Redskins give in; to ‘retire racist’ name


Washington Redskins update July 2020 Image: Washington Redskins

Washington’s NFL team has decided to do away its name ‘Redskins’ which has generated a lot of controversy, according to multiple reports.

The National Football League (NFL) American football franchise Washington Redskins name has landed the team in the soup in the wake of George Floyd’s death in US recently. The team recently pledged to review its controversial name after several of the District of Columbia’s top officials saw (red) over the ‘Redskins’ name and warned owner Daniel Snyder that there is no chance of the team being allowed to move to the RFK Stadium site unless the team changes its moniker. It’s unclear when a new name will be revealed for one of the league’s oldest franchises.

Media reports stated that owner Dan Snyder is set to “retire” the name and said that name change was imminent.

The team launched a “thorough review” of the name on July 3 that the NFL supported. That came in the aftermath of prominent sponsors FedEx, Nike, PepsiCo and Bank of America asking the team to change the name.

FedEx is the title sponsor of the team’s stadium in Landover, Maryland, and CEO Frederick Smith is a minority owner. Nike and other companies pulled team gear from their online stores.

The companies said they “expect the NFL to engage in a robust, meaningful reconciliation process with Native American movement leaders, tribes, and organizations to repair the decades of emotional violence and other serious harms this racist team name has caused to Native Peoples.”

Over a dozen Native American leaders and organizations wrote to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week demanding an immediate end to Washington’s use of the name.

On the mat

However, earlier reports stated that Snyder wants to stand ground and is in no mood to change the name.

The Washington Redskins are a professional American football team based in the Washington (US) metropolitan area. The Redskins compete in the NFL as a member of the NFC East. The National Football League is a professional American football league consisting of 32 teams, divided equally between the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference.

Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Memorial Stadium is a multipurpose stadium in Washington, D.C. Opened 59 years back in 1961, it was owned by the Federal Government until 1986.

The RFK Stadium served as the home of Washington Redskins from 1961 to 1996. The team won three Super Bowls in the 1980s and early 1990s while at the RFK Stadium before moving in 1997 to the 82,000-seat FedExField, five miles east of Washington, D.C. in the State of Maryland.

Demolition work is going on at the Federally owned RFK Stadium and is set to be complete by 2021. Snyder is reportedly contemplating to return to the stadium when the team’s current lease at FedExField expires in 2027.

However, the ‘Redskins’ moniker has been much debated over claims of ethnic stereotyping and the franchise broke its silence on the matter recently by confirming a “thorough review of the team’s name… [which]… formalizes the initial discussions the team has been having with the league in recent weeks”.

Commented Snyder, “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.”

A separate statement made by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell read, “In the last few weeks we have had ongoing discussions with Dan and we are supportive of this important step.”

Before Washington Redskins committed to change their moniker, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district’s non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives, DC Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio and Raúl M Grijalva, Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, lined up to set the parameters, with the latter telling that a move back to the site would be a “non-starter” with the current moniker.

Norton added, “I call on Dan Snyder once again to face that reality, since he does still desperately want to be in the nation’s capital. He has got a problem he can’t get around — and he particularly can’t get around it today, after the George Floyd killing.”

Falcicchio added, “There is no viable path, locally or Federally, for the Washington football team to return to Washington, D.C., without first changing the team name.”

Grijalva, whose committee oversees the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service, which owns the land, said Redskins is a “racist nickname” as well as strong views about how to honor the legacy of Robert F. Kennedy, who championed social justice and inclusion, in any development of the site.

“The time [for the name] has ended. There is no way to justify it. You either step into this century or you don’t. It’s up to the owner of the team to do that,” Grijalva added.

In March 2019, Norton introduced a bill calling on the Federal Government, which owns the ­190-acre tract known as the RFK Campus, to sell the property at fair market value to the City. Under her Bill, the RFK Memorial Stadium Campus Conveyance Act, the Mayor, D.C. Council and residents would decide how to develop the city’s largest parcel of undeveloped land, whether for affordable housing, parks or recreation opportunities.

Norton said that she has known “for a very long time” that the Bill — the essential first step in the construction of an NFL stadium — couldn’t get through Congress given Democrats’ objections to any use by a team named ‘Redskins’”.

“Even before we were in the [House] majority, Democrats railed against the notion of a team coming back with a name that defiles some Americans,” Norton asserted.

Many consider the team’s name a racial slur. Snyder, who has owned the franchise since May 1999, insists it is an “honorific”, one he has said he will never change.

In a further twist, FedEx, which has served as the stadium naming-rights partner for the team’s current stadium since 1999 and has an agreement that will run until 2025, has asked the franchise to drop the ‘Redskins’ name.

A statement sent out by FedEx read, “We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name.”

Media reports stated that a group of investment firms are lobbying that FedEx, along with a number of other global enterprises such as Nike and PepsiCo, end their sponsorship agreements with the team unless the name is changed.

Remarked Muriel Elizabeth Bowser, Mayor of District of Columbia, DC, “I think it’s past time for the team to deal with what offends so many people.

And this is a great franchise with a great history that’s beloved in Washington. And it deserves a name that reflects the affection that we’ve built for the team.”

The ‘Redskins’ name is not going down well with almost all and sundry, more so in the wake of the May 25th death of George Floyd while in police custody. Amid calls for racial justice and an end to systemic racism, some cities are removing statues and monuments to the Confederacy, while corporations are retiring logos and names rooted in racist tropes.

Norton said she found it significant that D.C. officials now acknowledge, via Falcicchio’s statement, that Congress will not approve any sale or transfer of the RFK land to the City if there is any chance it could benefit the local NFL team with its current name.

Norton affirmed, “The city obviously would like the team back. But it’s important that [Falcicchio] used the word ‘Federally’ — meaning that they now recognize that there is no hope unless this name is changed.”

The ‘Redskins’ name may not strike a chord with all, however, it seems that Snyder thinks he could still hold on to the name.

Despite the mayor’s clear discomfort with the team name, echoed by some D.C. Council members, the Redskins have proceeded behind the scenes as if they could get around any political resistance.

Media reports stated that former Redskins President Bruce Allen has assured Snyder that the team name would not be a huge hurdle to acquire the RFK site. Allen said that he would use his political clout to acquire the site.

Name matters

The saying ‘What’s in a name’ has not come true for Washington Redskins as they are facing a lot of heat over their team name.

Some of the names being floated for the team are – ‘Redtails’, ‘Generals’ and ‘President’.

The name ‘Redtails’ would be an homage to Black fighter pilots from World War II that flew dangerous missions in the Atlantic Theater, protecting bombers from German fighter planes.

Under immense pressure, it will have to be seen whether Snyder submits to the growing chorus to change the team’s name and which one of the above names the NFL team finally settles for or Snyder sticks to his guns.

Trump not happy

US President Donald Trump has criticized both the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins for considering name changes in the wake of a national reckoning over racial injustice and inequality.

Tweeted Trump, “They name teams out of STRENGTH, not weakness, but now the Washington Redskins & Cleveland Indians, two fabled sports franchises, look like they are going to be changing their names in order to be politically correct.”

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