Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the NFL’s Washington team announced on Friday that the organization “will undergo a thorough review of the team’s name.” On Thursday, ESPN reported that FedEx — which owns the naming rights to Washington’s stadium — formally requested a name change, as it is a slur. The name has been the subject of controversy dating as far back as the 1960’s, but picked up steam in more recent years. FedEx’s request, however, is what might ultimately get the team to change its name.
The NFL isn’t the only sports league with name controversies. The Indians and Braves have also been embroiled in controversy. While Indians isn’t in and of itself offensive, its logo and mascots have been deemed offensive. As you can see on SportsLogos.net, the Indians logo gradually became more and more of a caricature of Native Americans. The caricature ultimately decided upon in 1946 became the Indians logo that became widely used well into the 2000’s. In recent years, Major League Baseball instructed the Indians to phase out Chief Wahoo. Might, at some point, the Indians simply change their name to turn the page on the controversy entirely?
Similarly, the Braves’ went through several racist interations of their logo, beginning with a screaming Indian before ultimately settling on an illustrated tomahawk. They also had a mascot from 1966-85 called Chief Noc-A-Homa. The Braves gave him a companion mascot, Princess Win-A-Lotta, in 1983 but she was short-lived. Chief Noc-A-Homa was phased out after 1986 but not due to a heightened sensitivity towards racism, but because the Braves and the man who portrayed the mascot disagreed over pay and missed dates.
In 1991, Braves fans adopted the “Tomahawk Chop,” which had been done by fans of Florida State University and, later, by the Kansas City Chiefs. The team leaned into it, selling and oftentimes giving away foam tomahawks. The stadium organist played the “Tomahawk Song” as fans did the “Tomahawk Chop.” Like the Indians, the Braves have been in and out of controversy over the past few decades.
The Texas Rangers were also briefly under scrutiny. Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune correctly noted last month that the team’s name references the real-life Texas Rangers, a law enforcement agency based in Austin that has a history of racist and brutal policing. In the context of the current time, in which protests against police brutality are still ongoing and the league has pledged a commitment towards social justice, it makes sense to consider the Rangers along with the Indians and Braves.
As we have seen throughout the years, though, it takes a lot of effort to get these teams to consider making the smallest of changes towards progress. For the Braves, Indians, and Rangers to change their iconography and names, they would likely also need a big sponsor to light the fire.
While the moral argument against using these names and images should be strong on its own, the Indians, Braves, and Rangers should at least be swayed by the business angle. We’ll ignore the sponsors potentially dropping out without a change, because that goes without saying. The people who are vehemently in favor of the name and images constitute a very vocal minority. Most people either don’t care that much or want the change. With a change in name and imagery, the teams have a new opportunity to sell merchandise — hats, jerseys, you name it. They could hold special events, like an official unveiling, that entice people to spend money and buy tickets. And they might even bring some fans back into the fold who were put off by the bigotry.
Update (8:33 PM ET): Well, hey, whaddaya know?
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) July 4, 2020