Well they finally did it. The Washington, D.C. based National Football League franchise will no longer sport the “Redskins” moniker as their mascot.
Monday’s announcement came via a team press release (on Redskins’ branded letterhead), seemingly bringing an end to years of debate on the controversial mascot. On July 3rd, the team announced they would begin “a thorough review of the team’s name,” and Monday’s announcement made clear that, despite the lack of a replacement name, the franchise “will be retiring the Redskins name and logo” upon the completion of their review.
Current team owner Daniel Snyder was a boyhood fan of the Redskins, previously vowing that the team name would never be changed.
Based on the recent history of polling on the issue, Snyder didn’t really have much of an incentive to change the name either. Polls consistently found that most Native Americans didn’t mind the name of Redskins being used by the football team.
In 2002, Sports Illustrated found that “69% of Native American respondents--and 57% of those living on reservations--feel it’s O.K. for the Washington Redskins to continue using the name,” while 29 percent and 40 percent respectively felt that Snyder ought to change the team’s name.
“Such indifference implies a near total disconnect between Native American activists and the general Native American population on this issue,” wrote S.L. Price in his article.
In 2004, a national survey taken by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 90 percent of American Indians were not bothered by the Redskins’ name. The survey collected 768 responses of people self-identifying as Indians or Native Americans in the contiguous 48 states.
Responding to critiques of the Annenberg poll, in 2016 The Washington Post conducted their own poll of more than 500 people. This one improved on Annenberg’s methodology by including cell phone users and only asking Redskins’ related questions to respondents who previously identified as 100 percent Native American.
“Nine in 10 Native Americans say they are not offended by the Washington Redskins name… [showing] how few ordinary Indians have been persuaded by a national movement to change the football team’s moniker,” wrote The Post’s reporters.
In 2019, Wolvereye conducted a poll that not only sought to find out what Native Americans thought about the Redskins’ name, but also why they thought that way. The result from “a representative sample of 500 people who self-identified as native Americans across the United States” was that “a majority (68%) were not offended by the name Redskins.” The top five emotions respondents felt towards the name were “proud,” “indifferent,” “annoyed,” “content,” and “satisfied.”
Even a study run by more diversity-focused academics at the University of California Berkeley and the University of Michigan (touted as “contrary” to previous studies) only found that 49 percent of participants were offended by the Redskins’ name, while 38 percent were not bothered by it. How Berkeley got away with advertising this result as finding “that at least half of more than 1,000 Native Americans surveyed are offended” by the team’s name and mascot is beyond the mathematical capabilities of this writer.
All of this seems to have been good news for Daniel Snyder and his desire to keep the Washington Redskins as the Redskins for the foreseeable future. Indeed, he touted The Washington Post’s results extensively in defense of the name.
“The Washington Redskins team, our fans and community have always believed our name represents honor, respect and pride,” Snyder said in a 2016 statement. “Today’s Washington Post polling shows Native Americans agree. We are gratified by this overwhelming support from the Native American community, and the team will proudly carry the Redskins name.”
So what changed? After resisting activists’ calls for a rebranding for years, after fighting off rulings by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office seeking to revoke the team’s trademarks, and after so much ink spilled on the issue, why did Snyder finally change his mind in 2020?
As AC/DC put it, “listen to the money talk.”
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s tragic death, America – and especially corporate America – has experienced a great awokening. The sentiments alone may not have driven Snyder to rename the Redskins, but the National Football League and each of its franchises are still businesses, and businesses exist to make money.
Shipping giant FedEx currently holds the naming rights to the Redskins’ stadium, but a letter to the team threatened to renege on that deal (and the approximately $45 million in payments still due) unless the name of the team was changed.
Nike, the NFL’s official gameday uniform supplier, removed Redskins apparel from their online store. PepsiCo reportedly had been in conversations with the Redskins and the NFL for weeks about trying to affect a name change.
These three companies all acted under pressure from stockholders, reportedly a combination of 87 investment firms and stock holders totaling $620 billion in assets, twisted FedEx, Nike, and PepsiCo’s collective arm.
Those of a more liberal bent may bemoan capitalism, and especially corporate donations towards political issues and parties favored by conservatives, but it seems they are more than willing to loosen their standards if corporate purse strings can effect changes they favor.
Daniel Snyder and the NFL didn’t have a sudden epiphany when it came to race-relations. Polling has rather consistently shown that no such epiphany was needed at least as far as the Washington Redskins were concerned. But, where there was little momentum towards a name change even with government intervention prior to 2020, the current political situation in the context of a system of market capitalism provided not just a push, but a pedal to the metal acceleration to a most expedited form of change.