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Redskins Bow to WaPo and Woke Capital

Corporate pressure and negative press have forced a review of the franchise's longtime name and mascot.

The Washington Redskins on July 3rd announced that they would “undergo a thorough review of the team’s name,” in light of “recent events around our country and feedback from our community.” This move, noted the Washington Post, represents a dramatic reversal on something team owner Daniel Snyder “once vowed was unthinkable: changing their controversial name.”

Indeed, Snyder told USA Today in 2013: “We’ll never change the name … It’s that simple. NEVER—you can use caps.” Analysts are already noting that it is not a matter of “if,” but “when” the once-fabled franchise—marred by almost three decades of lackluster play—will change its name. What would cause such a dramatic shift? Woke capitalism, spurred on by the tremendous, unrelenting pressure of left-leaning mainstream media.

FedEx, a major sponsor of the Redskins which paid $205 million to have its name attached to the team’s home stadium in the D.C. suburb of Landover, Maryland, on 2 July asked the NFL team to change its name, in response to rising pressure from investors “who oppose the name’s racist connotations.” A spokesman for FedEx, theRedskins’ most important corporate partner, told CNBC: “We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name.” Earlier in the week, more than 85 investors publicly pushed corporate sponsors Nike, FedEx, and Pepsi to sever relationships with the team. Nike promptly stopped selling products with the Redskins logo.

The recent background to this controversy is curious. In 2016, a Washington Post poll of 504 people across every state and the District of Columbia found that nine in 10 Native Americans were not offended by the Washington Redskins’ name. The results were “consistent regardless of age, income, education, political party or proximity to reservations.” The survey, WaPo acknowledged, revealed that Native Americans’ opinions had “remained unchanged since a 2004 poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found the same result.” A subsequent 2019 WaPo poll further confirmed the indifference of the majority of Native Americans towards the Redskins’ name.

No matter. WaPo decided to double down on their campaign to replace the team’s moniker. Indeed, the paper in 2014 had already announced their refusal to call the team by its name—Sports section excluded. Before and after that fateful poll, WaPo featured more than a hundred pieces demanding the team alter its “shameful name.” These included editorials by the board, articles by style columnists Theresa Vargas and Paul Farhi, and sports columns by Sally Jenkins, Jerry Brewer, Barry Svrugla, and Dan Steinberg, among others. 

It appears this relentless prodding—both by WaPo and many other media outlets—had an effect. A survey of more than 1,000 Native Americans earlier this year by academics at the University of Michigan and UC Berkeley found that “roughly half of the participants said they were offended by the Redskins’ name.” Undoubtedly the media coverage—coupled with a national anti-Redskins movement that includes some indigenous groups, the American Psychological Association, and federal patent officials—also influenced corporate executives to petition the team. Many businesses are ever-eager to burnish their woke credentials. 

One wonders: if the Washington Post and corporate America had devoted this much energy to issues more immediately relevant to Native Americans—say, disportionate levels of poverty, poor education, or violence against women—what impact might they have had? Perhaps they could have encouraged us to care about the plight of indigenous peoples beyond token gestures like changing the name of a football team. 

The centrality of WaPo and FedEx to the outrage reveals the most important issue at play here—and, speaking as a fan who attended their November 1991 thrashing of the Atlanta Falcons during their last Super Bowl season, it’s not whether or not the team needs a new mascot. Rather, it is the ability of a vocal and zealous progressive media, allied with woke capitalists who foresee a branding victory in fighting “bigotry” and “racism,” to relentlessly bully anyone who gets in their crosshairs. The 2016 poll could have been an opportunity for WaPo and others to shrug their shoulders, admit that they had concocted an unnecessary controversy, and moved on to other more pressing matters. Instead they redoubled their efforts with the goal of persuading the unoffended that they should, and must, be offended. Tell Americans something or someone is bigoted enough times, and after a while, the tide will turn. The movement’s success was inevitable amid the rising anti-bigotry chorus of the past few months.

The alliance of progressive media and woke capitalism has seen some impressive victories. Toppling statues and changing sports names is one thing. An aggressive 2017 corporate assault on North Carolina’s “Bathroom Bill”—which could have caused more than $3 billion in lost revenue— brought the state to heel. And there’s the rub: many of the same activists protesting the Redskins also deem the beliefs of Christian institutions (schools, hospitals, etc.) to be just as worthy of public censure. A prominent candidate in the Democratic presidential primary urged removing tax exemption for religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage. Various states and municipalities have successfully shut down religious-based adoption agencies because of their beliefs about sexuality. Progressives increasingly attack religious schools for the same reasons. More of the same, and worse, is undoubtedly on the horizon.

Labeling a group or organization as bigoted, pursuing an incessant campaign to delegitimize and demonetize them, and invoking outrage among both woke activists and the general public appears to be an incredibly successful strategy. “Two people familiar with discussions among Snyder, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and league officials that led to Friday’s announcement said the review is expected to result in a new team name and mascot,” the Washington Post reports. Renaming the Redskins, this lifelong fan begrudgingly admits, is fairly inconsequential—though I hope they do better than the 1997 rebranding of the city’s basketball team from Bullets to Wizards (did no one tell them the latter is used to designate the leader of the KKK?). But the tactics employed to bring about this change have been, and undoubtedly will continue to be directed against far more substantial targets than professional sports teams.

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