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Why did the Washington Football Team change their name from Redskins?

The Washington Football Team finally relented and announced a name change last year after pressure from Native American groups and sponsors.

Washington Football Team tight end Logan Thomas (82) celebrates with John Bates (87) after scoring a touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Stephen R. SylvanieUSA TODAY Sports

In July 2020, the Washington Redskins made a statement announcing the NFL franchise would be dropping its 87-year-old name and reverting temporarily to the Washington Football Team, following pressure from Native American organizations, the Change the Mascot campaign and many of the team’s own sponsors, among them FedEx, Nike, Pepsi and Bank of America, to come up with a new name for the franchise.

The Washington Football Team came into existence in 1932, when it joined the NFL as the Boston Braves. In 1937, the franchise moved to Washington DC and adopted the Redskins name - considered an offensive racial slur toward Native Americans - under the ownership of George Preston Marshall, a supporter of racial segregation and the last NFL owner to include African-American players on the team roster, in 1962, who was memorably described by Washington Post columnist Shirly Povich as “one of pro football’s greatest innovators, and its leading bigot.”

Only after the John F. Kennedy administration threatened to eject the team from its stadium, which was federal-owned property and leased to the franchise on a 30-year agreement, did Marshall relent. As such, the Redskins were never exactly at the forefront of progressivism in the NFL and as recently as 2017 an ESPN survey found that the franchise ranked among the most-hated teams in the NFL.

Washington Football Team responds to pressure

While the Redskins had long resisted a name change, citing support for the name from the team's owners, management, the NFL Commissioner, and many of the team’s fans, various factors pushed the franchise toward the change in 2020, despite the previous stance of owner Daniel Snyder, who remarked in 2013 that he would never consider touching the Redskins logo.

First was the wave of public protests that swept the US in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, which led to recognition of the issue of systemic racism in the US. Second, economic pressure applied by sponsors and a series of letters to the NFL Commissioner from Native American groups and, thirdly, the upcoming expiry of the team’s lease on FedEx Field in 2027.

Several teams adopt new names

The Washington Football Team are scheduled to unveil a new name and logo in 2020, following in the footsteps of the Cleveland Indians, who are rebranding as the Cleveland Guardians, and CFL's Edmonton Eskimos, who changed their name to the Elks last June.

As well as announcing the team’s name change, the Washington Football Team also removed Marshall’s name from the stadium’s Ring of Fame at FedEx Field, shortly after a memorial to the team’s founder outside the RFK Stadium, the former home of the franchise, was removed. The Washington Football Team also removed all mention of Marshall from the team’s official website and at its training facilities.


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