But don’t discount the significance of the franchise dumping Redskins — that feels like it could be the last time I type that name — and moving on. This must be a clean break, and it matters. It shows that we can evolve in thought and deed. It shows that, even in these terrible times, we can strive to be better.
Think about all the history that’s wrapped up in that old name: three Super Bowl victories, the fight song that will have to be retired (which is fine, given it used to hail not only the name but also vowed to “fight for Old Dixie,” before glorifying the Confederacy seemed like less than a great idea). Hall of Famers once wore the old helmet and the old gear and did so proudly. For so many of those characters, let’s hope this is a moving moment, a time for reflection about why this is happening, not anger that it is.
It seems obvious this national moment and all it involves wouldn’t have happened had Floyd not been killed while in police custody in May. Changing a football team’s name isn’t worth a man’s life. But over the past month and a half, so many people have worked — and worked in the midst of the life-altering novel coronavirus pandemic — to make sure Floyd’s death will not be forgotten.
“The time is now to stand in solidarity and declare that racism will not be tolerated,” said Crystal Echo Hawk, executive director of IllumiNative, an organization that works to eradicate negative stereotypes about Native Americans. She was one of many Native American voices celebrating Monday’s announcement.
Let’s hope changing the name of a football team isn’t the most significant development in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, because that should be true racial equality, a complete destruction of the systems that have prevented African Americans and other racial minorities from being on the same footing as white people. But it was clear: Changing the name was part of the necessary fallout, even if it’s well down the list in significance.
This fallout, though, involves the Washington football team, which therefore involves Daniel Snyder, the owner. So even change we can feel good about involves some misgivings. This is a milestone day that will be looked back upon fondly. The pace of action between the club’s announcement of an initial review and Monday’s declaration that the old name would be retired felt swift. Still, what the heck was that statement?
The official missive the team sent out Monday morning came from “Redskins Public Relations,” was on Redskins virtual letterhead — complete with the logo the club is eliminating — and was titled “Statement from the Washington Redskins Football Team.” (And there, I just typed the name three more times.) How hard would it have been, given the weight of the moment, to have changed the email sender to “Washington NFL Public Relations,” to have dropped the logo and, easiest of all, to put forth the headline, “Statement from the Washington Football Team.”
It certainly leaves open the idea that Snyder is kicking and screaming into this change, which of course he is. I wrote just last week that this was an opportunity for the owner — despised by so much of his team’s own fan base — to pivot, to display some personal growth and understanding of others, even to admit past mistakes and vow to do better. That could be applied to the name, but it also could be applied to how he has run his franchise, which has been so bad for so long.
But the way this is playing out leaves only one conclusion: Floyd’s killing roiled feelings in this country that could not be ignored — indeed, sentiments and citizens that demanded to be addressed. Corporate America — from Aunt Jemima to Uncle Ben’s — recognized the moment and began making changes. Corporations with long-standing relationships with Snyder’s team first felt the pressure and then applied it. On a Thursday evening, FedEx announced it was asking “the team in Washington” to change its name. Before noon the next day, the team in Washington said it would consider doing just that. Pretty easy to draw a line connecting A to B.
Back to Monday’s three-paragraph statement, which concluded: “Daniel 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.”
For such a sparse statement, there’s a lot to take in. But it’s impossible to read the specific phrasing — “sponsors, fans and community” — and not believe Snyder is listing those constituencies in order of importance to him. There has been something of an awakening in corporate America, even if some of it can be dismissed as lip service, to what Floyd’s killing signifies. In writing the statement with sponsors first, it’s as if Snyder is saying, “If FedEx and Nike and Pepsi had just had some guts, there’s no way we’d be changing the name.”
Further evidence of the team’s reluctance on this matter is what is not included in the statement. Most notably: any acknowledgment of why this is happening. No paragraph addressing the decades-old protests by Native American organizations. No sentence devoted to understanding the feelings of others. That has to be by design, doesn’t it? It’s Snyder, on brand in perpetuity: “I’m doing this because I’m backed into a corner, but you can’t make me be happy about it.”
Whatever. The point was changing the name, not working miracles. Snyder is 55 and apparently beyond personal growth and empathy. The first goal was attained. If the owner can’t change, so be it.
One other striking element of the statement: the idea that Rivera is “working closely” on such a historic transformation when he has no history with the organization. That’s not a bad thing, because the reviews on the new man in town — as a human being — are pretty spotless, but he has yet to even hold a practice session, much less win a game or make the playoffs.
But it also has to be an indication of how tiny Snyder’s inner circle has become that a man he has known for less than a year is so heavily involved in the most significant moment in the owner’s stewardship of the franchise.
That’s just an aside. For so many reasons, 2020 will go down as an epic year. In the current environment, changing the name of a sports franchise can feel like a footnote, which it is.
But don’t undersell the forces that made this happen. We should all be striving to be better as a country and as individuals, to listen and understand our similarities and differences. Take Daniel Snyder out of that equation. A new name for the football team in Washington is an acknowledgment that we’re at least trying to make those improvements, step by step by step.