The Washington Redskins are facing growing pressure to rebrand as FedEx, a top sponsor, has officially requested a name change while Nike, the NFL’s apparel provider, has removed team merchandise from its website.
FedEx said in a statement Thursday it had requested the team change its name, ostensibly using its leverage as the title sponsor of the Redskins’ stadium in Landover, Maryland to persuade team owner Daniel Snyder.
Meanwhile, the NFL’s official apparel provider, Nike, has made no statement over the matter, but silently scrapped all merchandise bearing the team’s name or logo from its online store.
Team owner Daniel Snyder has in the past remained steadfast on keeping the name, calling it a ‘badge of honor,’ despite Native American leaders across North America demanding a change.
The Redskins released a statement Friday saying they’re considering a name change, and will seek input from team alumni, sponsors, and local citizens.
FedEx is the title sponsor of the Washington Redskins’ stadium in Landover, Maryland
FedEx’s proclamation comes as Nike appeared to stage a boycott of the team, with no merchandise bearing the name or logo of the Washington franchise available to buy on its website Thursday. The team is also notably absent from the site’s drop-down search menu that features all other NFL teams
Nike is the NFL’s official uniform provider and makes jerseys for all 32 league teams
A group of investment firms and shareholders is lobbying Nike, FedEx and PepsiCo to end their sponsorship agreements with the Washington Redskins unless the team changes its name
The Redskins’ name has survived multiple challenges over the years, with many Native American groups labeling the name racist.
The latest move came in the form of letters sent Friday to the three companies – Nike, FedEx, and PepsiCo – per Adweek. The request reportedly was backed by 87 firms, headed by First Peoples Worldwide, Oneida Nation Trust Enrollment Committee, Trillium Asset Management, Boston Trust Walden, Mercy Investment Services and First Affirmative Financial Network.
The group behind the letter have combined assets of $620 billion, according to the report.
FedEx responded issuing its statement Thursday calling for its name to be changed.
‘We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name,’ FedEx said in its one-sentence statement.
The Memphis, Tennessee-based firm paid the Redskins $205 million for the naming rights to its stadium in 1998 and FedEx chief executive Frederick Smith owns a minority stake in the team. The contract runs through the 2025 season, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.
Six years ago FedEx shareholders voted to allow the Redskins to keep their name after the shipping giant receiving a complaint from the Wisconsin-based Oneida Indian tribe.
Redskins owner Dan Snyder has ignored pleas from Native American groups who believe the name and logo are racist, and as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told ESPN Radio in 2018, ‘I don’t see him changing that perspective’
Protestors rally outside of Lambeau Field prior to the game between the Green Bay Packers and the Washington Redskins on December 8, 2019 in Green Bay, Wisconsin
The Redskins say they will listen to input from team alumni, sponsors, and the local community
FedEx paid the Redskins $205 million for the naming rights to the NFL team’s stadium in 1998 and chief executive Frederick Smith (pictured) owns a minority stake in the team
FedEx’s proclamation comes as Nike appeared to stage a boycott of the team, with no merchandise bearing the name or logo of the Washington franchise available to buy on its website Thursday.
The team is also notably absent from the site’s drop-down search menu that features all other NFL teams.
The investors’ letter to Nike reportedly read, in part, ‘We appreciate that Nike has spoken up in support of the protests stating “Systemic racism and the events that have unfolded across America over the past few weeks serve as an urgent reminder of the continued change needed in our society. The Nike, Inc. family can always do more but will never stop striving to role model how a diverse company acts.”
A Washington Redskins fan prepares for the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 12, 2004 at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland
‘However, Nike continues to provide uniforms and equipment to the Washington D.C. NFL football team which bears the logo and name. Further, it produces and sells thousands of jerseys and other apparel with the team’s racist name and logo. This association with and facilitation of the racism inherent in the name and logo runs contrary to the very sentiments expressed by the company.’
It’s not the first time the sports giant has shown its disapproval for the team with Nike leaving the Redskins out of its annual Salute to Service collection last year.
