Sports Pulse: Mackenzie Salmon reports on how Washington is finally changing their NFL team name after financial pressure from sponsors. USA TODAY
Do not mistake cold, hard calculation for courage.
Washington’s team formerly known as a racial slur announced Monday that it will drop its nickname and logo. It was a stunning move, given owner Daniel Snyder’s insistence that he would “never” bow to calls to change a name offensive to Native Americans – I guess never doesn’t last as long as it used to – and comes as the nation reckons with the systemic racism that permeates every facet of our society.
But this was not the result of Snyder having some personal awakening or humbly acknowledging that he now understands what people have been trying to tell him for the better part of a decade. That was clear from that middle finger of a press release, with the team using the slur twice more while it still had the chance.
No, this was about money. Lots of it.
FedEx, which paid $205 million for a 25-year naming-rights deal in 1999, threatened to take its name off the stadium unless the name was changed. Nike pulled team merchandise from its website, making Washington the only team whose gear wasn’t available online. Pepsi expressed its disapproval.
The message was clear: Either change the name, or Snyder and his team would be a corporate pariah.
What Snyder doesn’t understand, but his corporate partners do, is that clinging to racism and bigotry is a losing proposition. America is expected to become a majority-minority country within the next 25 years, and the anguish and outrage that have followed the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others has only accelerated the recognition that our racial inequity is not tenable.
There is still plenty of work to be done. But the view from history is already clear, and companies like FedEx, Nike and Pepsi have made it clear they don’t want to be on the wrong side of it.
Which brings us back to Snyder. He has been defiant in his resistance to changing the nickname, claiming it “honored” Native Americans and cherry-picking polls and surveys to bolster his position. He even created a foundation that was supposed to “provide genuine opportunities for Tribal communities.”
No surprise, it’s turned out to be a window-dressing sham.
Snyder grew up going to Washington games with his father, back in the glory days of the team, so the nickname and the logo hold sentimental value to him. He’s also, if not the most, one of the most arrogant owners in the NFL – no small feat when Jerry Jones, Stan Kroenke and Dean Spanos are in the room – and he refused to even consider he might be wrong.
But this goes beyond a difference of opinion or interpretation. Washington’s nickname was chosen by George Preston Marshall, the team’s founder and an avowed racist. The word stems, at least in part, from a bounty the government put on the lives of Native Americans.
Think about that. Snyder was hellbent on clinging to a name once used to encourage the extermination of a group of people. I don’t care how fond your memories of games with your father are, in no way is that appropriate. In no way is it defensible.
Making all of this worse is that Snyder is going to benefit greatly from a change he was forced into making. Washington fans will snatch up gear with the team’s new logo and nickname, and corporations will no doubt want to partner with the “progressive” Washington team. Snyder might even get that new stadium he wants in the District, too.
The change is the right move, and way overdue. Generations to come will wonder how nicknames like Washington’s were condoned for so long.
But do not mistake this for a triumph of character or decency. Snyder has shown over the years that he has neither, and a new name and logo won’t change that.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.