The American football team known as the Washington Redskins said it will review its name in response to weeks of rising pressure from investors and sponsors over its racially insensitive branding.
The team said Friday that the decision to review its name comes “in light of recent events around our country and feedback from our community”, and follows initial discussions with the National Football League.
The move underscores the magnitude of upheaval in US over racism since the police killing of George Floyd in May. Since then, a wave of change has followed, including increased observance of the Juneteenth holiday celebrating the end of slavery, the toppling of US civil war-era statues, and the rebranding of popular consumer goods that had offensive trademarks.
But few institutions in the US had faced as prominent and lengthy a public outcry as the NFL team in the US capital, which for years resisted calls to remove from their kits a term Native Americans consider a slur.
“We’ll never change the name,” team owner Dan Snyder told USA Today in 2013. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
On Friday, Mr Snyder sounded a different note, saying in a statement that the name review will incorporate feedback from a wide range of stakeholders including the League, sponsors, team alumni “and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field”.
Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, said that the League was “supportive” of the review.
Neither the Washington organisation nor the League specified how long such a review might last. Sports marketing experts who recently spoke with the Financial Times said that changing a team name could take anywhere between six months to two years, taking into account the research, planning, league approval, and phasing in and out of merchandise.
There is precedent for changing the mascots of sports teams in the US. The Cleveland Indians of Major League Baseball elected in 2018 to phase out a racially insensitive depiction of a Native American on its uniforms and insignia.
The Washington announcement by the team came a day after their stadium’s title sponsor, FedEx, said it had asked the organisation to change its mascot. Dozens of investors wrote to other sponsors, including Pepsi, asking that they drop associations with the Redskins if the organisation opted against a change.
The Oneida Indian Nation of central New York state led calls from indigenous Americans for years to drop the Redskins name and ran a campaign called Change the Mascot. On Friday, its leader Ray Halbritter urged the club’s owners to commit explicitly to a name change, rather than a review.
“Team owner Dan Snyder can stand on the right side of history and create a new, positive legacy for his team, or instead continue embracing a bigoted slur that denigrates Native Americans and people of colour”, he said.
Last month, Washington mayor Muriel Bowser said that the NFL team’s name was “an obstacle” to discussions about finding a new location for the organisation to play.