Washington Redskins majority owner Daniel M. Snyder has long been aware his team’s name and logo are considered disrespectful to Native Americans.
But the reclusive and unpopular owner left no doubt where he stood when he told USA Today in 2013, “We’ll never change the name.”
“It’s that simple,” he said. “NEVER — you can use caps.”
It seems never doesn’t last like it used to.
On Friday, Snyder announced he was launching a “review” of the team’s use of the name. The quotes from Snyder and the club’s new coach, Ron Rivera, left little doubt that the “review” is perfunctory — and that the only remaining questions are 1) when will the change come and 2) what name will the team use instead?
Maryland’s United States senators called Snyder’s move welcome but long overdue.
“No need for a review,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) told Maryland Matters. “This is a no-brainer — change the name.”
Said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D): “It’s about time. We love having the team play in Maryland but the name has to go. Really, it should not have taken sponsors to tell Dan Snyder that it was the right thing to do. It always has been.”
Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), a rising star in Maryland politics, was reluctant to join the pressure campaign against a high-profile employer in her county, but she too applauded the move.
“This is a transformational time in our nation that requires deep reflection and decisive action that demonstrates respect for lives and communities that have been historically marginalized,” she said.
Neither the Redskins nor the NFL, which applauded the team’s decision, acknowledged the mounting pressure on Snyder to act.
While the pressure ultimately paid off, those who know him say it was a double-edged sword.
Publicly Snyder was all-in on the name, believing that as owner he bore the obligation to safeguard the legacy of the team he rooted for while growing up in Montgomery County.
But privately — particularly in recent weeks — Snyder’s attitude began to soften, according to associates.
What mattered was that if he were to change the name, it had to appear that it was his doing. He didn’t want it to feel as though he had been shamed, pressured or bullied into making the switch.
That is not how it worked out.
- Snyder’s decision to launch a “review” of his name came less than 24 hours after the CEO of Federal Express, Frederick W. Smith, publicly called on him to drop the name Redskins.
The delivery giant signed a 27-year naming rights deal with the team in 1999 worth an eye-popping $205 million. The company’s connect to the team cannot be overstated.
No mere client, Smith is also a minority owner of the club.
- The Washington Post reported this week that Snyder’s chances of moving the team back to Washington, D.C., were zero if he insisted on keeping the name, because Democrats in Congress, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and the city’s non-voting congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), were all unalterably opposed to it.
FedEx was not alone in its antipathy toward the name and caricature logo. As AdWeek noted on Wednesday, the team was under growing pressure from companies it does business with. Those companies are worth billions to a club that has struggled on the field during Snyder’s 20-plus year tenure and frequently plays in a half-empty stadium.
As columnist Nick Schwartz wrote in USA Today just hours before Snyder’s announcement, the pressure was becoming unbearable, even for a man who boasted he would “NEVER” shed the name “Redskins.”
“Snyder has been able to ignore years of protests and social media pressure,” Schwartz wrote, “but if a billionaire’s bottom line is put under threat, we may finally see some progress.”
Online, speculation immediately focused on what name Snyder will choose to replace Redskins — and whether, after years of denial and delay, he will now rush to enact a change in time for the 2020 season.
Just as interesting is what the move means for the team’s future.
The FedEx Field fan experience can only described as mediocre. The stadium was built on the cheap. It’s too big, parking is a hassle, and it lacks the features that are now standard issue for a generation of newer venues, including –– maddeningly for Snyder –– Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ new digs outside Dallas.
Snyder has made no secret of his desire to return to D.C. and to put a new domed, Super Bowl-caliber stadium on the site where decrepit RFK Stadium, site of the team’s glory days, sits.
He has already hired an architect to come up with a design that mimics the raucous atmosphere the burgundy and gold used so powerfully pre-Snyder, when it was a playoff regular.
When the team finally, belatedly, and at long last, sheds itself of its odious moniker, a key stumbling block to its return to the nation’s capital will be removed.
The clock on the [insert new team name here]’s lease in Prince George’s County will then start ticking.