What’s in a name? For a professional sports franchise, a great deal. That’s part of what makes the Washington Redskins’ long overdue rebranding so significant. After years of willful ignorance, Dan Snyder finally accepted that it’s unacceptable to use an ethnic slur as the cornerstone of a brand.
Washington might not be the only team making significant changes. With the Redskins moniker a thing of the past, it’s time to consider some other franchises across the North American sporting landscape.
The Washington Redskins are officially a thing of the past
For most NFL fans, the Washington Redskins have simply always existed. When the franchise was founded, however, the team actually went by a different name.
In 1932, the club began life as the Boston Braves. After a year of operation, however, they decided to rebrand; to avoid confusion with the Boston Braves baseball team, the football team became the Redskins. When they moved south to Washington D.C. in 1937, the name stuck.
As times and sensibilities changed, however, the issue with that identity became apparent. For the most part, American sports teams are named after animals or objects representing their region, or embodying a desirable characteristic. The Washington football team, however, was reducing Native Americans as to a cartoon mascot on their helmet.
While public pressure had been mounting for several years, current events finally pushed things over the line. Washington owner Dan Snyder had previously pledged to never change the team’s name, financial considerations finally forced his hand. Once companies like Amazon, Nike, and Fed-Ex started throwing their weight around, the Redskins name was officially retired.
The Cleveland Indians could follow in Washington’s footsteps
While the Washington NFL franchise hasn’t officially announced their new identity, the Redskins name has been consigned to the history books. In Major League Baseball, the Cleveland Indians could be joining them.
If we’ve finally come to accept that calling a team “the Redskins” is unacceptable, then the Indians’ issues are equally clear. Setting aside the question of nomenclature—the term Indian is at a minimum, inaccurate, if not offensive—no team should reduce a group of people to a mascot.
Cleveland has already stopped using their infamous Chief Wahoo logo, which showed a smiling, bright red, cartoon Native American, and recently announced that they would “determine the best path forward regarding [their] team name.” While that statement could be an empty gesture hoping to placate the public, it’s hard to imagine Cleveland refusing to change when Washington has already swallowed their pride and done the right thing.
More changes, beyond team names, could be on the horizon
Even if your favorite franchise doesn’t change its name, things might be different the next time you return to the stadium. The ‘tomahawk chop,’ for example, might be a thing of the past.
As explained by CNN, the Atlanta Braves have no intention of changing their name, but they are willing to reconsider their relationship with the controversial chant. Deion Sanders brought the tradition to Atlanta from his time at Florida State, and fans have been performing it ever since.
In the NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs fans also perform the tomahawk chop. While the franchise hasn’t specifically discussed eliminating the chant—team president Mark Donovan once told the Kansas City Star that it’s part of the game-day experience—they also told the New York Times that the Chiefs organization was “working with Native Americans ‘to create awareness and understanding, as well as celebrate the rich traditions of multiple tribes with a historic connection to our region.”
While opinions on the chop are more divided than names like the Redskins and Indians—as spelled out by the Times, some view the chant as meaningless, since it’s not appropriating a genuine Native American practice, while others believe it contributes to a negative stereotype—recent events have prompted sports fans to consider what behaviors are and are not acceptable.
After years of stubbornness, the Washington Redskins finally gave in and retired their name. While they were the first franchise to make major changes, they probably won’t be the last.