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The name change comes during a time of political, racial and social upheaval in the US. Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians did away with their “Chief Wahoo” mascot in 2019, and have recently announced they will “engage (their) community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to their team name.”
The Atlanta Braves’ 60-game 2020 season, shortened by the coronavirus, is set to begin July 24, and the organization faces questions from many, including those in the Native American community, on how it will proceed.
Top team Terry McGuirk has gone on record the team has no plans to change its name. The then-Boston Braves got their name in 1912 because their owner, James Gaffney, was a Tammany Hall politico, and the notorious, New York-based political machine used an Indian chief as their symbol.
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Native American advocates and experts have long criticized the name they call a “dictionary-defined racial slur.” Over a dozen Native leaders and organizations wrote to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week demanding an immediate end to Washington’s use of the name. Goodell, who has fielded questions on the topic for years, said he supported the review.
Protests against the name predate Snyder buying the team in 1999, and, until now, he had shown no willingness to consider a change. Strong words from sponsors — including a company run by a minority stakeholder of the team — changed the equation.
FedEx earlier this month became the first sponsor to announce it had asked the organization to change the name, particularly important because CEO Frederick Smith owns part of the team. FedEx also paid $205 million for the long-term naming rights to the team’s stadium in Landover, Maryland.
The lease at FedEx Field expires in 2027, and dropping the name keeps open various possibilities in Maryland, Virginia and Washington for the team’s new stadium and headquarters. District of Columbia mayor Muriel Bowser has said the name was an “obstacle” to Snyder building on the old RFK Stadium site, which is believed to be his preference.
Washington recently started cutting ties with founder George Preston Marshall, removing his name from the Ring of Fame and renaming the lower bowl at FedEx Field for the team’s first Black player, late Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell. Marshall, who renamed the Boston Braves the Redskins in 1933 and moved it to D.C. four years later, was the last NFL owner to integrate their team.
Washington has just five playoff appearances in 21 years and no postseason victories since 2005. The team has lacked a nationally marketable player since Robert Griffin III’s short-lived stardom, and the 2020 schedule features zero prime-time games for a franchise that used to be a draw.
Re-branding with a new name and logo — and perhaps the same burgundy and gold colors — coupled with turning football operations over to Rivera could be a boon for Snyder on and off the field. Even if a segment of the fan base opposes the change in the name of tradition, winning would more than make up for those losses.