D.C. Sports Bog

A timeline of the Redskins name change debate

After years of resistance, the Washington Redskins on Monday announced they will retire their team name and logo upon completion of “a thorough review” that began July 3. Here’s a look back at how the franchise got its name and the moments that led to a change.

1933: George Preston Marshall renames his team the Redskins

Then-owner Marshall changed his Boston-based team’s name from Braves to Redskins, telling reporters the move was made to avoid confusion with Boston’s National League baseball team.

“The fact that we have in our head coach Lone Star Dietz, an Indian, together with several Indian players, has not, as may be suspected, inspired me to select the name Redskins,” Marshall said.

1937: Redskins relocate to D.C.

Unhappy with the fan support for his team in Boston, Marshall moved the Redskins to Washington, where he previously made his money to become an NFL owner in 1932 by running a chain of laundromats.

George Preston Marshall, right, president and chief stockholder of the Washington Redskins, pretends in 1949 to light a peace pipe for Coach John E. "Billick" Whelchel.

William J. Smith/AP

William J. Smith/AP

Sept. 26, 1967: Redskins obtain first federal trademark registration

The team’s eventual seven federal trademark registrations with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office would be challenged on multiple occasions over the ensuing decades.

William J. Smith/AP

March 29, 1972: Native American leaders ask Redskins to change name

The Washington Star reported that a delegation of 11 people representing a variety of Native American organizations met Redskins President Edward Bennett Williams at his law office and requested he change the name of his team, which they said was a “derogatory racial epithet.”

“I listened, and that’s all,” Williams said of the meeting. “It was a listening session for me.”

William J. Smith/AP

1972: Redskins’ Indian head logo debuts on helmets

Walter “Blackie” Wetzel, the former chairman of the Blackfeet Nation, persuaded team executives to drop the “R” logo from Washington’s helmets in favor of the profile of an Indian warrior, which he helped design. The logo appeared on the team’s helmets through the 2019 season.

“It made us all so proud to have an Indian on a big-time team,” Wetzel told The Post in 2002. “It’s only a small group of radicals who oppose those names. Indians are proud of Indians.”

William J. Smith/AP

Redskins practice in 1972.

Richard Darcey /The Washington Post

Richard Darcey /The Washington Post

Jan. 26, 1992: Protests at the Super Bowl

More than 2,000 Native American activists protested the Redskins’ name in Minneapolis ahead of Washington’s 37-24 win over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI.

“We say to [team owner] Jack Kent Cooke, this is 1992,” said Vernon Bellecourt, the director of the American Indian Movement. “The name of your football team has got to be changed.”

Richard Darcey /The Washington Post

Sept. 10, 1992: Native Americans petition the Patent and Trademark Office

Suzan Shown Harjo and a group of six other Native Americans filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, asking it to revoke the team’s federal trademark registrations on the grounds that they are disparaging.

Richard Darcey /The Washington Post

July 1993: Senator introduces bill to block new stadium on RFK site

With Cooke looking for a location to build a new stadium to replace RFK, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (D-Colo.) introduced a bill to block the team from using land on the federally owned RFK site unless it agreed to change its name.

Richard Darcey /The Washington Post

April 19, 1997: Miami University changes from Redskins to RedHawks

The only remaining Division I school using the Redskins name changed to RedHawks at the request of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.

“I don’t think it was a politically correct move; I think it was a humanely correct move,” said then-Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Wayne Embry, one of the trustees who voted unanimously in favor of the change.

Dozens of high schools have dropped the Redskins name over the past 30 years.

Richard Darcey /The Washington Post

April 2, 1999: Trademark registrations threatened

In a temporary victory for Harjo, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ordered the cancellation of seven Redskins trademarks, including the team’s name and helmet logo, pending appeal.

“We regret the opinion, and we think it’s wrong,” said the team’s attorney, John Paul Reiner. “We are going to continue to protect the marks vigorously.”

