Could the 49ers already have played their last game against the current iteration of the Washington NFL team?
Washington said in a statement Friday morning that the "team will undergo a thorough review" of using the R-word as the team's name, following years of criticism and mounting corporate pressure over the Daniel Snyder-owned team's use of a racist slur towards Native Americans and Indigenous people.
"In light of recent events around our country and feedback from our community, [we] are announcing the team will undergo a thorough review of the team's name," the press release read. "This review formalizes the internal discussions the team has been having with the league in recent weeks."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement that the league is "supportive of this important step," and it reportedly isn't the only one. NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, citing "conversations with several sources," reported that the team is likely to change its name. A source told The Washington Post's Mark Maske that the team is "expected" to change the name.
The 49ers are scheduled to play Washington on Dec. 13 at Levi's Stadium, after beating the team 9-0 last season. It's possible, then, that the Oct. 20, 2019 game is the last time the 49ers played Washington under its racist moniker. How long it will take the franchise to change its name, logos and uniforms remain to be seen.
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Washington has been criticized for years for using the R-word, even facing legal challenges last decade aiming to change it. Washington's use of the R-word has faced renewed scrutiny since George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody on Memorial Day, amid a nationwide grappling with systemic racism and inequality. A social-media campaign led by the nonprofit IllumiNative began circulating in recent weeks, while First Peoples Worldwide and the Investors & Indigenous Peoples Working Group sent letters last week signed by firms and investor groups worth over $600 billion calling on Nike, FedEx and PepsiCo to end their business relationships with Washington if the team name did not change.
FedEx, whose chief executive owns a minority stake in the team, requested the team change its name earlier this week. On Thursday, Nike removed all of the team's merchandise from its site. Nike is the NFL's official uniform supplier, while FedEx holds naming rights to the field in Maryland where the team plays.
Washington has used the R-word as its name since 1933, back when the team played in Boston under George Preston Marshall's ownership. The team said in court filings that Marshall named the franchise to honor William Henry "Lone Star" Dietz, the franchise's first head coach. Dietz claimed he was part-Sioux but historians have called his origins into question, finding that Dietz assumed the identity of a missing Sioux man named James One Star. He pleaded no contest in 1920 to charges he used his purported heritage to claim a draft exemption for World War I.
Marshall, a notorious racist, was the last NFL owner to integrate his team and only did so after the proposition his franchise couldn't play in a stadium on federally-owned land otherwise. A statue honoring him outside of RFK Stadium, where Washington used to play, was removed earlier this month. The team also removed Marshall from its ring of honor and a wall outside the team's locker room at its practice facility.
Defenders of the team's name, including the team itself, have long cited historical research indicating the R-word was used as a self-identifier among Indigenous people. A 2013 NPR investigation found that the word "began to take on a negative, increasingly violent connotation" in the 19th century, as sports teams increasingly began using Native imagery and iconography, but Washington consistently stood by its use of the R-word.
Snyder told USA Today in 2013 that he "would never change the name." Never appears to be now.