The Washington NFL team will get a new name and logo

For many, it's been a long time coming.

When Dan Snyder bought the Washington football team in 1999 for $750 million, it was a dream come true. 

Sure, Snyder was already a multi-millionaire, making his money through his marketing firm Snyder Communications, which went public in 1996 and then was bought by Havas in 2000 for more than $2 billion. But he was a die-hard Washington football fan. And that made all the difference. Until Sunday night.

After 87-years, the Washington Redskins are no more. The football team, a week after it said it will “review” its name, has come to the conclusion that it will indeed change its name and logo, according to multiple reports from Sports Business Journal, The Washington Post, and USA Today. (Of course, publicly saying you’re going to do a “thorough review” and not come out on the other end with a change would have been ... something.)

And now for the requisite time-capsule quote from Dan Snyder in 2013: 

“We'll never change the name," he said. "It's that simple. NEVER — you can use caps."

A lifelong Washington fan, Snyder, since ascending to the ownership class, leaned into the team’s history and “tradition.” This made him different from most of his billionaire owner-friends: his love of the team trumped any negative coverage/opinion or pressure from outside groups, including sponsors. But that changed this year, following the nation’s reaction to the murder of George Floyd.

The Washington Post reported:

The team’s new head coach, Ron Rivera, said in a July 4 interview that he has been working with Snyder on the name change process since late May or early June. Rivera added that NFL officials started advising Snyder on the name issue sometime in mid-June. Rivera, who said he has come to believe the name should be changed, said he had discussed several possibilities with Snyder and really liked two of them.

As the country engages through various ways in how we address the structural racism that pervades, corporations have been leading the way vocal in their support of Black Lives Matter. 

For some, it’s been an eye-opening experience understanding how deep the roots of racism hold onto their business. PepsiCo, for instance, which owns Quaker, is shelving its 131-year-old Aunt Jemima brand and replacing it with a new brand name later this year. The food and beverage company is also putting $400 million over five years “to lift up black communities and increase black representation at PepsiCo.”

For others, it’s been a mix of earnestly trying to do the right thing and the performative dance of glomming onto an event. Starbucks, for example, has had some missteps figuring out how to address the Black Lives Matter moment; proffering support on social media while simultaneously telling employees they can’t wear Black Lives Matter clothing. After significant public push back, Starbucks eventually did an about face allowing baristas to wear Black Lives Matter paraphernalia. 

Over the last couple of months, as companies grapple (or attempt to grapple) with their own institutional racism, they’ve also started putting pressure on their partners. Change happens very slowly, and then all at once. Even Mississippi, which as recently as 2001 had two-thirds of its citizens voted to keep its 126-year-old Confederate-laden state flag, changed its thinking this year voting to remove its flag. 

Which brings us back to the Washington football team.

Corporate sponsors and investors like FedEx, Nike and Pepsi publicly put Snyder on notice. And as USA Today writes:

Meanwhile, reports surfaced that Washington’s minority owners also had encouraged Snyder to make a change. He had turned a deaf ear until FedEx, whose president and chairman Fred Smith owns a stake of the team, publicly demanded a change on July 2.   

Nike even scrubbed “Redskins” from its site, Yahoo News reported in early July:

Nike, the NFL’s primary jersey and apparel supplier, appears to have wiped the team’s entire collection of merchandise from its website. Searches for “Redskins” yield nothing. Searches for “Washington NFL” have similar results. Meanwhile, “Cowboys” and any other team name lead to your usual bunch of jerseys and shirts.

The team, according to Forbes, is worth $3.4 billion, making it the 7th-highest valued NFL franchise.

While some will applaud Snyder for changing the name, he did not do this because the mythical marketplace of ideas pushed him to do the right thing; the arc of the moral universe didn’t lead him to this realization that his team’s name is racist. He did it under crippling monetary pressure. 

What will also be interesting to follow: all the licensing and merchandising deals that will get revamped. Changing a name and logo are a big deal, especially for a large company. When I covered Dunkin Donuts’ change to just “Dunkin’” I found that it’s as much of a logistical nightmare as you can think of: in-store signage, napkins, cups, franchisees. The works. It takes years to implement a re-brand. 

For a football team, that’ll mean all the marketing and merch it sells through various third-party license holders—everything that has a Washington name and logo on it. (In case you ever wanted to know how someone can officially sell NFL merch, here you go.

Though I am curious what will happen to the Washington Fight Song. 

With all the pork that flows (or at least used to) out of D.C., and the fact that its most ardent fans are called Hogettes, and the nickname we use for an actual football, perhaps they’ll change their name to the Washington Pigskins. 

Now if only Washington, D.C. can get statehood.  

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Leadbelly, “The Bourgeois Blues”

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