Should Some Sports Franchises Change Their Names?

Wednesday, July 8, 2020
fedex field is at the center of nfl team name changes

FedEx Field in Landover, MD. | Pixabay

Addressing NFL Team Name Changes and Systemic Racism

After decades of public outcry led by Native Americans, the controversy over the name of the Washington, D.C., professional football team has reached a tipping point. “We’ll never change the name,” Dan Snyder, the team’s owner said in 2013, “It’s that simple. NEVER—you can use caps.” Read the news summary, watch the video and answer the discussion questions. To read the transcript, click here.

  • However, with recent protests around systemic racism—and major financial pressure—the team is now considering dropping the name. 
  • Several corporate sponsors of the team, such as FedEx, Pepsi and Nike have called publicly for a name change, with Nike going as far as to pull team merchandise from their website.
  • Native American activists like Suzan Shown Harjo have been fighting for teams and schools to change their American Indian mascots and names for years. 
  • Other national sports franchises have formally begun considering changing team names, including the Cleveland Indians.



NFL Team Name Changes: Discussion Questions

  1. Essential question: Why is the subject of changing team names important in reshaping the conversation around race in the U.S.? Do these symbolic changes matter?
  2. Why is the Washington football team name considered racially insensitive?
  3. If the Washington team and NFL officials were not facing potential major financial loss through corporate sponsors pulling out, do you think they would consider changing the name? Explain.
  4. Indian Country Today’s editor Mark Trahant wrote recently:


“There’s a story you’ve probably seen on social media. Maybe you even shared it. It goes like this: The Washington NFL team will likely change its name because big money weighed in, FedEx, Nike, Walmart. So it wasn’t the moral argument. It wasn’t the litigation. And it wasn’t even the voices of tribal leaders, activists and others who have been working on this issue for decades.

That story is wrong.

Suzan Harjo, Hodulgee Muscogee and Cheyenne, and many others who have been leading the fight against the Washington NFL franchise set out a strategy decades ago that included pressuring investors and business partners of the team.”


Why did Trahant write this piece? What problem was he addressing? How could you learn more about the long history of Native American leaders pressuring investors to pull support from professional sports franchises over racially insensitive names?

5. What are some other teams that are considering a name change? Do you think these names should be changed? Why or why not?
6. Media literacy: Whose perspective was missing from this story that you would have liked to hear from?  

NFL Team Name Changes: Extension Activity

  1. Create a new name, mascot and logo for a professional sports’ team that has a racially insensitive name. Perhaps your school or another school near you has a name that you think should be changed. What are some new names that the Washington D.C. football team should adopt? 
  2. Media literacy activity: Be sure to check out news from Native American perspectives, like Indian Country Today, and other stories on the names of sports teams. 
    1. Washington NFL team’s Standing Rock moment (Indian Country Today)
    2. No sign Atlanta Braves are considering name change (AP)
    3. Target pulls merchandise as leaders ask NFL to force name change (Indian Country Today)


Republished with permission from PBS NewsHour Extra.