Washington Redskins to change name after protests

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The NFL team has long-resisted calls to change its name, which many have called racist. AFP

The Washington Redskins confirmed Monday the team is changing its name following pressure from sponsors over a word widely criticized as a racist slur against Native Americans.

Washington announced on July 3 that the Redskins name had been placed under review after a wave of rallies against racial injustice swept across the United States following George Floyd’s death on May 25.

“Today, we are announcing we will be retiring the Redskins name and logo upon completion of this review,” the NFL team said in a statement.

A replacement name was still being worked on, the statement added.

Washington owner Dan Snyder had long resisted calls to change the team’s name but faced mounting demands to rethink that position as protests erupted against systemic racism after the death of Floyd, an unarmed African-American man, during his arrest by police in Minneapolis.

Native American leaders had written to the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last week demanding an immediate change of the team’s name, logo and mascot.

Washington’s announcement was applauded by Ray Halbritter, an Oneida Nation representative and head of the “Change the Mascot” campaign.

“The NFL and Dan Snyder have finally made the right call and Change the Mascot commends them for it,” Halbritter said in a statement.

“This is a good decision for the country . . . it closes a painful chapter of denigration and disrespect toward Native Americans and other people of color.”

US lawmaker Deb Haaland, one of the few members of Congress who identifies as Native American, also saluted the move.

“About time,” Haaland wrote. “It shouldn’t take a huge social movement & pressure from corporate sponsors to do the right thing, but I’m glad this is happening.”

Intense pressure from the team’s most powerful corporate partners are widely believed to have forced the Washington move.

FedEx, which purchased the naming rights to the team’s stadium through 2025 for $205 million, confirmed earlier this month it had requested the change.

“We believe it is time for a change,” PepsiCo had also said, while Nike removed the team’s merchandise and gear from its website.

Bank of America said as a sponsor, it had “encouraged the team to change the name.”

Goodell had also lobbied the team behind the scenes to consider a name change, according to reports.

Never say never?

The team was established in 1932 as the Boston Braves and took on its current name in 1933 before moving to the US capital four years later.

Until now, Snyder had emphatically rejected requests to drop the Redskins tag.

“We’ll never change the name,” he told USA Today in 2013. “It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.”

President Donald Trump meanwhile had criticized Washington’s announcement that the team name was under review.

“They name teams out of STRENGTH, not weakness, but now the Washington Redskins & Cleveland Indians, two fabled sports franchises, look like they are going to be changing their names in order to be politically correct,” Trump tweeted last week.

Washington’s statement on Monday said Snyder and head coach Ron Rivera were “working closely to develop a new name and design approach that will enhance the standing of our proud, tradition rich franchise and inspire our sponsors, fans and community for the next 100 years”.

The Washington Post reported that the team had a preferred choice for a replacement name, but were working through trademark issues surrounding the tag.

Rivera, one of only a handful of minority head coaches in the NFL and also the son of an army officer, said earlier this month that he believed the new name should show respect to Native American culture while giving a nod to the US military.