The Current

Washington NFL team name change shows you can combat racism by making it 'unprofitable': Jesse Wente

Washington's pro football team is retiring its name and logo following decades of criticism from Native Americans and recent pressure from corporate sponsors.

Team officially drops name after decades of criticism from Native Americans

Jesse Wente, director of the national Indigenous Screen Office, says logos and nicknames like the one just dropped by the Washington NFL team 'are all about dehumanization and degradation.'

Read story transcript

The Washington NFL team's decision to drop its "Redskins" name and logo shows that you can challenge racism by making it "unprofitable," says Ojibwe broadcaster Jesse Wente.

"We're seeing syrup companies and rice companies and other companies stop these brands, and they've been brands for decades, generations," said Wente, executive director of the Indigenous Screen Office, an organization that advocates for Indigenous creators, workers and content in the screen-based industry.

He told The Current's guest host Nahlah Ayed that they've been offensive for that entire time.

"It's only now that the consequences for being that offensive, and [because of] the perception that these are offensive by a broader-based people, that we're seeing this change."

The franchise announced Monday it is dropping the name and logo, bowing to recent pressure from sponsors and decades of criticism that they are offensive to Native Americans. A new name has not been announced, but Redtails, Redwolves or Redhawks is thought to be under consideration.

WATCH | Washington NFL team to change name after pressure from sponsors:

Washington NFL team to change name after pressure from sponsors

The National

9 months ago
Washington’s NFL team has announced it will drop the Redskins name after decades of complaints it was racist and growing pressure from sponsors. 2:08

The move comes in the wake of global protests against racial inequality, sparked by the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died with an arresting officer kneeling on his neck in Minneapolis on May 25.

"It's in these moments that it actually becomes unprofitable or too costly to maintain that racism," said Wente, adding that "it's sad that we can't have these arguments on human terms."

"These logos are all about dehumanization and degradation — it's sad that we can't actually appeal to better conscience to have this change made."

Name change campaign goes back decades

Carla Fredericks, director of First Peoples Worldwide, said the campaign to change the name dates back decades but that her organization  "struck while the iron was hot." First Peoples Worldwide uses corporate engagement strategies to improve conditions for Indigenous people and build a sustainable future.

"FedEx, Nike, PepsiCo, all issued very strong statements on racial justice in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in late June," said Fredericks, who is also director of the American Indian Law Clinic at the University of Colorado Law School.  

I do think that that is really a small faction of people at this point, which is why the corporate pressure has been so successful.- Carla Fredericks, of First Peoples Worldwide

"And it seemed egregious to us that we'd been engaging with them for years on the Washington football team name with really little success."

The organization worked with investors in companies that sponsor the Washington team, drafting letters that said they expected stated commitments to racial justice to also apply to Native Americans.

Those sponsors, including FedEx, Nike, Pepsi and Bank of America, in turn asked the franchise to change the nickname and logo.

Responding to societal pressure

Fredericks said that opposition to the name change is "really about people wanting to feel secure in their own racism." 

"I do think that that is really a small faction of people at this point, which is why the corporate pressure has been so successful," she told Ayed.

"The corporate pressure is really just responding to the societal pressure."

"So although these are institutions that are part of this capitalist structure, it's also bizarrely democratic in a way that some of our political and legal institutions are not."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Emily Rendell-Watson and Alison Masemann.

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