NFL football is big business. When teams within the organization make dramatic shifts with either personnel, venue relocations, outfit changes, and color selections, and in this case–logo changes and overall team name changes, it’s a sensation to behold. What makes news in the circles of sports is the WHY of these transformative shifts and the WHEN it will happen.
Case in point, Washington’s NFL team announced that it would be dropping its name, Washington Redskins, as well as its logo. According to CNN, the team has faced building pressure to change the controversial name, which has long been denounced by Native American groups. Going forward, the team has announced a new name: Washington Football Team, leaving sports journalists, other organizations within the NFL, and especially fans wondering how on earth did they come up with that name?
The road to the future could be tricky
Given that it’s rather uninspiring, don’t fret–the name is only temporary. Pending adoption of a new name for the 2021 season, the team will go by Washington Football Team for the duration of the current 2020 NFL season. It’s important to note that also eliminated is the team’s original logo, which featured a Native American in profile, and has since been replaced with a temporary “standard” logo that’s sort of, well, boring. When the team was looking for tips for its new identity, logo design companies jumped at the chance.
According to the team’s website, the temporary name and logo will allow the team “to undertake an in-depth branding process to properly include player, alumni, fan, community, and sponsor input”. The team has already begun the process of retiring all previous Redskin branding from uniforms and physical spaces, and has shared new uniform concepts that showcase the temporary Washington Football team branding.
Fans have even taken to Twitter to share their thoughts on the new name, with many amused by the apparent lack of thought that went into it. Still, one can’t help but admire the team’s refusal to rush into a quick rebrand, and can perhaps forgive the slightly self-explanatory temporary name and logo that doesn’t necessarily wow people. It’ll be interesting to see what the Washington Football Team eventually becomes, as football team logos are incredibly precious to their fans, and redesigns can be either welcomed or rejected.
Where it all began
The controversy surrounding the Washington Redskins name involved the name and logo used until 2020 by the National Football League franchise located in the Washington metropolitan area now known as the Washington Football Team. Native American groups had questioned the use of the “Redskins” name and image since the 1960s, and the topic began receiving widespread public attention in the 1990s. In July 2020, following a wave of racial awareness and reforms in wake of national protests after the killing of George Floyd, major sponsors of the league and team threatened to stop supporting them until the name was changed. The team initiated a review which resulted in the decision to retire its name and logo, playing as the Washington Football Team pending adoption of a more permanent name.
Native Americans demanding a name change included tribal nations, national tribal organizations, civil rights organizations, and individuals. The largest of these organizations, the National Congress of American Indians, counted the enrollment of its member tribes as totaling 1.2 million individuals in 2013. The Washington team was only one example of the larger Native American mascot controversy, but it received more public attention because modern dictionaries define the name as derogatory or insulting and because the team has its home in the nation’s capital.
The name controversy was a factor in the team’s departure from Washington, D.C. in 1997, and remained a barrier in discussions of the location of a new stadium. Support for continued use of the name “Redskins” came from the team’s owners, management, the NFL Commissioner, and a majority of fans, which include some Native Americans. Supporters said that the name honors the achievements and virtues of Native Americans, and that it was not intended in a negative manner.
The controversy surrounding the logo
In July 2020, amidst the removal of many names and images as part of the George Floyd protests, a group of investors wrote letters to major sponsors Nike, FedEx and PepsiCo encouraging pressure on the Redskins to change their name. FedEx called on the team to change its name on July 2, 2020, and that same day, Nike removed Redskins apparel from its website.
On July 3, the league and the franchise announced that it was “undergoing a thorough review of the team name.” And four days laters, it was acknowledged that the Redskins were not in contact with a group of Native Americans who petitioned the NFL to force a name change and that Redskins head coach Ron Rivera also stated the team wanted to continue “honoring and supporting Native Americans and our Military.” Statements in support of a name change by academic, civil rights and religious organizations were added to those that Native American groups have been making for decades.
A matter of public opinion
While varying somewhat, national opinion polls consistently indicated that a majority of the general public did not advocate a name change. In three polls, although they supported the team name, most Maryland, D.C. and Virginia fans also said that the word “redskin” is offensive to Native Americans in at least some contexts. But these surveys don’t recognize the psychological impacts these racist names and imagery have on American Indian and Alaska Natives. It is not respectful to who they are as Native people, and no poll can make it right.
It was determined unethical by Native Americans to even have such a misleading and inaccurate poll. The Indigenous People felt the continued use of these harmful, racist mascots were either willfully malicious or dangerously naïve in the process and any polling on name or logo changes needed to be up for debate. Non-natives felt as though any transformation to the typical Washington football team color, logo, and name they were accustomed to for decades wasn’t going to personally sway their loyalty to the NFL team.
If anything, Washington Football Team needs to maintain a reputation of winning games, luring the fans in once it’s safe to attend games in large gatherings, and applaud the rollout of the logo and new name, knowing it will take some getting used to.