On June 5 — 11 days after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis — Goodell gave his mea culpa to players who have spoken out against police brutality and racial inequality. He made it clear he was speaking for the league by saying, “We, the National Football League, …”
So far, though, Goodell hasn’t followed up on those words in any tangible way. His first phone call, the next morning, should have been to Snyder.
On July 3, when the team finally announced it was going to look into changing the name, there was a vague reference to conversations between the owner and the commissioner, but it wasn’t Goodell who got to Snyder. It was Fred Smith, the CEO of FedEx. More accurately, it was the money Smith controls in that role. Smith had backup: Nike, PepsiCo and Bank of America all chimed in to say they didn’t want to be associated with a team with a racist name anymore.
It was, quite simply, corporate blackmail. But let’s not get too carried away passing out praise to corporate America. Smith has been friends with Snyder for years, his corporate box at FedEx Field is right next to Snyder’s, and he is a minority owner of the team. His decision to tell Snyder that FedEx doesn’t want its name on a stadium that is home to a team with a racist name is as much about money as the forced name change is for Snyder.
In fact, the only good guys in this story are those who have campaigned for years to have the name changed. Even so, all of them know their pleas and protests had nothing to do with this happening; corporate money did.
There’s a stench to the whole sorry tale. On July 2, FedEx released a statement saying, “We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name.”
You can’t be much more direct than that. Behind the scenes, FedEx lawyers made it clear to Snyder’s lawyers that the remaining $45 million on the stadium naming-rights deal would not be forthcoming if the team’s name wasn’t changed.
By noon the next day, Snyder’s 2013 vow — “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER; you can use caps.” — was as much a thing of the past as George Allen’s “Over-the-hill Gang.” Game over. Pepsi, Nike and Bank of America quickly jumped on the bandwagon, but the minute the FedEx statement was made public, the name was done.
No more preening or trying to claim the name was something Native Americans should take pride in. No more comments along those same lines from Goodell, whose support for Snyder on this issue was baffling at best, downright foolish and insulting at worst.
So the team announced it would conduct a “thorough review” into changing its name. What was there to review? The controversy has been there for this entire century. The intellectually honest thing to say would have been this: “Our corporate sponsors have spoken. New name to come soon.”
Even Monday, when the team announced it was “retiring” the team name, the announcement came with the old team logo and read, “Statement from the Washington Redskins Football team.”
You can bet Snyder had to sign off on the continued use of the outgoing team name and on the curtness of the statement itself. Surely no one was expecting him to say anything resembling, “I was wrong.”
The on-field record a year ago was 3-13. A coach was fired, an interim coach also was let go, and Ron Rivera rode into town as the next savior. Time will tell about that.
Snyder could have at least attempted to be a good guy in all of this. He could have come out before the corporate sponsors abandoned ship and made an announcement — not released a statement, but made a rare public appearance and answered questions. If he had acted soon enough, he could have at least claimed he had figured out some things about America in 2020 and post-George Floyd. He could even have said the words “Black Lives Matter.” And then he could have said that any racial slur is wrong.
But that’s not who he is. He’ll be dragged to the new name, yelling and screaming in some way, shape or form about the unfairness of it all. He’ll get no credit for doing something that he has been forced to do and instead will face criticism from the name’s staunch defenders; the current White House occupant, whom Snyder has given money to in the past, already has done that.
Snyder has turned what could have been something close to a win-win into a lose-lose. And if he tries to use “Warriors” as a replacement, he’ll be criticized before the new logo is even unveiled.
I’m here to help, though. The team’s new name should be “Justice.” Snyder wants to move the team back into the District when the lease on his current stadium ends. That would mean playing just two miles from the Supreme Court again. And, in this moment in time when social justice is on everyone’s mind, the name would be a perfect fit.
Snyder might even get a round of applause for it. He could use the support.