George Preston Marshall, the original owner of the N.F.L. team in Washington that was the last franchise to integrate its roster, will have his name removed from the team’s stadium and website.
The decision comes amid pressure on the team to acknowledge Marshall’s resistance to signing and drafting African-American players and his decision in 1933 to name the team the Redskins, which some Native Americans and others consider a racist term.
On Wednesday, Marshall’s name was removed from the Ring of Fame inside FedEx Field, the team’s stadium in Landover, Md. The team said it would rename the lower bowl of the venue for Bobby Mitchell, the franchise’s first African-American star player. Earlier in the week, Marshall was removed from the team’s “history wall” at its training facility in Ashburn, Va., and the team began “deleting him from all aspects of our website,” according to Sean DeBarbieri, a team spokesman.
The moves come less than a week after a memorial of Marshall, which had stood in front of R.F.K. Stadium, the team’s former home, was removed by a city agency after being defaced.
Amid nationwide protests against police brutality and systematic racism, statues and monuments of figures with racist pasts are being criticized, re-examined and sometimes removed. Sports teams, too, have reassessed their monuments, logos and honoring of past owners.
Outside Target Field in Minneapolis, home of the Minnesota Twins, a statue was removed last week of the team’s former owner Calvin Griffith, who had publicly made racist statements about black people in 1978 after moving the team there from Washington, D.C. The Texas Rangers, after consideration this week, said they have no plans to change their name or sever ties to the law enforcement agency with the same name, despite its history of violence toward Hispanic, Native American and black people.
In recent years, dozens of teams have dropped names and logos that referred to Native Americans, most notably the Cleveland Indians, which dropped its Chief Wahoo logo in 2018. This year’s Super Bowl brought new scrutiny to the so-called tomahawk chop used by the Kansas City Chiefs to celebrate. The team said it would work with Native Americans “to create awareness and understanding, as well as celebrate the rich traditions of multiple tribes with a historic connection to our region.”
The controversy over the Redskins’ name is perhaps the most fraught in American sports, yet the team’s current owner, Dan Snyder, has for years resisted calls to change it, arguing that the name represents tradition and is a term of respect. Though some Native American groups oppose the name, many fans of the team still support it.
“We’ll never change the name,” Snyder told USA Today in 2013. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
In 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, part of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, stripped the team of federal protections for six of its trademarks. The decision was largely symbolic because the team could still use its name and enforce its trademarks, using common-law rights.
But in 2017, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the government may not deny a trademark registration for potentially offensive names. Snyder celebrated the decision, which centered on an Asian-American band called the Slants that had lost its trademark protection.
The N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has said he grew up rooting for the team, defended Snyder in the past. An N.F.L. spokesman did not return a request for comment on whether the league still maintains that support.
But calls for the N.F.L. to remove the name have grown in recent weeks amid heightened scrutiny of racism in American society. This month, Goodell, in a mea culpa, admitted that the league had not listened to players who protested social injustice and police brutality against African-American people.
A nonprofit group called IllumiNative, whose stated goal is to challenge stereotypes about Native Nations, has urged Snyder to change the team’s name. Some political leaders in Washington have also pushed for a change in recent weeks. “I think it’s past time for the team to deal with what offends so many people,” Mayor Muriel E. Bowser of Washington said.
City officials have said that until the name is changed they will not agree to the team building a new stadium and headquarters inside the city, where land is owned by the federal government and leased to the District. Snyder has been looking to replace FedEx Field, where the team has played since 1997.
The removal of Marshall’s name and image from the team’s stadium and its website may be a way to soothe critics pushing for the team to re-examine its history. Marshall bought the Boston Braves in 1932 and renamed the team the “Redskins” the following year. He moved the team to Washington in 1937 and was the last franchise owner in the league to sign a black player, doing so in 1962 only after the federal government threatened to revoke the team’s lease on its stadium. That change came a decade and a half after other N.F.L. teams began signing and drafting black players.
Despite the fight over the team’s name, the Redskins remain one of the most valuable franchises in sports. The team was worth $3.4 billion last year, up 10 percent from 2018, according to Forbes, and its value has continued to rise though it has won only one playoff game and two division titles in the past two decades.
Still, sports marketing experts say that Snyder now has a rare opportunity to embrace criticism while also making money by renaming the team, selling new merchandise and potentially attracting new fans and sponsors.
“The Redskins are on an island and the glaciers are melting,” said Paul Swangard, who teaches sports brand strategy at the University of Oregon. “But there are only a handful of teams across the pro sports landscape that find themselves with a financial opportunity but also the opportunity to do the right thing. So why not marry those two?”