Snyder’s shift from total resistance to grudging acceptance in just a few weeks has been remarkably swift in a league that often moves forward deliberately, if at all. But after the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody in late May, businesses of all kinds have come under pressure to increase diversity and change policies to emphasize antiracism.
At the end of June, some of the team’s biggest sponsors, including FedEx, Nike and Pepsi, received letters from investors who called on the companies to cut their ties with the team. On July 2, FedEx, which pays about $8 million a year to have its name on the team’s stadium in Landover, Md., told the Redskins in a letter that if the team did not change its name it would ask that its name be taken off the stadium at the end of the coming season.
The next day, July 3, the team said a change was likely to be forthcoming, when it began a “thorough review of the team’s name,” after weeks of discussions with the N.F.L. Nike stopped selling the team’s gear, and Walmart, Target and Amazon — some of the country’s largest retailers — said they would stop selling Washington’s merchandise on their websites.
The boycott came after decades of pressure on the team to change the name, which many people (and some dictionaries) consider to be offensive. In 1992, Native American activists began a campaign to compel the United States Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the team’s “redskin” trademark, a legal battle that the Supreme Court ended in 2017, finding that even potentially disparaging trademarks are protected by the First Amendment.
In 2014, 50 U.S. senators sent a letter to the N.F.L. urging the league to step in. And across the country, waves of universities and schools abandoned mascots and sports team names with Native American symbols.
But more than 2,200 high schools still use Native American imagery in their names or mascots, according to a database of mascot names.
All the while Snyder, who purchased the Washington team in 1999, remained steadfast. “We will never change the name of the team,” he said in 2013, a stance he maintained even in the face of pushback from activists, politicians and some fans.