Earlier this month, the world started to come apart for the Washington NFL franchise and its owner Dan Snyder when major sponsors privately and publicly told him and his team that it was time to change the team’s dictionary-defined racial slur of a team name.
For years, Snyder has rebuked calls from Indigenous people to change the team’s name. His argument was that the racial slur of a team name was intended to honour Native American people.
The origins of the world ‘r*dskin” date back to the 19th century as a way to describe Native Americans. It soon devolved and was used in conjunction with scalp-hunting. In 1863 the Daily Republican newspaper from Winona, Minnesota, published an announcement that said: “The state reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory. This sum is more than the dead bodies of al the Indians east of the Red River are worth.”
An article from the Atchison Daily Champion in Kansas printed on October 9, 1885 chronicles the settlers “hunt for redskins, with a view of obtaining their scalps,” which were worth $250. This was a practice that was commonplace across North America as the America continued its expansion westward – especially during the Gold Rush – and employed the concept of Manifest Destiny. In many places, laws that give rewards for the scalps of Native people have never been repealed and therefore are still on the books.
For years, Indigenous people like Amanda Blackhorse have lead a campaign to rid professional sports teams of names like the Washington NFL team’s and to rid sports of the use of Native mascots and imagery. Despite the support for the movement, Snyder has been adamant that he would not change the name.
Then something remarkable started to happen. Some of the Washington NFL team’s major sponsors started to demand a change in ways that would adversely affect the team’s bottom line. In a simple statement, FedEx, which has the naming rights to the team’s home stadium, said that it had asked that the team change its name. Nike, who is the official uniform supplier to the team and to the NFL removed all of the team’s merchandise from its web sites. Other major businesses like Walmart and Amazon have also come out swinging against the Washington NFL team name and both have said that they would not carry any merchandise of the team until it changes its name.
A day after FedEx asked the team to change its name, the team issued a statement that it has begun a process to evaluate the team’s name. In the days since things started to unravel for the Washington team, other pro sports teams, including the Cleveland Indians have announced their own reviews of their names.
Last week, the team announced that it would be retiring the team’s name.
“That review has begun in earnest,” the team said in a statement. “As part of this process, we want to keep our sponsors, fans and community apprised of our thinking as we go forward. Today, we are announcing we will be retiring the R*dskins name and logo upon completion of this review.”
The name change is being done for all the wrong reasons. The conversation only seriously got started and got traction after major sponsors spoke up. Had the financial position of the team not been threatened the racial slur of a team name would be intact