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FedEx Asks DC’s Football Team to Change Its Name

Could this mark the turning point in a long battle?

Photo via iStock.

FedEx, which has a close relationship with Washington’s NFL team, is calling on owner Daniel Snyder to change the name. The team’s stadium, in Landover, is named FedEx Field, which the company paid $205 million for in a 1999 deal that expires five years from now. FedEx’s chairman, CEO, and president, Frederick Smith, is a minority owner.

FedEx made the request in a one-sentence statement, according to the Washington Post: “We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name.” Notably, the statement itself does not mention the team’s name, which is a slur used to refer to Native Americans. The move follows a letter signed by investors and shareholders urging several companies—including FedEx, PepsiCo, and Nike—to end ties with the team if it didn’t adopt a different moniker.

The team’s name has been a subject of controversy for years, even as the franchise did business with major corporations. Over the years, activists have employed a variety of legal tactics, publicity efforts, and economic campaigns in a thus-far-futile effort to change the name, which dates back to the franchise’s origins in Boston in 1933. In 2014, as a Native American group broadcast national TV ads against the name, the US Patent and Trademark Office canceled the team’s trademark registration on the grounds that racially disparaging terms may not be trademarked. That same year, some 50 members of the US Senate signed a letter urging Snyder to drop the moniker.

The efforts largely fizzled, though. Snyder once told USA Today that “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.” During the Trump years, the furor over the name spent much less time on the front pages.

But with governments and institutions now rethinking their positions on names and symbols that are considered problematic—Mississippi recently removed the Confederate flag from its state flag and Princeton dropped Woodrow Wilson’s name from one of its schools—pressure has been mounting on DC’s NFL team to reconsider.

Ironically, the delay may have robbed Snyder, one of the NFL’s less-popular owners, of a chance to win some good publicity. Over the years, the name has been a recurring source of embarrassment, as in the case of a 2015 “Happy Thanksgiving” tweet that went viral. Yet it also created an environment where the media narrative might have switched strongly in Snyder’s favor if he were to be seen making a proactive stance against bigotry. Now, though, after a month of national reckoning over racism—and a week of corporate pressure—an immediate name change is likely to look more like a surrender to the inevitable.

 

 

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Politics and Culture Editor

A DC native, Rob Brunner moved back to the city in 2017 to join Washingtonian. Previously, he was an editor and writer at Fast Company and other publications. He has also written for the New York Times Magazine, New York, and Rolling Stone, among others. He lives with his family in Chevy Chase DC.