NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly talks with Kevin Blackistone, a sports commentator and a professor at the University of Maryland, about the Washington NFL team announcing Friday that it will review its name.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
For more than 80 years, the professional football team based here in Washington has gone by the name of a racial slur – the Redskins. Today, after decades of criticism, the team has announced it will officially review the names, citing, quote, “recent events around our country and feedback from our community.” Well, I’m joined now by Kevin Blackistone, sports commentator and professor at the University of Maryland. Hey, Kevin.
KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Hey. How you doing?
KELLY: I am all right. Thank you. So, I mean, I assume this is a first step towards a name change. They’re going to do a review. How would that work? Who controls an NFL team name?
BLACKISTONE: Well, officially, the owner of the team controls the name. But the NFL team is a franchisee of the National Football League. And so there are 31 other owners, and obviously there’s the commissioner, Roger Goodell, who works at the behest of those owners. And so if there is something as untoward as this, as there has been for – we’ve been aware of now for many, many years, I think that the league can bring some pressure to bear upon one owner.
KELLY: Worth noting that the owner in this case is Dan Snyder, who has said in past…
KELLY: …We’re never going to change the name. He said, never. You can put it in all caps – never, never, never. However, speaking of pressure, this time around there is pressure from big corporate sponsors, FedEx and others. How much weight will that carry?
BLACKISTONE: Right. That’s going to carry a tremendous amount of weight. We’ve never seen it like this before. We’ve had pressure from the legal system in terms of trademark rulings, which native folks led by Suzan Shown Harjo and Amanda Blackhorse have never lost. But we’ve never seen the corporate community join forces here.
Now, we must point out this is no altruistic move on their part. This is the pendulum swinging from the Black Lives Matter movement in this country in the wake of George Floyd’s murder that has smashed Confederate monuments, knocked the Confederate flag off the Mississippi state capital and also toppled Christopher Columbus statues in a few cities across this country. So this is a reaction to that movement, and now they’re staring squarely at the face of the franchise which has arguably – easily the most egregious nickname of a sports team in this country.
KELLY: Given how fast and how hard that pendulum has swung, do you think there’s any chance that we’re not looking at a name change here?
BLACKISTONE: I don’t think. I don’t think so at all. I think that Dan Snyder has put himself in a corner not unlike that that Donald Sterling, the longtime owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, found himself with the NBA after it was revealed that he spat some racist language to one of his mistresses. And I think that’s where Dan Snyder is right now. Dan Snyder had a chance. He had a chance to rectify this. When he bought the team, he could’ve change the name. Back in 2014, when another trademark ruling was made in favor of Native Americans, he could have changed the name. But for whatever reasons, he decided to dig in his heels, not unlike a previous owner of this team who is infamous, George Preston Marshall, who refused to integrate this team and kept it as the last all-white team in the NFL. And we’ve seen what has happened to his memory in this city in the past few weeks when his monument at old RFK Stadium was toppled and eventually removed.
KELLY: That is sports columnist Kevin Blackistone. Thanks so much for your time. Happy Fourth of July.
BLACKISTONE: Same to you.
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