Content Warning: This article contains reference to violence and racism.
There is no doubt that the tragic death of George Floyd took the world by storm. The Black Lives Matter Movement has truly made a breakthrough in bringing about significant change in media, local towns, and even sports teams. But no sports team has been in the public eye in the wake of this movement more than the Washington Football Team, which up until this summer was known as the “Washington Redskins.” The team had been under intense pressure to change their name in light of the United States’ long history of racism against Indigenous Americans. While some might say this was just an effort to be part of a trendy social justice movement, this was part of a much longer, 87-year history.
While today we think of the name ‘Redskins’ as being associated with Washington D.C., this was not always the case. The name stemmed from the Boston Braves. The team chose to rename itself as the ‘Boston Redskins,’ along with the face of a Native American of unknown descent on their logo, in 1933. Four years later the team would be relocated to Washington D.C., becoming the infamous team we know today. Public activism against the team’s brand did not fully develop until 1972, when a group of Native American leaders requested the removal of the racist lyric “scalp em” in the team’s fight song; this request was honored.
Although this request was approved, changing the name itself would prove to be much more challenging. In 1992, a public petition was sent to the United States government demanding federal action against the name, which was eventually denied. In the same decade, the current owner, Daniel Snyder, would buy the team. Similar to the first, a petition was filed to the U.S. patent and trademark office in 2006 and was also denied. In 2013, Daniel Snyder commented on the anti-name sentiment, stating, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.” This statement would become notoriously controversial.
The debate over the name intensified this summer after the incident on May 25th, 2020 when an unarmed Black man, George Floyd was suffocated to death by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. What would follow was a wave of demonstrations, unrest, and demand for change against racial injustices and police brutality. The call for action would not only be limited to that of people of African American descent, but rather all people who identify as people of color, including Native Americans.
With reinforced pressure against the team, investors on July 1, with $620 to their name, intervened by garnering the attention of companies such as Nike, Pepsi and FedEx with a request to withhold their sponsorships for the Washington team. Two days later, FedEx, which owned a portion of Washington’s stadium formally requested the team to drop the ‘Redskins’ name and logo. Nike also removed ‘Washington Redskins’ gear from their website to which the team replied that it would review the name. On July 13, owner Daniel Snyder and the team formally stated that Washington would divorce itself from the ‘Redskins’ name and the racially charged imagery. While tentatively dubbed as the ‘Washington Football Team,’ a new name will be decided in the future when it is agreed upon and trademarked. Later in July, new uniforms and an updated roster in the popular Madden video game was added in preparation for the new season.
Since then, the team has settled into the season with a somewhat steady start. Under Coach Ron Rivera, the team went 27-17 against the Philadelphia Eagles on September 13, but lost 15-30 against the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday. They are expected to compete against The Cleveland Browns next Sunday. The Washington Team has an interesting season ahead as they play football in closed doors this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For more information, you can visit the NFL website or watch their games on various streaming platforms.