The press release that the Washington NFL team put out on Friday morning reads like someone loading up a plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet while promising to go on a diet afterward.
There’s the infamous logo at the top, part of a letterhead that includes the team’s name, the team name in the title of the team headquarters, the team name in the address of that facility, and the team name twice in web addresses. The caricature and five uses of a racial slur are literally boilerplate for this team. Then there’s the heading that it’s a statement from the team, and three more uses of the team name in four paragraphs before one more in the footer.
The word appears 10 times in a document announcing that, yes, finally, Dan Snyder is going to consider changing the name of the team.
In the statement, Snyder said, “This process allows the team to take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise but also input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the National Football League and the local community it is proud to represent on the field.”
Emphasis on the sponsors. FedEx, which pays Snyder’s team $7.6 million a year to put its name on the stadium in Landover, Md., said on Thursday that it is asking the team to change its name. Nike joined in on Thursday night by taking all of Washington’s gear off its website. On Friday, PepsiCo joined the chorus.
“We have been in conversations with the NFL and Washington management for a few weeks about this issue,” a PepsiCo spokesperson said. “We believe it is time for a change. We are pleased to see the steps the team announced today, and we look forward to continued partnership.”
Let’s not mistake any of this for courage on the part of FedEx, Nike, or PepsiCo. Every sponsor of this team signed on to give money to and partner up with them knowing full well that they were helping to perpetuate the continued use of a racial slur. They only took a stand now because of shareholder pressure, just as Snyder only bothered to take George Preston Marshall’s name off a seating level at FedEx Field because of the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement.
It’s not dissimilar from Marshall, the racist who named the team in the first place, only integrating his roster when the federal government threatened to pull his stadium lease if he didn’t. But it’s telling that the team’s sponsors feel that this is a necessary move for them to be able to keep doing business. What it means is that putting pressure on teams and companies works if it can be done in a way that they care about, which is to say, impacting their bottom line.
For Snyder, part of the pressure is that he’d like to get a new stadium built. The city council in Washington has made it clear that he won’t get a dime from them if he doesn’t change the team’s name, and in this political environment, it’s easy to see Maryland and Virginia taking a similar stance.
It absolutely does not mean the organization “gets it,” and you can tell that from the quote attributed to head coach Ron Rivera in the team statement:
“This issue is of personal importance to me and I look forward to working closely with Dan Snyder to make sure we continue the mission of honoring and supporting Native Americans and our Military.”
This is the same Rivera who this week went on the radio in Chicago and said, speaking about the team name for the first time since becoming coach, “I think that’s a discussion for another time. I feel a guy that’s my age, my era, you know, that was always part of football, the name of the Washington [team].”
And to continue the mission of honoring and supporting Native Americans? Yeah, that’s what they’ve been doing for the last 80-plus years, sure. That’s what Marshall was doing by having coach William “Lone Star” Dietz put on a headdress and war paint for home games back in Boston. Okay.
The military? What does the military have to do with any of this? Absolutely nothing, of course, but it sure does sound good and patriotic to reference the armed forces.
But it doesn’t matter. They don’t have to change for the right reasons. They just have to change. And now, for the first time, it seems like they just might.