protest.

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  14. Tyrell says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Thanks for your attention and reply. I did not get to some other points; I had just finished pushing a lawnmower in 97-degree heat. Eagles not and definitely not them Cowboys. Giants are ok. What has happened the last few years in New York is inconceivable considering the leadership of the Mara family over the last decades. I look for Coach Rivera to have his new team in the playoffs in two years.
    Years ago the school board in the county where I went to school decided to rename the school mascot, which was a Native American term. They did not ask the opinion of the alumnus, the athletic booster club, or the staff and students. The new mascot was a bird. A few Native Americans were against the change, but they were ignored too. It ended up costing the taxpayers about $30,000 for new signs, repainting the gyms, and being stuck with a lot of brand new school merchandise with the old mascot. Most of the board got voted out the next election.
    There seems to be a “taxpayers be damn” attitude on the part of many elected officials, and these big corporations such as Pepsi. I can always switch to Coca Cola or Sun Drop.
    “What goes around comes around”
    “What is okay for me is not okay for you”

  15. An Interested Party says:

    Ask the people on reservations wearing Redskins jerseys what they think.

    I’ll bet they would think it fine if they used the word, but not so much if other people do, much like how ni@@er is used by black folks but considered highly offensive when anyone else uses it…

    No, the Woke crowd is wrong on the issue of expunging Native American references from sports and with each of their successes is driving the national culture to a sterile, bland nothingness.

    Umm, actually, it seems more like expunging negative stereotypes and tropes about ethnic minorities rather than expunging all references to such groups…

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  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Tyrell: I thought you were going to the beach to barbecue stuff. Oh well. Back on topic, since FedEx is being given credit for the move, I would suggest the Washington Packages, or maybe the Express. Maybe the “Fighting $8 Packs” or something.

    My favorite mascot was from the early days of Safe Havens comic strip–“The Fighting Lottery Balls.”

  17. Gustopher says:

    @DrR:

    I guess I will never understand why liberals are so hell-bent about expunging Native Americans from our cultural identity.

    Because we wiped out their culture so thoroughly that it has almost no bearing on our cultural identity other than a few place names and a bunch of hippies with dream catcher wind chimes? We aren’t honoring them, we are fetishizing them, in the non-sexual meaning of the word.

    Would a soccer team called the Berlin Jews be appropriate?

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  18. Kevin says:

    @DrR: well said, very impressive, thank you for your insight.

  19. DrR says:

    @An Interested Party: You did not answer the point on the jerseys, you just deflected it. I think Native Americans should have the primary say and not politically correct white people. This is just yet another time that Native Americans are being kicked around and told what to do or what they should think. There are a lot of very upset Native Americans on social media who feel they are losing out on a certain stake in the NFL to a very vocal and small minority, pushing this agenda. You don’t believe the 2016 Washington Post survey of Native Americans? Ok, well then get another one done. Younger Native Americans are saying they understand what the older generation is saying about “Redskins”, but that they don’t see it the same way. If not the Redskins, I personally still want a Native American name. I am descended from a Powhatan tribe in the area and I would like to see the team renamed the Powhatans if not the Redskins. However, this is about more then removing the name “Redskins”. This effort is to remove Native American connections to sports teams in totality. And no I don’t agree with your point about this “expunging negative stereotypes”. Knocking out Chief Wahoo with the Cleveland Indians was expunging negative stereotypes. Knocking out Chief Two Guns White Calf, a real Native American, is people saying that Native Americans should not be allowed to be portrayed as an emblem of strength and dignity within the culture. Yes caricatures of any team name can happen, however in the end, a team name highlighting a group of people is never ever chosen because that group is perceived as weak. People don’t want to be rooting for weakness. No, team names are typically chosen because of the perceived strength or fierceness of the subject group — Celtics, Patriots, Yankees, Seminoles. So when a symbol of strength like the Redskin’s Chief Two Guns White Calf emblem is to be removed and the symbol of strength of being associated as a team name is to be removed, and you then connect that removal to “expunging a negative stereotype,” to me there is only one logical conclusion to be drawn from your point — you feel that portraying Native Americans with strength is a negative thing.

  20. An Interested Party says:

    You did not answer the point on the jerseys, you just deflected it.

    Not true…perhaps you don’t want to see the answer…”redskins” is a term they can use, but not other people…

    This effort is to remove Native American connections to sports teams in totality.

    Bullshit…this is an effort to remove a bigoted name from a football team…

  21. @DrR: In regards to the polling, I would recommend these two pieces: Native American Imposters Keep Corrupting the “Redskins” Debate and On the Shameful and Skewed ‘Redskins’ Poll. The first piece (which is more recent and covers two different polls) makes some pretty strong arguments about sampling issues with these polls.

    For example,

    Given the criticism the Post faced following its 2016 poll, non-Native readers may have been unsurprised to peruse this update apparently ratifying the paper’s initial findings. For those familiar with Indigenous issues, however, there’s a glaring problem with the latest study—the same problem the Post’s own poll had. The respondents in both polls were drawn from the vast pool of Americans who “self-identify” as Native Americans, like my new drinking buddy. Additionally, and just as problematically, Wolvereye did not make its full methodology available to the Post or its readers—unlike the original Post poll, which acknowledged, albeit not very prominently, that only 36 percent of interviewees said they were actually enrolled in a tribe.

