From 'NEVER' to Name Change, How Dan Snyder Lost Redskins Battle

The Washington Redskins are no more. As of Monday morning, the city's NFL franchise has officially dropped the reference to Native Americans that had accompanied it since the team first put roots down in the nation's capital 87 years ago.

"Today, we are announcing we will be retiring the Redskins name and logo upon completion of this review," the team said in a statement.

"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."

It is a watershed moment for the franchise and, more broadly, for the NFL as a whole. In the wake of George Floyd's killing on May 25 and the return to prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the league has taken a strong stance in the fight to promote social justice and to end racial discrimination.

The NFL admitted it had not heeded the calls for justice from its own players, including Colin Kaepernick, four years ago and has pledged over $250 million to social justice campaigns. Significantly, it has also sped up the process of parting ways with a name that team owner Dan Snyder had repeatedly refused to change.

Just over seven years ago, Snyder, who purchased the franchise in 1999 for $800 million following the death of previous owner Jack Kent Cooke, famously told USA Today that the name of the franchise would never change.

"We will never change the name of the team," he was quoted as saying.

"As a lifelong Redskins fan, and I think that the Redskins fans understand the great tradition and what it's all about and what it means, so we feel pretty fortunate to be just working on next season. [...] We'll never change the name. It's that simple. NEVER—you can use caps."

The franchise's name has been a source of controversy since it was adopted in 1933. In the late 1960s Native American groups began efforts to put an end to harmful stereotypes and images of Native American culture and called for the team to drop its name and change its logo.

After Washington triumphed in Super Bowl XXVI—the franchise's third Lombardi Trophy in a decade—a Native American group filed a petition to have the nickname removed from trademark. While a federal appeals board sided with the petitioners, the Redskins appealed the ruling.

From the moment he assumed control of the franchise, Snyder steadfastly rebuffed calls for the franchise to change its name. He pointed to a series of surveys which showed Native Americans weren't particularly bothered by the team's nickname.

In 2004, a poll of 768 self-identified Indians showed that only nine percent of them were offended by Washington's moniker.

A survey delivering similar results in 2016 only served to strengthen Snyder's conviction the team will retain its name.

In the two-and-a-half months following Floyd's killing, however, change has come at a previously unthinkable pace.

A number of NFL teams have publicly supported the Black Lives Matter movement, while several colleges have removed Confederate symbols, statues of Confederate figures or renamed buildings named after advocates of slavery.

The statue of former Redskins owner George Preston Marshall, who was forced to integrate the franchise in the 1960s, was removed from outside Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium—which the franchise called home until 1996—last month.

Significantly, however, the move was taken by Events DC, which is in charge of the venue, as opposed to the team.

Snyder, however, could not escape calls for change much longer. Sponsors succeeded were politicians and petitions had failed and on July 2 FedEx demanded the franchise dropped its reference to Native Americans.

The delivery giant isn't just another sponsor for Washington. A year after the team moved to its new home in Landover, Maryland, FedEx invested $205 million to secure the naming rights of what has been known as FedEx Field since through to 2025.

The team's lease on the land at FedEx Field expires in 2027 and while Washington D.C.'s city officials have previously indicated they want the team to return to the district once the lease ends, earlier this month The Washington Post reported that Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives, said the team had to change its name if it wanted to return to the nation's capital.

FedEx's move came after three separate letters signed by 87 investment firms and shareholders worth a combined $620 billion directly asked FedEx, Nike and Pepsi to terminate their relationship with the franchise unless the Redskins agreed to change their name.

With sponsors backing the franchise into a corner, Snyder eventually relented and on July 3 announced the the team "will undergo a thorough review" of its name.

"This process allows the team to take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise but also input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the National Football League and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field," he said in a statement.

In the intervening 10 days, Nike, Walmart and Amazon have all removed Redskins-branded merchandise from their website, while a host of potential new names have been suggested.

The identity of the successor will remain unknown for some time yet as, per Sports Business Daily, trademark reasons mean Washington may need weeks, perhaps months to legally be allowed to use whichever moniker it eventually opts for.

Among the uncertainty, one thing is beyond doubt. "Never" now has a precise date.

Dan Snyder, Washington Redskins
Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins on the field before a game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on November 3, 2019 in Orchard Park, New York. Buffalo beat Washington 24-9. Timothy Ludwig/Getty

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