On Wednesday, it was reported that investment firms and shareholders worth a collective $620 billion have asked Nike, FedEx and PepsiCo to terminate their business relationships with the Washington Redskins unless the team agrees to change its name.
The news came in the midst of an increase in pushback toward the franchise as demand for racial justice swells across the country. Early Thursday, former Redskins running back and current NBC Sports Washington analyst Brian Mitchell spoke with Richard Graves of Sky Sports News about the issue. Mitchell stated that he believes change is going to come.
"Eventually, the way things seem to be rolling now, it's inevitable," Mitchell said.
Since his statements, the issue has only escalated. FedEx, which holds the naming rights to the Redskins stadium, released a statement saying “We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name." Others around the sports world have also commented on the issue, and Nike has removed all Redskins merchandise from its site.
Amid the ever-growing movement, recent actions have only confirmed Mitchell's beliefs, rather than surprised him.
The main reason he believes this is the normal course is due to the major brands that are now involved. To Mitchell, wealth has become a determining factor in what changes get made in America.
“Nothing happens in our country unless someone’s money is affected," Mitchell told NBC Sports Washington. "When you see that start to happen, then you see things start to happen. I think immediately when I started hearing that thing I felt that somebody was going to say something.”
However, FedEx being the first to speak out was something Mitchell didn't fully expect to see so quickly. Not only because the company sponsors the Redskins stadium, and holds a deal with them through 2025, but because FedEx President and CEO Frederick Smith owns a minority stake in the Redskins.
That decision by a brand so intertwined with the team for years is what has Mitchell thinking things are only beginning.
“I think when you see things like that, you have to believe that something is moving now in the direction that we think it would be moving," Mitchell said. “If they’re starting to stay stuff, if they felt the pressure to say something, I have to believe that somebody else will feel the pressure as well.”
While companies speaking out is a start, others with power will ultimately control the decision. Namely, Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who has been outspoken in the past that the name is not something that is going to be changed, pointing to the long history of the franchise. Mitchell understands that point of view, but also feels that the name isn't what should represent the success.
He brings up a question he's asked time and time again surrounding the debate over the name.
“Do you cheer for the name or for the overall franchise, or do you cheer for players, cheer for the pride and all that type of things?" Mitchell said.
“Last time I saw people buying jerseys, I saw people buying jerseys with people's last names on the back of the jersey," Mitchell said. "Normally, what's on the back of the jersey is what people represent.”
In the end, that's what Mitchell believes it comes down to. Changing the name is not about tarnishing the legacy of the players and teams that have passed through Washington, but rather showing acceptance to those who are offended by the term.
Like in the past, life changes. As people grow and learn, holding on to the way things were in the past isn't what Mitchell believes to be right.
“Everybody wasn’t offended. But guess what? Those words left. You stopped using those words," Mitchell said “If something is offensive, we have to get to the point where we think of that all the same. In this life, things change, whether we want it or not sometimes. But I’ve always been told by my coaches when I played sports, you have to adjust. I think the same thing has to happen in life.”
So, how exactly will this change come about? For Mitchell, who has dealt with this discussion since he joined the team in 1990, the same formula he preached back then needs to be enacted now. People need to come together with an open mind and a willingness to communicate, something he's seen the country struggle with constantly.
“I said then that what needs to happen is you need to have adults to sit down, and have a conversation. An educated, mature conversation, and then come up with a decision," Mitchell said. “You don’t go into the decision with a closed mind. You don’t go into a conversation with a closed mind. If you go into it with an open mind and just listen.”
No matter what comes in the future, Mitchell has seen enough to know the current state won't remain the same. As he said earlier in the day, there's no avoiding what is to come.
“It seems to be inevitable that something is going to happen," Mitchell said.
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