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Redskins, Indians move closer to name changes

Washington Redskins fans at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Both the Washington Redskins of the National Football League and Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians have moved closer than ever to changing their nicknames in the wake of quickly mounting corporate and societal pressure. 

As the United States continues to undergo a nationwide reckoning on racial justice and race-related imagery following the death of George Floyd while in police custody, the Redskins and Indians each publicly acknowledged they are now seriously considering shifts to their long-debated names.

The Redskins’ revised stance is particularly notable as it follows staunch resistance by team owner Dan Snyder to numerous challenges to the the name, both in and out of court, since his 1999 acquisition of the franchise. Snyder notably seven years ago vowed that “we’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.”

But last week, a large group of investment firms and corporate shareholders pressured key team business partners FedEx, Nike, and PepsiCo to call for a Redskins name change. FedEx, the Redskins’ stadium naming rights partner and a company founded and led by minority team owner Fred Smith, said “we have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name.” 

Nike and PepsiCo quickly followed suit in support of a new name, helping prompt the Redskins to announce it will undergo a “thorough review” of the moniker.

“This process allows the team to take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise but also input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the National Football League, and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field,” Snyder said. 

FedEx is approaching the final seven NFL seasons of a 27-year, $205m naming rights deal for FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, signed in 1999.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he was supportive of this important step,” while Redskins head coach Ron Rivera told The Washington Post he has already been working with Snyder on a new team name.

“If we get it done in time for the [2020] season, it would be awesome,” said Rivera, the NFL’s only Hispanic head coach “We came up with a couple of names – two of them I really like.” Rivera has not disclosed those alternate options.

A trio of Redskins minority owners including Smith are also said to have retained an investment bank in the hopes of selling their shares in the team.

The Indians, meanwhile, made their own similar declaration as the Redskins. Though its name had also been debated over the years, it was the racial caricatures of the now-removed Chief Wahoo logo that had traditionally been the franchise’s lightning rod. But the club in a new statement acknowledged it needs to do more on social justice issues, and will commence a similar review process.

There is not a timetable, however, for any potential change to the Indians name.

“We have had ongoing discussions organizationally on these issues. The recent social unrest in our community and our country has only underscored the need for us to keep improving as an organization on issues of social justice,” the Indians said. “With that in mind we are committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name.

“While the focus of the baseball world shifts to the excitement of an unprecedented 2020 season season, we recognize our unique place in the community and are committed to listening, learning, and acting in the manner that can best unite and inspire our city and all those who support our team,” the club said. 

Indians manager Terry Francona said he agrees with management, and that “it’s time to move forward.” Francona also pledged to no longer sidestep questions about the name or Chief Wahoo as he had in the past.

“I’ve been thinking about it and been thinking about it before we put out that statement,” Francona said. “I know in the past, when I’ve been asked about it, whether it’s our name or Chief Wahoo, I think I would usually answer and say I know that we’re never trying to be disrespectful. And I still feel that way. But I don’t think that’s a good enough answer today. I think it’s time to move forward. It’s a very difficult subject. It’s also delicate.”