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Washington’s NFL team to retire Redskins name, following sponsor pressure and calls for change

Washington’s NFL team announced that it was reviewing options for a new team name and logo on July 13. (Video: The Washington Post)

For more than two decades, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has fiercely resisted calls to change the name of his team, despite protests that the name is offensive to Native Americans. But Monday morning, with pressure for a change immense and an internal review of the name ongoing, the team announced that it will “retire” the name at the conclusion of the review.

The team did not say when a new name will be chosen, and “Redskins” will not be removed immediately. The club’s website remains, and Monday’s news release was sent on Redskins letterhead. A person with knowledge of the situation said the team plans to use Redskins until a new name is chosen, though it is contemplating other options, including the possibility of a generic temporary name such as “Washington Football Club.”

But the announcement was nonetheless met with approval by several longtime critics of the name. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who has called for the franchise to change its name, said Snyder’s decision was “long overdue” but “welcome.” The organization Rebrand Washington Football issued a statement saying it “applauds” Monday’s move.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives, also expressed pleasure with the team’s decision. Both are important to Snyder eventually getting a new stadium in the city, where the D.C. Council and some House leaders had opposed letting Snyder build on the RFK Stadium site as long as the team was called the Redskins and had expressed doubts the team could return without a name change.

Norton said in a phone interview that the team’s move “reflects the present climate of intolerance to names, statues, figments of our past that are racist in nature or otherwise imply racism.”

At a news conference, Bowser reiterated her desire to have the football stadium in the District: “Washington’s football team should be playing in Washington,” she said.

The Redskins’ announcement comes a little more than a week after the organization released a statement saying it would be undertaking a “thorough review” of its name, a process the team said in Monday’s announcement has “begun in earnest.”

The new name is expected to be in place well before the NFL’s regular season begins Sept. 10 and preferably before most NFL teams are scheduled to report to training camps July 28, according to one person familiar with the discussions between the team and the league.

“They have to do it soon because of the uniforms,” that person said.

On Sunday, two people with knowledge of the team’s plans said the preferred replacement name has been held up by trademark issues, which is why the team couldn’t announce the new name Monday.

“As part of this [review] process, we want to keep our sponsors, fans and community apprised of our thinking as we go forward,” the team said in its statement. “Today, we are announcing we will be retiring the Redskins name and logo upon completion of this review.”

The statement also said 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.”

In an interview July 4, Rivera said he and Snyder had come up with two names that Rivera really liked. He did not reveal the names but said he wanted to confer with Native American and military organizations to make sure that the new name properly honored both.

In its statement, Rebrand Washington Football cautioned against the team using a name that refers to Native American culture, saying that doing so “would only perpetuate racist imagery that the change would aim to eliminate.” According to two people familiar with the team’s thinking, the new name will not include Native American imagery.

The decision to change the 87-year-old team name comes amid the broader nationwide discussion of race and mounting pressure on the franchise from corporate sponsors. In the social uprising that followed George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on Memorial Day, with corporations and governments around the country removing logos and symbols considered to be offensive, the pressure to drop the old name — including by some of the franchise’s most important sponsors — became too great.

On July 2, FedEx — one of the franchise’s top sponsors and the holder of its stadium’s naming rights — released a statement asking the team to change its name. It also sent a letter to team lawyers saying it would terminate the naming rights deal and not pay the contract’s remaining $45 million if Snyder did not change the team name. Other sponsors, including PepsiCo, Nike and Bank of America, made similar demands.

“I think we owe a lot to FedEx and PepsiCo and Bank of America and the rest of the sponsors who sent a message cloaked in dollars and cents that [Snyder] had to do this,” Norton said.

“Let’s not kid ourselves. Money talks at the end of the day,” David Glass, president of the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media, said in a phone interview. His organization has lobbied for the Redskins to change their name over the years. “Our efforts have had an effect on FedEx, Nike, PepsiCo and some of the minority shareholders. Having acknowledged that, we will take the congrats and revel in the change with more to come.”

Glass added: “[Snyder is] being forced to do it. But we will still take it.”

At least one of Snyder’s outside advisers urged him to deal with the name issue in the days after Floyd’s death, a person with direct knowledge of the plea said. Soon after, Snyder apparently began confronting the reality of a name change. Rivera said in the July 4 interview that he had been working with Snyder on the name change process since late May or early June, adding that NFL officials started advising Snyder on the issue in mid-June.

Name changes are complicated processes, and Washington faces a serious challenge in instituting the new name before its Sept. 13 season-opening game against Philadelphia. In addition to making new helmets and uniforms, it must pull the word “Redskins” from signs at the team’s Ashburn practice facility and around FedEx Field. A media guide, about to go to the printers, must have the old name removed from 500 pages of type. Even the official club address, 21300 Redskin Park Drive, has to be altered.

It is a massive transition on many levels — one that some have wanted for decades yet still seemed unlikely just a few weeks ago.

“We’re going through something of a peaceful revolution,” Norton said. “We owe that to the tragic death of George Floyd. Out of that death has come a reexamination of everything — including names that many of us have long tried to get changed and now are forcing the owner to change.”

Liz Clarke, Mark Maske, Roman Stubbs and Julie Zauzmer contributed reporting.

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For more than two decades, Washington NFL team owner Daniel Snyder fiercely resisted calls to change the name of his team, despite protests that the name is offensive to Native Americans.

After immense pressure for a change and an internal review of the name, the team announced in 2020 that it will “retire” the name.

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