Richard Darcey /The Washington Post

May 25, 1999: Daniel Snyder buys the Redskins

Snyder, who grew up attending Redskins games with his father, led the investment group that purchased the team in a blind auction. Snyder said he might sell naming rights to the team’s stadium, but he had no intention of changing the team name.

Richard Darcey /The Washington Post

Minority owner Fred Drasner and Daniel Snyder after doing a round of live TV interviews in 1999.

John McDonnell/The Washington Post

John McDonnell/The Washington Post

2003: Team scores a legal victory in trademark battle

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly threw out the 1999 decision and ruled Harjo and her group had not produced enough evidence to show the name was so insulting that it could not be protected by a trademark.

John McDonnell/The Washington Post

2004: Annenberg Public Policy Center poll released

Nine percent of the 768 self-identified Native Americans surveyed said they were offended by the Redskins name. The poll was later criticized for potentially underrepresenting Indians who live on reservations, for not measuring levels of tribal membership and for asking only one question about attitudes on the issue.

John McDonnell/The Washington Post

2006: Native Americans challenge Redskins trademarks again

Amanda Blackhorse and four other Native Americans filed a new petition with the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. It was put on hold until 2009, when the Supreme Court declined to accept Harjo’s petition to review her case at an appeals court.

John McDonnell/The Washington Post

May 10, 2013: Snyder says he will “NEVER” change the name

“We’ll never change the name,” Snyder told USA Today reporter Erik Brady. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

John McDonnell/The Washington Post

Shadows cast on the background as the Oneida Indian Nation holds a forum to take its case against the Washington Redskins football team name in 2013.

Oct. 5, 2013: President Barack Obama weighs in

“If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it,” Obama told the Associated Press.

May 2016: Washington Post poll released

In a survey of 504 people across every state and the District, 9 out of 10 Native Americans said they were not offended by the Redskins name. Responses to The Post’s questions about the issue were broadly consistent regardless of age, income, education, political party or proximity to reservations.

June 29, 2017: Redskins score major victory in trademark battle

Ten days after the Supreme Court ruled in a separate case involving an Asian American rock band called the Slants that a key section of federal law banning trademarks that “may disparage” people was a violation of the First Amendment, Blackhorse dropped her case in federal appeals court.

“There’s no more challenge to make,” said Jesse A. Witten, an attorney representing Blackhorse.

June 12, 2020: D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser says it’s ‘past time’ for change

When asked during a radio interview with the Team 980 about the possibility of the Redskins building a stadium on the RFK site, Bowser said the team’s name “is an obstacle for us locally, but it’s also an obstacle for the federal government who leases the land to us.”

Less than three weeks later, D.C. officials made it clear that an NFL stadium on the RFK site is off the table without a name change.

June 19, 2020: George Preston Marshall monument in front of RFK removed

The monument honoring the legacy of the last NFL owner to integrate his team’s roster was removed on Juneteenth, the day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. The following day, the team announced that it was retiring the late Bobby Mitchell’s No. 49 and renaming FedEx Field’s lower seating bowl, formerly called the George Preston Marshall Level, in his honor.

Workers prepare to remove the George Preston Marshall statue outside RFK stadium in June.

Rick Maese/TWP

Rick Maese/TWP

July 2, 2020: FedEx calls on Redskins to change their name

Less than a week after a group of investment firms and shareholders representing $620 billion in assets called on FedEx, Nike and PepsiCo to sever ties with the Redskins unless Snyder changed the name, FedEx issued a one-sentence statement: “We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name.” In 1999, FedEx signed a $205 million stadium naming rights deal with the team.

Rick Maese/TWP

July 3, 2020: Redskins announce they’re undergoing “a thorough review” of the team’s name

Without announcing a timeline, the team said the review “formalizes the initial discussions the team has been having with the league in recent weeks.”

“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,” Snyder said in a statement.

Rick Maese/TWP

July 13, 2020: Team announces it will retire the Redskins name and logo

“Dan Snyder and Coach [Ron] Rivera are working closely to develop 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,” the team said in a statement.

Rick Maese/TWP

Signage at Redskins Park.