Washington (AFP) - The Washington Redskins have launched a "thorough review" of the team's name, the NFL franchise said Friday, as sponsors stepped up pressure to scrap the moniker long criticized as racist.
"In light of recent events around our country and feedback from our community, the Washington Redskins are announcing the team will undergo a thorough review of the team's name," the team said in a statement just 24 hours after stadium sponsor FedEx demanded a name change.
"This review formalizes the initial discussions the team has been having with the league in recent weeks."
Redskins owner Dan Snyder had long been resistant to changing the team's name -- a term for Native Americans that is seen as a slur.
"We'll never change the name," Snyder said in 2018. "It's that simple. NEVER -- you can use caps."
However, nationwide protests over racial injustice -- sparked by the death of unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of police on May 25 -- have brought the Redskins tag under renewed scrutiny.
On Thursday, US delivery giant FedEx Corp -- which paid $205 million to the Redskins in 1998 for the naming rights to the team's suburban stadium -- confirmed it had sought a change.
"We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name," FedEx said in a one-sentence statement.
Reports this week said that FedEx, Nike and PepsiCo all received letters from 87 investment firms asking the companies and others to sever ties with the Redskins over the name.
Nike did not immediately make a public statement, but the sporting goods giant removed Redskins merchandise from its online store on Thursday.
Food and beverage corporation PepsiCo said in a statement Friday the company had been in conversation with the league and Washington management "for a few weeks" about the issue.
"We believe it is time for a change," the company said.
- 'The R-word' -
Later Friday, Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians announced they will "determine the best path forward" regarding their nickname.
The corporate pressure on the Redskins was welcomed by Change the Mascot, a coalition of Native American groups that has campaigned to get rid of the nickname.
"Change the Mascot praises FedEx and fully supports its historic request for Washington's NFL team to stop using the R-word racial slur as its name and mascot," coalition leader Ray Halbritter said.
Another sticking point for the Redskins -- Snyder has long hoped to move the team back to the site of its former stadium within Washington proper.
Officials say a name change is needed for that to happen.
"It's an obstacle for us locally, but it's also an obstacle for the federal government who leases the land to us," Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said last month of the Redskins name.
This week, her deputy John Falcicchio was more categorical, telling The Washington Post: "There is no viable path, locally or federally, for the Washington football team to return to Washington, DC, without first changing the team name."
Snyder said Friday the team planned to canvass opinion from across the community in its name change review.
"This process allows the team to take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise but also input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the NFL and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field," Snyder said.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell welcomed the move.
"In the last few weeks we have had ongoing discussions with Dan and we are supportive of this important step," Goodell said in a statement.
While some hardcore Washington fans have previously joined with Snyder in resisting a name change, a smattering of people jogging and exercising near FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, voiced support for the move.
"Just like black people stood up, I feel like Native Americans, they should have the same rights to do the same," said Chuky Torley.
The team has already responded to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement by removing a monument to former owner George Preston Marshall, the last NFL team owner to resist signing black players.
"I think with the way times are going on right now, I think it'd be smart to change the name to respect the people who are offended by it," said local resident Kyle Jones.