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5 Takeaways From the Redskins’ Decision to Drop Their Name

FedEx Field in Landover could be a prime spot for redevelopment if the Washington Redskins, whose name will be changing soon, move out of Maryland. Their lease runs until 2027. Photo by Andrew J. Scott

When Daniel M. Snyder announced on Monday that his team, the Washington Redskins, will abandon the name it has used since 1933, it set several wheels in motion — including the possibility that the franchise could be leaving Maryland sooner rather than later.

No new name was announced. Nor is it clear whether the change — said to be dependent on copyright issues — will occur in time for the 2020 season.

The statement the club released made no mention of the pressure Snyder was under — from FedEx, Nike, Pepsi and other corporate sponsors — to drop a name that critics had long charged is an affront to Native Americans.

Though the Washington football team is under contract to play in Prince George’s County until 2027, Snyder’s decision makes it more likely that the club will leave Maryland, perhaps before its lease expires.

Here are five takeaways from the team’s announcement:

It’s time to imagine a new use for the FedEx Field site

It’s no secret that Snyder wants to build a more modern and intimate facility in Washington, D.C., something to rival the Dallas Cowboys opulent new digs. His decision to drop the controversial name, long a bone of contention with local officials and Democrats in Congress, removes a major stumbling block.

If the team leaves Maryland, a massive parcel of land along the Capital Beltway will become open.

While few Prince County leaders want the Redskins to leave Landover, Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce President David Harrington said local leaders should start preparing now.

“I think it would behoove the county to begin to think about, and begin to imagine, life without FedEx Field,” he said in an interview. “It’s worth some people beginning to think futuristically and say if this were to happen, what could go here?”

A former state senator, Harrington represented the district the stadium inhabits when he served on the County Council. He said County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) should convene a handful of top developers and ask, “What would you need to help redevelop this area?”

“Have the business community tell you, here’s what we need and here’s what we can build for you.”

Prince George’s is trying to make the Largo-Landover area a hub of economic activity centered around the new University of Maryland Medical System’s regional hospital, the Woodmore Towne Centre retail development and existing Metrorail stops.

Harrington said the stadium — which one official described as “a massive parking lot with this thing standing in the center of it” — and the defunct Landover Mall site, directly to the north, offer two additional opportunities to expand the footprint of the investment already underway.

What would the future look like? It’s uncertain. 

If the Redskins leave Landover, the land could be redeveloped in a number of ways, almost all of them impacted to one degree or another by the COVID-19 pandemic, at least in the near-term:

  • The region has an office-space glut and an unprecedented number of people are working from home. That means developers would be reluctant to add offices absent a signature tenant like the FBI.
  • Concerts, dining and other forms of entertainment are on hold because of the concern people have about being too close to others

  • Retail was in flux before the pandemic; another shakeout, particularly surrounding traditional shopping malls, is inevitable, experts say.

“We know that there will be a new normal,” said David S. Iannucci, CEO of the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation.

“And until we actually understand what that looks like, the commercial sector — including office, restaurants, retail and entertainment — is going to be hobbled by that uncertainty.”

Harrington said whoever redevelops the stadium site will be starting from scratch.

“There’s nothing around there. You go to FedEx Field and you leave FedEx Field. That’s it. There’s no restaurants. There’s no support around there. There is no activity. There is nothing.”

A missed opportunity

If Snyder had listened to Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) six years ago, he would have changed the name of the team on his own terms — something associates have said was enormously important to him — and not under threats from corporations with whom he has lucrative contracts.

Wilson introduced a resolution in 2014 calling on the team to drop the name Redskins. The bill died in Annapolis without a vote, at the behest of legislative leaders — and he’s still angry about it.

“People were so tone deaf at that time,” Wilson said on Monday. “I brought up, would you think the Washington Spear-Chuckers would be an appropriate title for a sports team? … I testified to all of this and how we need to take a stand.”

“It’s not like this was never brought to anyone’s attention,” he added. “It was embarrassing the way it was summarily dismissed by a Democrat-run liberal legislature.”

Charles County resident Barry Wilson (no relation to the lawmaker), the speaker of the Choptico Band of the Piscataway tribe, expressed disappointment that Snyder didn’t act sooner — and for more noble reasons.

“He’s only doing it, in my opinion, because of the threat of the dollar bill,” he said. “We started protesting that name years ago. Years ago.”

No redevelopment if Snyder departs

Earlier this year, as the legislature was preparing to consider a bill to legalize sports gambling, Snyder briefed state and local officials on a plan to invest in the area around the stadium.

His plans included entertainment, a top-tier hotel, office space and perhaps housing — and were predicated on the team winning a sports betting license that would draw fans 12 months a year.

“I was cautiously excited about that,” said Prince George’s County Councilmember Jolene Ivey (D), who represents the area now.

“I want the name to change. Full stop. But I want the name to change and for them to remain and for them to put in that beautiful development that Dan Snyder showed us.”

Snyder is reported to have held comparable briefings for officials in Virginia, where the club has its corporate headquarters and training camp, and in the District.

Beyond the name change 

Harrington, the chamber president, expressed approval of the name change and said fans are prepared to embrace a new name enthusiastically.

But he said sports leagues must do much more to diversify their owners’ suites.

“While I appreciate the changing of the name, I think there are deeper issues around ownership in the NFL [and] minority ownership in sports in general,” he said. “I hope that conversation happens as well.”

Harrington said the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 crisis on people of color, the death of George Floyd and others at the hands of law enforcement, and the loss of Black-owned businesses since the economic downturn began have reinforced the nation’s lack of equal opportunity.

“Yes, equality is important,” he said. “But equity is where the root causes lie.”

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5 Takeaways From the Redskins’ Decision to Drop Their Name