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Week In Sports: Washington Football Team Agrees To Review Controversial Name

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Washington, D.C.'s football team might soon get a new name that I'll even say on the air; Cleveland's baseball team reassessing, too, as more moments of reckoning in sports this week. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Scott. Happy Fourth.

SIMON: And happy Fourth to you, my friend. The Benjamins seem to be aligning against the longtime name of Washington's football team. FedEx has naming rights in the field, wants the name changed. The name is widely considered a racial slur. Nike won't sell the team's apparel in its online store. So is sponsor pressure succeeding where mere calls for human respect didn't?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. You know, it seems to be the case considering individuals and groups have tried the morality human respect route for decades, saying they were deeply offended by the Washington Redskins. But owners, from Jack Kent Cooke in the 1980s to current owner Daniel Snyder, didn't budge. So, yeah, not surprisingly, money talks. FedEx calling for change in particular, that's big. It's the sponsor most closely tied to the team. And this seems to have pushed Washington farther than it's ever gone with its announcement yesterday that it will conduct a thorough review of the team's name.

SIMON: Right. Well, 70 years hasn't been enough. Cleveland's baseball team issued a similar statement yesterday. And, of course, they've already gotten rid of their mascot.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, right. You know, we haven't heard if there's the same sponsor pressures there is - versus Washington, but, you know, they've been the Cleveland Indians for more than a century but said in a statement we are committed to making a positive impact in our community, embrace our responsibility to advance social justice and equality.

SIMON: Teams do change their name, I mean, even gives them new merchandising opportunities. Stanford changed its name to the Cardinal. Their former name was offensive to Native Americans. The Washington Bullets basketball team changed their name in 1997...

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: ...Because it was not a good name in a time of so much gun violence.

GOLDMAN: Right.

SIMON: Why is this so hard for some franchises?

GOLDMAN: Good question. You know, as Cleveland said in its statement, the team name is among the most visible ways in which we connect with the community. Tradition is a powerful thing in sports, as you well know. And team names become ingrained and part of a culture embraced by fans. In Washington, generations of team supporters have sung "Hail To The Redskins." These are people, Scott, who will insist they're not being racist, and the owners would back them up. But we are in a time now where people who've always said these symbols do offend, they have the stage now, and they're forcing people to listen and understand.

SIMON: I want to suggest a few names. May I?

GOLDMAN: You may.

SIMON: OK. This is not original with me - Washington Red Tails...

GOLDMAN: That's a good name.

SIMON: ...Which would name the team after the dauntless Tuskegee Airmen.

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: I also liked the Washington Insiders or the Innies (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDMAN: Someone said to me the Leakers. How about the Washington Leakers?

SIMON: Oh, that's perfect. Can I - and I really - I want to put a name out there for the Cleveland baseball team for a team for which our family has great affection. Ready?

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: What about the Cleveland Rocks?

GOLDMAN: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDMAN: You would be the guy singing the fight song every night.

SIMON: I'd be very disappointed if they didn't invite me, absolutely, as a matter of fact.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: Well, it's a big week for Maya Moore. She helped a man out of prison.

GOLDMAN: The former WNBA star who stepped away from pro sports to work on social justice issues, she helped Jonathan Irons get out of prison after he'd served 22 years of a 50-year sentence for burglary and assault. You know, she's played an important role in this. And for an athlete who's won at every level - college, pro, Olympic gold medals - this is perhaps her most meaningful victory.

SIMON: NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman, thanks so much. Talk to you soon.

GOLDMAN: OK. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.