Updated: Jul 4, 2020
It is happening.
Less than 24 hours after major sponsors FedEx and PepsiCo urged change, and league apparel partner Nike pulled merchandise off its website, the Washington NFL franchise released a “thorough review of the team’s name”. In a separate statement, league commissioner Roger Goodell praised the organization for taking “this important step”.
The days of the Washington Redskins are numbered.
It is possible the organization will simply strip the helmets and remove jersey woodmarks in time for the 2020 season and compete simply as “Washington", just as University of North Dakota athletics did for a couple years.
One can imagine the team name being replaced with social justice messages in the end zones, since that is how the National Football League is trending.
From a business standpoint, the rebrand is overdue. The on-field product has struggled for two decades due to incompetent ownership from owner Dan Snyder while attendance plummeted and stadium capacity was reduced. The Associated Preess decided not to strike the team name from its Stylebook in 2015, but most media outlets omit it anyways.
In its 1980s prime, getting into RFK Stadium was the toughest ticket in sports. Today many Beltway residents opt to follow the Baltimore Ravens, whose team has been as successful as Washington irrelevant.
Another dark period of Washington franchise history was the inaction to desegregate under owner George Preston Marshall until urged by the Kennedy Administration. Coming off a 1-12-1 season, Washington acquired its first Black player in 1962 and the team instantly became competitive. In the past month Preston’s statue has come down at the RFK Stadium site and his name removed from the Ring of Honor at FedExField. A popular replacement name for Washington is Red Tails, in honor of the Black Tuskegee Airmen who fought in World War II. That would check most boxes and tap into history while recognizing the contributions of African-Americans.
So the name likely changes, the bigger question is the slippery slope that follows.
The next target on the social change list is baseball’s Cleveland Indians, who at least made a proactive move by retiring the controversial “Chief Wahoo” design, although merchandise continues to be sold on a limited basis for trademark retaining purposes. By the end of Friday the organization announced via social media that management is talking to appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path going forward.
You can be well assured Chief Wahoo will live on thanks to the Major League movie trilogy.
Canadian football's Edmonton Eskimos also released a statement acknowledging that they conducted extensive research and engagement with Canada's Inuit community, and found "considerable support" for using the Eskimo name amongst many Inuits, and that the team will keep the name at this time. The organizations stance was met with resistance from Nanuvut-based activist Mumilaaq Qaqqaq among others. The Edmonton logo is a simple interlocking 'EE' and its mascot depicts a polar bear. The origin of the Eskimo nickname dates back to 1892 when sportswriters for a rival Calgary team poked fun at Edmonton's northern locale.
The Kansas City Chiefs avoid some of the scrutiny that has followed the Washington franchise. That may change. Chief is often used to describe leadership titles, such as Commander-In-Chief. The mayor of Kansas City, affectionally known as "Chief", urged team ownership to adopt the name when the franchise relocated from Dallas in 1963.
However, Duluth, Minnesota mayor Emily Larson recently pushed city council members to remove “Chief” from their job titles due to the title being deemed offensive. It is possible other communities will follow that lead.
The Atlanta Braves have been another target for change, especially since the team and fans “Tomahawk Chop” gesture (borrowed from Florida State University) gained popularity with former President Jimmy Carter and Jane Fonda participating during the 1990s. The issue cropped up again during a 2019 playoff series where foam tomahawks were given to fans. The team reversed course and did not give away tomahawks before the deciding game of that series.
The Chicago Blackhawks “Indianhead” crest has been iconic throughout generations with National Hockey League fans. But in the George Floyd aftermath, the franchise released a statement that said they were taking time to “listen and learn” (virtue signal phrase). During the team’s 2015 Stanley Cup Playoff run, one newspaper in a mid-size market simply used the word “Chicago” in block font in lieu of a logo in an article previewing a game.
What would the elimination of Chicago Blackhawks mean for say, Black Hawk helicopters?
The NBA’s Golden State Warriors played ahead of the curve and eliminated Native American imagery decades ago, the result is one of the most popular logos in sports that plays off the Golden Gate and Oakland Bay bridges. The University of Hawai’i went from “Rainbow Warriors” to just Warriors from 2000 through 2013 before the school pivoted back to Rainbow Warriors.
Then there is Marquette University, who purged Warriors for “Golden Eagles”. Current students, not even born when the name change took place in the early 1990s, still defiantly refuse to use the Golden Eagles handle, much like how “Fighting Hawk” merchandise remains slow at North Dakota’s on-campus apparel shop. .
Most universities who had Native American names transitioned through the years, the University of Miami (Ohio) went from Redskins to “RedHawks” (again, not exactly original). Florida State is one exception since their Seminole brand has the blessing of area tribes. So someone with a head dress and flaming spear continues to ride a Dalmatian horse before home games.
Utah Utes and Illinois Fighting Illini still survive though Utah now has an eagle mascot while Illinois trotted out a “Dancing I”. But if those schools were to change names, then the next call would be to change the actual name of the state.
How does the state of Indiana or city of Indianapolis feel? Or Sioux Falls, South Dakota or Sioux Falls, Iowa.
Then there are places and things named after early-American slaveholders such as Washington, Jefferson or Madison. Fast-forward five years and the PC police will be calling out the Washington Burgolders or Redtails NFL entry, not on nickname, but the city they represent.
Maybe Dan Snyder should jump on that short-lived DC Defenders XFL name…