Like the Redskins’ exile from the Nike website, the team’s exclusion from the company’s Salute to Service collection could have gone unnoticed were it not picked up on social media.
First Peoples Worldwide director Carla Fredericks told Adweek believes its social media that has changed the ongoing debate surrounding the use of indigenous groups as mascots.
‘This is a broader movement now that’s happening that Indigenous peoples are part of. Indigenous peoples were sort of left out of the civil rights movement in the late 1960s in many respects, because our conditions were so dire on reservations and our ability to engage publicly was very limited because of that. With social media now, obviously everything is very different.’
Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser has called for the NFL’s Redskins to change their name that many find offensive towards Native Americans
But despite growing demands on social media, new Redskins coach Ron Rivera said earlier this week that it’s not the right time to address the team’s name.
‘I think that’s a discussion for another time,’ Rivera told Chicago radio station 670 The Score.
According to the Washington Post, the 58-year-old Rivera had yet to address the Redskins’ name, which Snyder has steadfastly refused to change in the face of accusations of racism.
‘I feel a guy that’s my age, my era, you know, that was always part of football, the name of the Washington Redskins.’
Earlier this week, new Washington Redskins coach Ron Rivera said it’s not the right time to address the team’s name
Rivera’s response contradicted Washington DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, who recently said it was ‘past time’ for the team to address a name that ‘offends so many people.’
Recently Events DC, a Washington-based sports promoter, removed a monument dedicated to team founder George Preston Marshall, who famously refused to integrate his roster until he was forced by the league to do so in 1962.
Likewise, the team removed Marshall’s name from the Redskins’ Ring of Fame at FedEx Field, as well as the stadium’s lower bowl, which has been renamed for Bobby Mitchell, the franchise’s first black player.
But despite those changes, Rivera, a former Chicago Bears linebacker, still argued that the time is not right to address the team’s name.
‘I think it’s all about the moment and the timing,’ Rivera said. ‘But I’m just somebody that’s from a different era, when football wasn’t such a big part of the political scene. That’s one of the tough things for me, too, is I’ve always wanted to try to keep that separate.
‘People have wanted me to get involved in politics while I was coaching, and I kept telling them, “It’s not for me to get up there and influence people.” I have my beliefs. I know what I think. I support the movements, support the players. I believe in what they’re doing. Again, I think there are certain elements to certain things that’s all about the timing and the best time to discuss those things.’
The George P. Marshall monument had recently been defaced with spray painted graffiti
Washington DC removed a monument to Redskins founder George P. Marshall, who famously fought integration and refused to sign a black player until 1962
The Redskins’ tweet elicited a response from critics, who accused the team of hypocrisy
When asked again if he would listen to those who wish to change the name, Rivera was non-committal.
‘I’ll just say this,’ Rivera said. ‘I’ve done a lot of research on a lot of things that I do. I don’t go into any conversations not prepared.’
The origin of ‘redskin’ is disputed, according to a 2016 Washington Post article, that claims it was first used as a pejorative as early as 1863 in Minnesota.
‘The State reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory,’ read an announcement in The Winona Daily Republican. ‘This sum is more than the dead bodies of all the Indians east of the Red River are worth.’
George P. Marshall was forced by the NFL to integrate in 1962. He reluctantly acquired Bobby Mitchell, who went on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Mitchell died in April
By 1898, Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary began defining ‘redskin’ with the phrase ‘often contemptuous.’
Recently the Redskins drew criticism for a ‘#BlackoutTuesday’ tweet protesting racism.
‘Want to really stand for racial justice?’ asked Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. ‘Change your name.’
Snyder, the owner, has ignored pleas from Native American groups who believe the name and logo are racist, and as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told ESPN Radio in 2018, ‘I don’t see him changing that perspective.’
The Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that a trademark law barring disparaging terms infringes on free speech rights. Prior to that, the United States Patent and Trademark office had tried to revoke the Redskins’ trademark because it was a racial epithet.
In 2016, Snyder wrote an open letter in which he responded to a Washington Post poll showing that 9 out of 10 Native Americans did not take the term ‘Redskins’ negatively.
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