Washington’s NFL team is facing a new wave of pressure to change its derogatory team name as the franchise’s most recognizable corporate partner, FedEx, confirmed it was pushing team owner Daniel Snyder to change the name. The team has played at FedExField since 1999 in a 27-year $205-million naming-rights deal that runs through 2026. The Fortune 100 company also has a role in the owner’s box; FedEx owner founder and chairman Fred Smith holds a minority stake in the NFL franchise, believed to be in the range of 10 percent.
“We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name,” FedEx said in a statement Thursday. The request represents a new front in the decades-old battle to change the team name that is commonly understood to be a slur against Native Americans where activists are targeting the team’s bottom line through its corporate partners. “The company’s request comes less than a week after a group of more than 85 investment firms and shareholders representing $620 billion in assets called on FedEx, Nike and PepsiCo to sever ties with the team unless Snyder changes its name,” the Washington Post reports. “The sponsors’ investors—whose assets are represented by First Peoples Worldwide, Oneida Nation Trust Enrollment Committee, Trillium Asset Management, Boston Common Asset Management, Boston Trust Walden, Mercy Investment Services and First Affirmative Financial Network—are not threatening to boycott or divest from the companies. Rather, their move represents a campaign to work from within those companies to pressure their respective CEOs to put pressure on Snyder.”
Under Snyder’s ownership, the Washington franchise has been woeful on the field, which has translated into diminishing attendance and fan interest, which could make Snyder more susceptible to corporate financial pressure. The owner is trying to negotiate a new stadium deal to bring the team from the suburbs back into Washington, D.C., but is facing an uphill battle politically as local officials have said they will not consider a new stadium until the team’s name is changed. Snyder has been defiant in the face of years of protests, but corporate pressure appears to be mounting as part of a national reckoning in the form of social and racial justice campaigns growing out of the killing of George Floyd. On Thursday, all of the team’s apparel appeared to have been removed from the Nike website. Nike has not released a statement explaining the move.