Change is almost certainly coming for the Washington Redskins.
When the team announced Friday that it would conduct a “thorough review” of its name, the consensus was that owner Dan Snyder wouldn’t make such a statement without already being prepared to rename his franchise. And multiple outlets have since reported that Snyder will do it. Redskins coach Ron Rivera told The Washington Post that “it would be awesome” if the change came before the start of the 2020 season in September.
The decision wasn’t reached overnight. The Redskins have faced intense pressure over the past month as part of the nationwide reckoning over racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s death — including from the team’s major corporate sponsors like FedEx, Nike and Pepsi.
But the moment has left the Redskins searching for a new name, one that must not only win over their long-time fans who are passionate about the name “Redskins,” but also be respectful toward the American Indian communities who have long taken offense to the team’s name and logo.
Amanda Blackhorse, the lead plaintiff in the 2006 trademark case against the team’s name, said she was glad the review is happening, but added she was concerned Washington would still keep its ties to American Indian symbols — even if the name were to change.
“That’s missing the point completely,” Blackhorse said. “They need a complete rebrand. Leave Native American imagery and references out of it.”
Before announcing a formal review, the Redskins had been internally discussing the issue within the past few weeks. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who had previously defended the name, said the league was “supportive” of the move and indicated that there have been “ongoing discussions” with Snyder about the topic.
Speaking to The Post, Rivera said he and Snyder have brainstormed replacements — “two of them I really like,” he said. The 58-year-old coach added that Washington’s new name needs to be respectful of American Indian culture and a tribute to the military. Rivera holds strong ties to the armed forces as he grew up on military bases with his father an Army officer.
Throughout the years, advocacy groups and fans who support the name change have suggested a slew of alternate names the team could adopt — ranging from Warriors to Redhawks to Redtails. Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins tweeted he is a fan of the latter.
Carla Fredericks, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota and director of First Peoples Worldwide, was involved in a recent push from investment firms who pressed FedEx, Nike and Pepsi to sever ties with the Redskins unless they change their name. Fredericks said as Washington continues to evaluate its name, she hopes there is “Native leadership” at the forefront of the discussion.
Fredericks, like Blackhorse, is calling for a complete rebranding.
“I’m really encouraged by everything that has happened (within the last few days), particularly the statement by the team,” Fredericks said. “I hope the review is short. … Racism in all forms here should be eradicated, and that includes the mascot as well as the name.”
Despite wishes that the Redskins change their name as soon as possible, there is some skepticism whether the team will actually be able to rebrand by the start of the season.
Branding expert David Brier, a consultant whose clients include Wells Fargo and Rolling Stone magazine, said any proper rebrand takes between six to 12 months. He said the size of the Redskins‘ franchise makes it unrealistic, given the number of voices typically involved.
“If this was a smaller local company of some sort, it could be done that quickly,” he said. “But something like this … getting this done within two months, you would have to have a team working day and night.”
When the Washington Bullets rebranded to the Wizards in the 1990s, it took two years for the process to be completed. Former owner Abe Pollin said in November 1995 that he would rebrand the Bullets, but the change didn’t go into effect until the start of 1997-98 season. The moniker “Wizards” was chosen in February 1996, voted on through a local telephone poll with five options.
In May 2013, Michael Jordan declared his team would switch from the Charlotte Bobcats to the Charlotte Hornets. But that change went into effect for the start of the 2014-15 season, and the Bobcats didn’t unveil their Hornets logo until December 2013 — seven months after Jordan’s announcement.
The Redskins, though, will be under pressure to make a change quickly. ESPN reported Sunday that Rivera would like the change to happen soon, so it doesn’t become a “huge distraction” when training camp begins July 28.
“They’ve got to pick a good name,” Fredericks said. “If they pick a good name, everyone will get behind it and like it. So pick a good name.”
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