What Have the Redskins' Major Sponsors Said About NFL Team Name Change?

The Washington Redskins have come under pressure to change their name before, but FedEx significantly upped the ante on Thursday, when it demanded the franchise dropped its reference to Native Americans.

The delivery services giant isn't just another sponsor for Washington. A year after the franchise moved into Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in 1997, FedEx struck a deal with Washington's owner Dan Snyder to secure the naming rights to the stadium FedEx Field in a deal that runs through 2025.

Additionally, FedEx chairman, CEO and president Frederick Smith is one of the NFL franchise's minority owners.

"We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name," FedEx said in a statement.

FedEx's move came after Adweek reported 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 agree to change their name.

First Peoples Worldwide, Oneida Nation Trust Enrollment Committee, Trillium Asset Management, LLC Boston Common Asset Management, LLC Boston Trust Walden Mercy Investment Services and First Affirmative Financial Network are among the signatories to the letters, while many of the remaining 80 firms and trusts are what Adweek described as "social impact strategy investment firms".

Along with FedEx, Nike and Pepsi are listed by Forbes as the team's principal sponsors, together with drinks giant AB InBev and Bank of America. In September 2019, Forbes ranked the Redskins as the seventh most valuable NFL team, with a value of approximately $3.4 billion.

Shortly after FedEx made its position clear, Nike removed all Washington Redskins merchandise from its website. A search on the site lists all other 31 NFL franchises, but a search for "Redskins" delivered no results.

On Friday morning, the Redskins announced "the team will undergo a thorough review of the team's name", adding that the review "formalizes the initial discussions the team has been having with the league in recent weeks."

"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," Snyder said in the statement.

Both the NFL and Pepsi praised the move.

"In the last few weeks we have had ongoing discussions with Dan [Snyder] and we are supportive of this important step," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.

In a release emailed to Newsweek, a spokesman for Pepsi added:

"We have been in conversations with the NFL and Washington management for a few weeks about this issue.

"We believe it is time for a change. We are pleased to see the steps the team announced today, and we look forward to continued partnership."

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday 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 district.

Washington Redskins, NFL
A general view of the Washington Redskins logo at center field before a game between the Detroit Lions and Redskins at FedExField on November 24, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. Patrick McDermott/Getty

The Redskins played in the nation's capital until they left Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in 1996 to move to their current home in Landover, Maryland. Washington D.C.'s city officials have previously they want the team to return to the district once its lease on the land at FedEx Field expires in 2027.

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.

In 2013, Snyder stated he would never agree to change the team's name.

However, the public perception of names and symbols related to racism and oppression has changed significantly in the wake of the nationwide protest sparked by George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis on May 25.

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 Redskins were among the teams calling for racial justice, but were criticized by Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who suggested they should be leading the wave of change by dropping the reference to Native Americans.

Carla Fredericks, a director of First Peoples Worldwide and director of the University of Colorado Law School's American Indian Law Clinic, told Adweek public pressure could eventually force the Redskins into change, as FedEx, Pepsi and Nike are all Fortune 500 companies and "anyone that has a simple stock portfolio with an index fund owns a share of these companies."

The Redskins aren't the only professional franchise to retain a Native American reference in their name, with the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks and the MLB's Cleveland Indians also attracting criticism because of their nicknames.

In 2019, however, the Indians dropped Chief Wahoo from their uniforms, stating that the logo was no longer appropriate.

Similarly, while the Florida Seminoles have retained their name, the Arkansas State University Indians became the Red Wolves in 2008, while Miami University in Ohio changed its teams' nickname from Redskins to Redhawks a decade earlier.

Newsweek has contacted Nike and Bank of America for comment.