“It closes a painful chapter of denigration and disrespect toward Native Americans and other people,” Halbritter said. “This is about our children, about our future.”
Some Native American advocacy groups wondered about that same future Monday, about the momentum they now have in fighting against other sports teams using Native American names and iconography. But Monday was also a time for reflection — not just for activists who had protested the name for decades, but for politicians, sports journalists and current and former players.
“It’s sort of surreal after three decades and then poof,” said David Glass, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and president of the National Coalition Against Racism In Sports and Media, which has long called for Washington to change its name. Glass was among those who said the franchise and owner Daniel Snyder were “forced” into the change, noting recent pressure from sponsors such as FedEx, but he said the announcement was nonetheless a positive development.
“Let’s not kid ourselves: Money talks at the end of the day,” Glass said. “Our efforts have had an effect on FedEx, Nike, PepsiCo and some of the [team’s] minority shareholders. Having acknowledged that, we will take the congrats and revel in the change with more to come.”
Glass, like Halbritter and hundreds of other Native American activists, had pleaded with the team and the NFL to have input on the name change in the days after the franchise announced July 3 that it would launch a review. Many questioned whether Snyder, who has staunchly opposed changing the name for years, really cared about Native American voices as he weighed the potential change.
Mike Florio, founder of Pro Football Talk, an NBC analyst and a longtime critic of the team name, said the franchise’s statement Monday struck him as “one final act of defiance” by Snyder. The team used the former name and logo in the statement and won’t change the name on its official materials until it has a new one in place.
“Why are you saying we’re going to retire the name later when we have a new name?” Florio told NBC Sports Washington. “You’re acknowledging that this name has to go, but … the name was plastered all over the press release and the logo was plastered on the press release. Why are you not just abandoning the name now and waiting to unveil the new name when you have all the trademarks lined up?”
The embattled owner’s intentions were at the forefront of the conversation Monday.
“The reality of the situation is that if Daniel Snyder’s bottom line wasn’t being affected … there would be no change,” ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said Monday on “First Take.” “Daniel Snyder did not change this name out of the goodness of his heart. He changed the name because financial pressure was brought to bear.”
Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives, said in a phone interview that FedEx and other sponsors deserve credit for applying financial pressure on Snyder to change the name. But she and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) were nonetheless pleased with the announcement.
“This reflects the present climate of intolerance to names, statues, figments of our past that are racist in nature or otherwise imply racism,” Norton said.
Former Washington cornerback Fred Smoot said he knew a name change was inevitable from the time he saw a group of Native Americans protesting outside Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium before his first preseason game with the Redskins in 2001.
“I took the time to think to myself then, ‘We’re going to look this in the face one day,’ ” Smoot said Monday while co-hosting a radio show on the Team 980. “That day is today — 2020 has been the year of corrections, has been the year of clarity, has been the year of change. … Today is the start of the new era, and that’s how we should look at it.”
For Smoot, the impetus of Snyder’s decision matters little.
“Everybody is going to say, ‘[Snyder] only did it because they forced [him] to do it.’ ” Smoot said. “Well, guess what? Once you need change, I don’t care why the change happened.”
As for the next generation of players, Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins said in a Twitter post that as someone who went to high school in the D.C. area, “it’ll always be #HTTR,” referring to the team’s “Hail to the Redskins” motto. But, he added, he is “looking forward to the future.”
Liz Clarke contributed to this report.