Ultimately, the name change is what really matters. A hundred years from now, how the Washington NFL franchise arrived at that new name won’t matter so much as simply getting there, that ultimately, the words of the indigenous people they pretended to honor with their nickname, logo, and mascot were heard and heeded.
But let’s not ignore the ‘how’ that brings us to this moment, to a news release by a franchise soon-to-be-formerly-known-as-the-Redskins put out Monday morning that specifically promises “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.”
You got that, right? Sponsors first.
Team owner Dan Snyder didn’t want to do this. He was dragged, kicking and screaming, to move off his famously steadfast position as told to USA Today in 2013: “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
Never is now, because Snyder’s bottom line was in danger. The “how” in this equation has nothing to do with changing the hearts and minds of those so stubbornly wed to a moniker whose dictionary definition calls it a racial slur. It has nothing to do with acknowledging the hearts and minds of the indigenous community so hurt by seeing that slur appropriated and celebrated.
Rather, it has everything to do with feeling the pressure of the almighty dollar, of more precisely, fearing the loss of those almighty dollars from influential corporate partners.
When the big-time, big-money sponsors made it clear they would no longer support the franchise without a name change, when FedEx threatened to pull stadium naming rights, when Nike pulled apparel from its shelves, when PepsiCo and Bank of America made it clear how a new stadium would be next to impossible without this move, Snyder had no choice but to cave.
But one look at the document shared to the team’s official Twitter account at precisely 9 a.m. tells you plenty about how unenthusiastic he is with this change.
From an official Twitter handle that still uses the name and logo to official letterhead with the name emblazoned across the top, the news is shared on a document that uses the old nickname seven different times. It’s there in an address bubble that includes the team’s training complex, the street it resides on, the website address, and email info. It’s there for an all-caps headline announcing the news.
And finally, for good measure, it’s there one last time in the one news nugget that really matters: “Today, we are announcing we will be retiring the Redskins name and logo upon completion of this review.”
The review to which that refers was announced on July 3, the day it became obvious this name change was inevitable because of a concise yet powerful one-sentence FedEx request to make it happen. The announcement does not specify when the review will be completed, only that it “has begun in earnest” and that part of the process will include keeping “our sponsors, fans and community apprised of our thinking as we go forward.”
Sponsors first, fans second, community third. The voices not specifically mentioned, of course, are those of the many American Indian nations represented in longstanding efforts to change the name, ones like Amanda Blackhorse, the Navajo woman and lead plaintiff in the 11-year court case, Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc., to strip Washington’s trademark, or Suzan Shown Harjo, whose original court filing in 1992 was the predecessor to Blackhorse et al.
Harjo gave this statement to indiancountrytoday.com:
“We’ve ended more than two-thirds of these obscenities and now have only 900 or so left to go, but the fall of this king of the mountain of trash will help others to give up their ghosts of racism even faster.”
She then offered thanks to both Snyder and FedEx CEO Fred Smith, but had also told the publication the change should not be attributed to “to a change of heart by the team’s ownership.”
Blackhorse is one of the voices behind the website nomorenativemascots.org, which seeks to explain the importance of changing the football team’s name, answering common justifications for maintaining the status quo.
To those who say “it’s just a mascot, stop being so sensitive,” they answer: “Many people need to understand that mascots are meant to be ridiculed, tortured, laughed at, and demonized. When you put a living ethnic group in that position, you open them up to ridicule and further manipulation. Native people have been victims long enough. We are done with that. Our culture isn’t a free market.”
And to those who believe there is no collateral damage, they answer: “The continued use of Native mascots, nicknames and Native themes in sports dehumanizes our image as real people. This creates harmful situations for our people, especially our youth. Studies conducted by psychologist Stephanie Fryberg shows stereotypes of Native people lower the self-esteem of Native Youth.”
Ultimately, this is what we should remember about this change finally happening, that removing such an offensive nickname is simply the right thing to do, born from compassion and desire to be better. But Snyder doesn’t deserve the credit. Whatever new name he and coach Ron Rivera land on (Sport Business Journal, which was first to report the coming change late Sunday night, said the new name is being held up by trademark issues), it has to be an improvement. Federals, Senators, Kings, Warriors, RedTails, RedWolves, Generals, Monuments, Americans. Heck, TBAs works for me.
Never is now, and it’s about time.