Published: June 30, 2020

Change the NameFirst Peoples Worldwide and members of the Yethiya wihe’ / Investors & Indigenous Peoples Working Group (IIPWG) have called for NFL sponsors to terminate business with the Washington D.C. franchise if it does not stop using the racial slur “R*dsk*ns” as its name.

Letters, which went to the heads of NIKEPepsiCo, and FedEx on Friday, June 26, encompass nearly 100 signatories, including investor groups and foundations representing more than $620 billion in assets. Part of growing calls for the name change across the U.S. in recent weeks, the initiative builds on decades of advocacy from groups such as IIPWG and the National Congress of American Indians, and recent initiatives by IllumiNative and, among others.

“It is imperative we use every means to call on the change of the racist Washington D.C. team name, whether through shareholder and sponsor advocacy of this kind or through grassroots engagement with the NFL and sports fans,” said First Peoples Director Carla Fredericks. “We cannot tolerate racist depictions of Native people or flagrant appropriation of our likenesses and language. It is dangerous, it is dehumanizing, and it undermines our capacity to thrive as sovereign peoples.”

The letters remark on the “fresh outpouring of opposition to the team name” following Black Lives Matters protests occurring throughout June, and ask companies “to meet the magnitude of this moment, to make their opposition to the racist team name clear, and to take tangible and meaningful steps to exert pressure on the team to cease using it.”

The letters continue:

Since the murder of George Floyd on May 25th, every corner of the country has seen a wave of anger over racial discrimination and violence. Perhaps not since the civil rights era of the 1960s, which led to the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, have citizens spoken with a more clear and compelling demand to end racism and discrimination in all its forms. 

Yet, today, the NFL’s Washington D.C. team still uses a racist name as its mascot. “R*dsk*ns” remains a de-humanizing word characterizing people by skin color and a racial slur with hateful connotations. Virtually every major national American Indian organization has denounced use of Indian and Native related images, names and symbols disparaging or offending American Indian peoples, with over 2,000 academic institutions eliminating 'Indian' sports references.

We need to remember that the franchise name is not just a word, it is a symbol that loudly and clearly signals that Native Americans are not worthy of respect. This bears out in all arenas of life, from the doctor’s office where more than one in five Native Americans report experiencing discrimination in clinical encounters, to the classroom where Native American students reported being bullied because of their race over three times as often as white students.

The letters reference a peer-reviewed 2020 University of Michigan/University of California, Berkeley study that concluded Native American participants significantly oppose the R*dsk*ns team name and the use of Native mascots in general. Noting that over 200 civil rights organizations have called for the name change, the letters also highlight key points from the National Congress of American Indians’ 2018 resolution denouncing the name:

…the use of the R-word as the name and mascot of the Washington National Football League team is offensive and hurtful to American Indian and Alaska Native people and causes direct, harmful effects on the physical and mental health and academic achievement of the American Indian and Alaska Native populations, particularly youth… despite the team’s arguments to the contrary, the R-word is not a term of honor or respect, but rather, a term that still connotes racism and genocide for Native peoples and for all others who know of this history and recognize that it is wrong to characterize people by the color of their skin…

Each of the companies have released statements of solidarity with th racial injustice protests and noted action they have taken to be anti-racist. PepsiCo committed to "the urgent need for racial and social justice," subsequently discontinuing its Aunt Jemima brand. Nike stated “systemic racism and the events that have unfolded across America over the past few weeks serve as an urgent reminder of the continued change needed in our society, and in recent years has stepped back from using the Washington football team name on some products. And FedEx, which holds the naming rights to the Washington D.C. NFL team’s home stadium known as FedExField, said “there is absolutely no place for racism or unequal treatment anywhere, and we must unequivocally speak out and reject it when we see it.”

These are critical first steps, but ultimately moot and fiduciarily irresponsible without commitment to ending the use of a dictionary-defined racist slur as the brand name of the Washington team they sponsor. As history has shown, it is good business for companies to align with human rights and public calls for justice. The cost and material loss to banks and shareholders during DAPL, for example, was more than $12 billion on a $3.8 billion investment, according to First Peoples' case study. 

As the letters conclude, the companies’ association and facilitation of racism inherent in the name and logo are contrary to their sentiments and purported anti-racist allyship. The only way forward if the Washington team does not stop using the name “R*dsk*ns” is to terminate business and public relationships with the franchise.