By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) -The National Football League’s Washington Football Team said on Wednesday they will now be called the Commanders following a lengthy review on how best to replace a name and logo that were widely criticized as disrespectful of Native American culture.
The team retired their controversial Redskins name in mid-2020 along with a logo that featured a profile of a red-faced Native American with feathers in his hair.
That followed a long campaign from critics and came amid calls for racial justice and a threatened loss of sponsors.
A number of Native American Groups were quick to celebrate the team’s name change and Ray Halbritter, leader of the Change the Mascot campaign, said it was a victory for all of those around the world seeking to advance inclusivity.
“While the official changing of the name is cause for celebration, today’s announcement by the Washington NFL team should not be treated as a simple rebranding,” Halbritter, Oneida Indian Nation Representative, said in a statement.
“Depicting this as a mere rebranding rather than righting a wrong is another indignity. It is important we never forget what it took to get to this moment, and recognize how social change like this is possible.”
For the last two seasons, the Washington club adopted the generic and temporary “Football Team” moniker while it worked to develop a new identity.
The Commanders name and primary “W” logo are the result of an 18-month process that the team, which will stick with their traditional burgundy and gold color scheme, said included over 40,000 fan submissions, countless surveys, focus groups and meetings.
“As an organization, we are excited to rally and rise together as one under our new identity while paying homage to our local roots and what it means to represent the nation’s capital,” team co-owner Dan Snyder said in a news release.
Snyder, who bought the storied franchise in 1999, had long fought off public pressure in the past to change the team’s branding and went as far as saying the club would never change their name.
Critics ramped up pressure on the team to change the name amid a nationwide reckoning on racism and police brutality triggered by the 2020 death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck.
Snyder eventually softened his stance after FedEx Corp (NYSE:FDX), which owns the naming rights to the team’s suburban stadium in Landover, Maryland, urged the club to rebrand.
U.S. President Joe Biden signalled his approval for the new name with a Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) post that included a photo of his dog, a German Shepherd named Commander, on the White House grounds along with the message: “I suppose there’s room for two Commanders in this town.”
The team that became the Redskins was founded in 1932 as the Boston Braves. Their name was changed to Redskins the following year and they moved to Washington in 1937.
The team have won three Super Bowls and are one of the NFL’s marquee franchises, ranked by Forbes last August as the league’s fifth most valuable at $4.2 billion.
Many American professional and collegiate sports teams have nicknames on Native American themes. Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves, the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks and NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs have all said they have no plans to change their names.
MLB’s Cleveland franchise said last July they would change their name to the Guardians from Indians after the 2021 season, a move that drew praise from Native American groups who had long viewed the old name as disparaging.
Crystal Echo Hawk, the founder and executive director of activist group IllumiNative, also supported the Commanders name but suggested more work needs to be done to end the use of Native American imagery across all sports.
“Today we celebrate a pivotal moment decades in the making but also recognize the costs that came with this victory,” said the IllumiNative founder.
“The Washington Football Team, now known as The Commanders, are the latest example that teams can make the decision to end a racist practice that has plagued professional sports.”
Source : Reuters/ Investing.com