I felt chastened because I had written 10 previous Metro columns arguing forcefully for a change on grounds that the name is a racist slur.
In light of the poll, I dropped my public protests. I said it was “presumptuous” for white people like me to say we knew Native Americans’ interests better than they did.
Now it turns out Snyder lost after all. On July 3, the NFL team announced a “thorough review” of whether to adopt a new name. Late Sunday, my Post colleagues reported that the team will announce Monday that it plans to retire the name, with a new name to be revealed at a later date.
Personally, I’m happy about the change. I will be able to root for the team guilt-free.
But it’s also worthwhile to reflect on why it’s happening now. The name has drawn significant public criticism for nearly 50 years, yet Snyder consistently said it would “NEVER” change. (“You can use caps,” he told an interviewer.)
The timing offers some revealing truths about how social change occurs in America. Snyder reversed himself now because of a burst of pressure from big corporate money. That pressure sprang from the national shift in public opinion on race after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It followed nationwide protests focused mainly on police brutality against African Americans rather than issues related to Native Americans.
It’s true that past protests by Native Americans and others called attention to the team name and thus laid the groundwork for the turnaround. But there’s also considerable evidence that while Native American elites wanted the name changed, a majority — possibly a large majority — had no problem with it.
The biggest lesson is the power of money. The team announced the name review a day after FedEx — a major sponsor, which owns the naming rights for the team’s stadium — said publicly it had requested a name change. FedEx also sent a letter to the team saying it would remove its signage from the stadium after the 2020 season if the name isn’t changed. That would cost Snyder about $45 million in revenue.
On the same day as FedEx’s action, Nike stopped marketing the team’s merchandise on its website. Shortly afterward, sponsors Pepsi and Bank of America called for a name change.
Native American organizations on both sides of the issue agreed that the corporate moves were decisive.
“I don’t know if it was just the FedEx thing, but that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said David Glass, a member of the White Earth Nation in Minnesota. Glass is president of the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media, which urges high schools, colleges and entertainment venues to give up Native American team names, mascots and related imagery.
“I’m sure money plays a big part of this,” said Eunice Davidson, a member of the Spirit Lake tribe of North Dakota. She is a founder of the Native American Guardian’s Association, which advocates keeping the Redskins name on grounds that it honors Native Americans.
“Money is always the bottom line,” Davidson said.
Outside experts agreed. “Sports is a business. When you have so many of your corporate partners and sponsors advocating for a change, you need to listen,” said Jimmy Lynn, who teaches sports marketing at Georgetown University.
The companies did their own turnaround as part of the national reckoning with systemic racism sparked by protests after Floyd’s killing on May 25.
Consider the following: A handful of self-described “socially responsible” money management firms have been pressing FedEx since 2009 to distance itself from the Redskins because of the team name. They wrote shareholder proposals and made a fuss at annual meetings.
They got nowhere until last month. Then, seeing that the protests were prompting big companies to speak out against racism, six of the firms drafted a letter calling on FedEx, Nike and Pepsi to take a public stand against the team’s name. They asked other investment managers to sign on as well.
“People joined very quickly,” said Jonas Kron, director of shareholder advocacy at Trillium Asset Management, one of the original six. Within a week, they had more than 85 firms representing more than $600 billion in assets.
The letters went out to the three companies on June 26, and the team announced the name review a week later.
“The timeline kind of tells the tale,” Kron said. “The racial justice protests were obviously pivotal and critical, and were a catalyst.”
That said, Kron thinks no change would have happened without past campaigns against the Redskins name. The protests in June “activated years, decades of groundwork that enabled the whole thing to happen so quickly,” he said.
Throughout the debate, a key question has been whether pressure to change the name arose from political correctness run amok. The name’s defenders have argued that it is opposed by only a minority of Native Americans, who have drawn support from non-Native Americans who want to demonstrate their moral superiority.
For me, the name is innately racist. Multiple dictionaries have defined it as “often offensive” since the 1970s. That has been the position of large numbers of Native American tribal leaders, educators, lawyers and journalists. Major Native American organizations have formally called on sports teams to stop using Native American names and mascots.
But it’s clear that the Native American community as a whole is divided on the subject. And the highest-quality polls suggest that a majority of Native Americans view the name as innocent.
The Post’s 2016 poll is the most recent survey based on a random national sample of Native American adults. Its finding that 90 percent of Native Americans were not offended by the name matched results of a 2004 poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center.
Critics of the name have tried to deny the validity of both polls, but their arguments don’t hold up. Some point to a survey released this year by the University of Michigan and the University of California at Berkeley. It indicated that nearly half of Native Americans find the team name offensive — and the figure rose to two-thirds among Native Americans who frequently engage in tribal or cultural practices.
But that study, while peer-reviewed, was not based on a random sample — a method that is more costly to conduct but is generally seen as more accurate.
Another survey last year found that two-thirds of Native Americans were not offended by the name. It was led by the firm Wolvereye and was not based on a random sample.
All of the polls and surveys were based on respondents who self-identified as Native Americans.
Leaders of Native American groups that defend the name resent being told they’re not sufficiently informed to realize they’re being insulted.
“People who say I’m racist, they have no right to tell me what I can and cannot love about my heritage and culture,” said Crystal Tso, a Navajo in Arizona. She helped found a Redskins fan club that she said has 473 Native American members including Navajos, Pueblos and Apaches.
Native Americans who oppose the name are pleased that Snyder is going to act, even if it’s only because of big money.
Said Carla Fredericks, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota and director of the American Indian Law Clinic at the University of Colorado: “I will be the first person to applaud Dan Snyder to do the right thing. It’s never too late to do the right thing, and if you do the right thing for the wrong reasons, it doesn’t really matter.”