By Zac Cornell
As Black Lives Matter movements continue to spread throughout the country, sports leagues, businesses and teams are scrutinizing their policies, branding and business plans to address the issues raised by the anti-racism movement. One issue that has resurfaced with renewed intensity is the use of racist names by professional sport teams. Some polarizing team names include the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, and the Washington Redskins.
After many years of staunchly defending the team name, on July 12th Redskins owner Dan Snyder announced they will change the team name and logo. Snyder had almost no choice but to change the team name as numerous brands threatened to end sponsorships and associations with the team, leading to severe financial repercussions. Nike removed all Redskins merchandise from their website. FedEx, which pays about $8 million a year in stadium naming rights, demanded a team name change or it would back out of its sponsorship. FedEx CEO Frederick Smith, who is part owner of the franchise, has also been vocal against the name “Redskins” and was trying to sell his shares. With Amazon, Target, and Pepsico shareholders also threatening to cut advertising dollars without a name change, it became clear that maintaining the Redskins name was essentially financial suicide for Snyder and the Redskins.
The new name has not been announced yet due to a trademark fight. The team also has to work with the NFL league’s many licensing partners, further complicating a name and logo change. However the team likely had a head start as team members had reportedly been secretly investigating alternative names in anticipation that this day would come. Head coach Ron Rivera had recently said that he and Snyder were working on a name that would honor both the military and Native Americans. The team has applied for a number of names for trademarks including RedTails, Red-Tailed Hawks, Renegades, Monuments, and Veterans. Warriors was reportedly another possible name as was RedWolves, which along with RedTails, would not require as many changes throughout the franchise allowing them to keep the same hashtag (#HTTR), and offer easy modification of their theme song “Hail to the Redskins.”
The sudden about-face by Snyder after decades of resistance shows the power that branding revenue has on sports businesses to influence change. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and the #BLM protests, N.F.L Commissioner Roger Goodell announced support for players’ right to peaceful protest and apologized for not listening to African-American players’ concerns about racism and police brutality previously. Businesses throughout the country are examining their policies and committing to fight racism and injustice. Other sports teams with controversial names should pay attention to the Redskins’ experience, the public’s shifting opinion and consider what message they want to convey with their brands.