Last Thursday, the NFL approved Dan Snyder’s sale of the Washington Commanders to a group led by investor Josh Harris. The sale represents the end of Snyder’s often incompetent but always entertaining ownership of one of football’s most historic and embattled franchises.
People in Washington will remember Snyder for having fielded a consistent loser. He contributed to the collapse of Robert Griffin III’s career and squandered what, by any standard, was the most talented coaching staff any NFL team has assembled in two decades.
They will also remember him for caving and changing the franchise’s “Redskins” moniker in 2020. Snyder, a lifelong Redskins fan who bought the team with borrowed cash, told reporters in 2013 that the team would “never change the name” on his watch. “It’s that simple,” he said. “NEVER—you can use caps.”
Polling from the Washington Post consistently showed that Native Americans didn’t mind the “Redskins” name. But Native American advocacy groups had long touted studies purporting to show that Native imagery had a negative effect on children’s self-worth, and their cause to ban Indian mascots had gained momentum with the broader embrace of racial and identity politics on the American left.
In 2020, after a black man died in Minneapolis police custody, an array of progressive forces—media, activists, and corporations—insisted that his death “raised questions” about the appropriate use of Native American imagery in sports, and turned up the pressure on the Cleveland Indians, Chicago Blackhawks, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, and Washington Redskins to change their names.
A group of investors, collectively worth more than $620 billion, pressured the owners of Nike, FedEx, and Pepsi to sever their connections with the Redskins organization in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Nike, the NFL’s uniform and primary retail provider dropped Redskins merchandise from its stores. FedEx threatened to pull its name from Washington’s stadium if Snyder didn’t change the name.
Snyder, sensing the costs of standing his ground, capitulated. He determined the club would be called the “Washington Football Team” until a new name was agreed upon. In 2022, the team settled on “Commanders” as its new nickname.
An ESPN reporter told Rich Eisen there is a “pretty good chance” the new ownership will change Washington’s team’s name again. ’Skins fans may not be able to get two decades of bad football back, but reinstalling their old name would be a bit of poetic justice.