A little more than seven years ago, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder told USA TODAY Sports that the franchise would “never” change its team name — a moniker that many Native Americans considered a racial slur.
“NEVER,” Snyder said at the time. “You can use caps.”
Now, it appears “NEVER” has arrived.
In a monumental and long-awaited move, Washington’s NFL franchise announced Monday it will drop its polarizing team name and logo at the conclusion of an ongoing review. The franchise did not immediately announce a new name for its team, or when it will finalize its new branding.
“Dan Snyder and Coach (Ron) Rivera are 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 team said in a statement.
The decision to retire “Redskins” comes amid a formal review of the name, which the team announced July 3 amid mounting pressure from key stakeholders — including FedEx, a major sponsor that holds the naming rights at the team’s stadium.
It also follows decades of simmering frustration from many Native Americans and activists, who have criticized the name as either insensitive or downright racist.
Washington will be the first NFL franchise to change its team name without moving to a new city in the same year since the Tennessee Oilers became the Tennessee Titans in 1998, less than two years removed from the franchise’s relocation from Houston. And it will be the first major professional sports team to make such a change since 2013, when the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats became the Hornets.
Another team with a Native American mascot, Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians, also announced earlier this month that it would explore changing its team name. Manager Terry Francona is among those who have expressed support for a change.
For Washington, Monday’s change marks the end of an 87-year stretch under the name. The franchise, which was originally based in Boston, switched to “Redskins” from Braves in July 1933. Owner George Preston Marshall moved the team to Washington a little less than four years later.
Snyder, 55, purchased the team in 1999 and has defied calls to change the name since.
For years, the billionaire argued that the “Redskins” moniker was a meaningful part of the team’s history, one that dates back to the early days of the NFL and includes three Super Bowl titles. He pointed to favorable polls, which he equated to proof that most Native Americans do not find the name offensive. Publicly, he declined to so much as even entertain the idea of rebranding the team.
“I think that the Redskins fans understand the great tradition and what it’s all about and what it means,” Snyder told USA TODAY Sports in 2013.
Meanwhile, the chorus calling for change has grown, particularly in recent years.
There was a renewed — and, ultimately, unsuccessful — legal push to revoke the team’s trademarks in the past decade, on the grounds that the name is disparaging to Native Americans. Several high schools moved to abandon the name and find new monikers for their sports teams. And well-known figures, including then-President Barack Obama in 2015, have publicly urged Washington to make a change.
Then, in May, the death of George Floyd brought increased attention to issues of racial injustice across American society — including within the NFL.
As the league took steps to condemn racism, many began to wonder: What about Washington’s team name?
With pressure continuing to swell, Snyder and his associates began having conversations with the league office about the name. FedEx — which holds the naming rights to Washington’s home stadium, and counts its CEO among the team’s minority owners — released a statement in which it requested the name be changed. Two other top sponsors, Nike and PepsiCo, soon followed.
Less than 24 hours after FedEx first made its stance known, the team announced it would be undergoing a “thorough review” of its name and logo. And on Monday, after decades of scrutiny, Washington’s NFL franchise took its first official step toward adopting a new moniker.
It’s unclear which potential replacement names for the team are being seriously considered by franchise leadership, though fans and oddsmakers have floated several possibilities. Rivera, whom the team hired earlier this offseason, told The Washington Post earlier this month that he and Snyder had come up with “a couple of names” and “two of them I really like.” But he declined to specify those preferred names to the newspaper.
A name beginning with the letter “R” would allow the team to continue to use “HTTR,” a key marketing slogan that previously was short for “Hail To The Redskins.” But some fans have also expressed a preference for “Warriors,” among other possibilities.
Contact Tom Schad at email@example.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.