Rivera said he and Snyder have been talking about a name change for more than a month, roughly around the time tribal leaders, politicians and others started their latest push for Snyder to reverse his long-standing policy and eliminate a name that is a dictionary-defined racial slur. He added that Snyder started speaking in earnest with NFL officials about the move 2½ weeks ago and suggested the owner is ready to make the move.
Snyder has been under tremendous pressure from top sponsors, including FedEx (whose founder, Fred Smith, is a minority owner of the team) and Nike, to change the name. On Friday, Snyder announced the franchise is undergoing “a thorough review” of the name, and people with knowledge of the situation said Snyder will change it.
Rivera, who has been vacationing, said Snyder has been calling him early on many mornings to discuss the name and brainstorm replacements.
“We came up with a couple of names — two of them I really like,” Rivera said, declining to reveal those possibilities.
Rivera said he believes the most important criteria for a new name is that it is respectful of Native American culture and traditions and also is a tribute to the military. The son of an Army officer, Rivera was raised on military bases; he noted that many Native Americans serve in the military, and he believes the new name should reflect that. And he indicated Snyder agrees with that.
“We want to do this in a positive way,” Rivera said, adding that he wants to be sure the name won’t be “a joke.”
Rivera’s feelings about the name have evolved. Part of his childhood was spent in the Washington area, and he grew up with an affinity for the franchise. He admired Hall of Fame linebacker Chris Hanburger and attended a football camp coached by the franchise’s all-time leading passer, Joe Theismann. And he loved the team name.
“It was hard to fathom that it was in any way a racist thing, to be honest with you,” he said. “Now, putting it in perspective, there’s been a change.”
He said he believes the name should change.
“My eyes are wide open,” he said.
When asked whether Snyder believes the same thing, Rivera said he thinks so, based on their conversations.
On Dec. 30, Snyder fired longtime team president Bruce Allen and hired Rivera as coach the next day. At the time, the team portrayed the moves as a fresh start for the beginning of a new decade. Rivera said he and Snyder have talked about the name change being a part of that new beginning.
Until a few days ago, Rivera had not publicly discussed the team’s name. This past week, he was asked about it during an appearance on a Chicago radio station. He caused a stir when he said, “I think that’s a discussion for another time.”
He clarified his remarks Saturday, saying he had prepared to talk about the team’s response to the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed — a subject he had addressed publicly earlier in June, when he announced a franchise initiative to create team-sponsored town halls to discuss race issues. He said he considered those protests to be a separate issue from the dispute over the team name — even though the latest calls to change the name spilled from the protests.
He said he didn’t address the name change directly because he considered it to be a Washington-area issue and he didn’t want to talk about it on a radio program in another city.
“That’s meant for the D.C. area,” he said. “That is our conversation.”
He said he has been researching the team’s history, reading books and other material on the subject, and he even had the team prepare a nearly two-hour presentation about the team’s beginnings and the name’s origins. He said he has not minded the process and believes it to be part of his job. And he said he took a call from “a high, high-up person” in the NFL office Friday to discuss the name change.
“It’s what I signed up for,” Rivera said.
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