    The presence of either of these facts should serve as an immediate red flag. Instead, neither of those massive inadequacies were deemed vital information—the revelation that poll participants were allowed to self-identify as Native in the latest poll and the 2016 one did not appear until the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth paragraphs, respectively.

    As the author notes, folks in the US tend all have a family story about having “indian blood” in the family.

    And beyond that, if you want a new poll, here’s one from UC Berkeley: Washington Redskins’ name, Native mascots offend more than previously reported

    Of those polled for the study, 57% who strongly identify with being Native American and 67% of those who frequently engage in tribal cultural practices were found to be deeply insulted by caricatures of Native American culture.

    Overall, the results suggest the controversy over the use of Native representations, such as chief headdresses, war cries and the tomahawk chop, is far from over.

    Actually having a definition for what constitutes Native America is rather essential for this kind of poll.

    So, yes, there are those who are not offended, but there are a large number who are.

    Overall, 49% of participants in the UC Berkeley study were found to strongly agree or agree that the Washington Redskins’ name is offensive, while 38% were not bothered by it. The remainder were undecided or indifferent.

    However, the number of those offended rose for study participants who were heavily engaged in their native or tribal cultures (67%), young people (60%) and people with tribal affiliations such as members of federally recognized tribes (52%).

    As for ideological standpoints, progressive liberals were more likely to oppose the Redskins’ name, compared to their more conservative counterparts.

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  22. DrR says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: An excellent and thoughtful response. Thank you. Part of where I have been coming from is that on social media sites I have been seeing a large number of Native Americans (who say they spend time on reservations), being very passionate about the loss of a connection to Native Americans with the Redskins. Some say they understand the debate, but they consider the “Redskins” moniker to be more offensive to the older generation. Others would like the name changed, but not lose the connection to Native Americans. Given the stats you cite, it is clear that there is not a consensus within the Native American community. I still feel that while every team name will have caricatures associated with it (that’s the nature of sports), in the end that name is always one that is connected with some sort of strength (with the exception of a few bland names like Red Sox and White Sox). I get that there is stereotyping with the sports names. However, my family is mostly Polish and you cannot miss it in my last name. If people want to give a team a name of the “Polaks” (which has been derogatory) and get dressed up with Hussar feathers to show fierceness of the Polish shock cavalry and have a googlie-eyed person on a horse I am fine with it. I don’t get offended easily and I know that the fans are not rooting for weakness in the final analysis. As we as a country remove references to our past time, I am very concerned about removing things that in the end might have a positive weighting in a world that is never truly black and white. We remove statues of Confederates, but now we are talking about removing statues of Jefferson and Washington because they were slave holders. However, they also put into place the very principles that allow the conversations we are having (First Amendment) and force the conversations (a principle for equality although they did not fully encompass it). Those statues should not even be considered for removal because of their putting forward such principles despite the contemporary system at the time. Liberals are considering removing them however. There is a threshold and a balance to everything. I do not trust conservatives or liberals in this larger debate, because neither side has shown themselves to be genuinely interested in what the right balance is. In the case of the Redskins, when I see what seem to be passionate Native Americans on social media still for keeping the Redskins name, and I see it in the final analysis as strength existing despite the second level stereotypes, I have to ask if it is the right thing to just knock out a connection to Native Americans. Perhaps it would be good to knock out the name Redskins, but still have a Native American name (like I suggested earlier something like Powhatans). Liberals don’t even want that though. Like I say I don’t get offended deeply when something is in my area, and perhaps I am just identifying with Native Americans who feel the same way as me. However, in the end, if people on the reservation as a majority are indeed offended then perhaps we need to remove the connection of Native Americans to sports. Again thanks for you excellent and thoughtful response.

  23. @DrR:

    If people want to give a team a name of the “Polaks” (which has been derogatory) and get dressed up with Hussar feathers to show fierceness of the Polish shock cavalry and have a googlie-eyed person on a horse I am fine with it.

    Setting aside whether your lack of offense at this is sufficient to allow it, let’s please note that the Polish were not driven from their lands by the dominant political and social classes of the United States in a near-genocide. Nor are the Polish currently living on semi-autonomous enclaves that still are suffering through the long-term economic consequences of forced relocation.

    Context matters. These conversations are not simply about whether it is ok to name a team after an ethnic/cultural/linguistic group.

    We remove statues of Confederates

    We are removing some. (At this point, relative to their prevalence, not that many).

    but now we are talking about removing statues of Jefferson and Washington because they were slave holders.

    This is a more complex issue than I have time to address, but I will say this: coming fully to terms with the role of slavery in the founding is long overdue.

    I will state further, that the main reason we are to the point of talking about Washington statues is at least partially because we have refused to deal with the CAS stuff and even things like “Redskins.”

    And while I agree that some Native Americans are not offended by that name, I don’t think that fixes the obvious problems with “Redskins.”

    As to whether “liberals” would accept other Native American names and symbols, I suppose one’s mileage may vary. I do not see, for example, the same level of concern about the Kansas City Chiefs (although some folks do object).

    I think that if Synder had acted even as recently as last year, he could have gotten away with “Warriors” and kept a lot of the current iconography. At this point, I am less certain that is possible.

    And thanks for your thoughtful interactions as well.

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