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12 Aug 2020 7:40
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  •   Home > News > International

    The Washington Redskins NFL team is changing its name — what does it mean for American sport?

    The Washington Redskins NFL team announces it will drop its franchise name, but why have they done it, what happens now, and what could it mean for the rest of American sport?


    The Washington Redskins have ended 87 years of history, signalling they will drop the franchise name of the famous NFL team.

    But why is one of the most well-known names in American sport having to cut ties with its history?

    And could it have a knock-on effect to other sports?

    Why are the Redskins changing their name?

    The team was originally founded as the Boston Braves. They changed to the Boston Redskins in 1933, and moved to Washington in 1937 where they have been ever since.

    The Redskins have won five NFL titles, including three Super Bowls. But original owner George Preston Marshall believed in segregation and the team was the last in professional football to employ black players.

    The team's name has been controversial, with a decades-long campaign from Native American groups who have described it as a "dictionary-defined racial slur".

    Redskins owner Daniel Snyder had previously vowed he would "never" change the team's name.

    More than a dozen Native leaders and organisations wrote to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week demanding an immediate end to Washington's use of the name.

    But what appears to have changed the team's mind is the decision of sponsors to demand a shift.

    FedEx — who are minority stakeholders in the franchise and have naming rights over the team's stadium in Maryland — plus a string of other sponsors, including Nike, Pepsi and Bank of America, all put pressure on Snyder.

    He announced a "thorough review", and the team has now announced it will be "retiring" the name and Indian head logo.

    This will be the first name change in the NFL since the late 1990s, when the Houston Oilers team moved to Tennessee and after a year's transition became the Tennessee Titans.

    What will the team be called now?

    The short answer is — we don't know.

    Making the announcement, the team made clear it would be retiring the Redskins name and logo when the review was completed.

    "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," the team said in the statement.

    The longer answer is — we may not know which way the team is looking for a new name, but there are a number of options that could well gather support.

    The team's fight song has been Hail to the Redskins, and there is some early support from fans online to keep a name similar to that which would allow the team to keep its social media hashtag #HTTR.

    Some think an animal moniker like Redwolves or Redhawks could work, whileothers are keen on the name Redtails.

    Redtails relate to the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American and Caribbean-born military pilots in World War II.

    The pilots became known for painting the tails of their aircraft red, leading to the group's nickname.

    If the team moves away from a "Red" name, then there are some other options.

    Snyder reportedly held a trademark for "Washington Warriors" for a number of years, although he does not hold it now.

    Although the team's name includes Washington, the franchise has not played in Washington DC for some years.

    A name change could open the way for a move back.

    If the plan was to move home from Maryland, the Washington Presidents would make sense as a name for obvious reasons.

    Another possibility would be the Washington Senators, who were a Major League Baseball team for several decades last century, while the Washington Generals are a basketball team who play exhibition games against the Harlem Globetrotters.

    When will we know?

    It's not clear how long the team's name review will take.

    No doubt it will take time to sort out a new name, and secure the rights and trademarks to be used for logos, mascots and the like.

    But it is a fair bet that the team will need to get everything done ahead of the team's scheduled opening game of the 2020 season against the Philadelphia Eagles on September 14.

    What does this mean for other teams?

    There are several other North American professional sports teams with franchise names that have Native American or First Nations links.

    The Atlanta Braves play in Major League Baseball, as do the Cleveland Indians.

    In ice hockey, the Chicago Blackhawks play in the National Hockey League, and the Edmonton Eskimos play in the Canadian Football League.

    So far, the Braves and Blackhawks have said they don't intend to change their team names.

    However, the Braves have said they will consider ending the "Tomahawk chop" celebration used during games — it involves fans moving their forearms up and down to mimic the action of a tomahawk chopping.

    Given that one team has already agreed to make a name change, it is possible that sponsor and public pressure could lead to more teams making the move.

    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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