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Investors Pressure Key Brands Over Redskins Affiliation

Paul Steinbach

Dozens of investment firms and shareholders worth a collective $620 billion have asked Nike, FedEx and PepsiCo to terminate their business relationships with the NFL’s Washington Redskins unless the team agrees to change its controversial name.

As reported by AdweekNative American leaders have pushed for the team to change its name (a racist slur that stems from bounties paid to white settlers in exchange for the skins of Native American adults and children as proof of their murders) for decades, including through two high-profile lawsuits. But the team has dug in its heels, with owner Dan Snyder saying in 2013 he would “never change the name.”

Three separate investor letters were sent last week, led by First Peoples Worldwide, Oneida Nation Trust Enrollment Committee, Trillium Asset Management, LLC Boston Common Asset Management, LLC Boston Trust Walden Mercy Investment Services and First Affirmative Financial Network. Another roughly 80 firms and trusts, many of which are social impact strategy investment firms or faith-based portfolios, signed on as well.

Three major brands — all Fortune 500 companies — have been targeted: FedEx, Nike snd PepsiCo. The investor letter to PepsiCo cites the company’s “decision to sunset the Aunt Jemima brand is an important and meaningful step,” and calls on it to continue that commitment to divesting from racist mascots by ending its relationship with the Redskins.

The letter to Nike reads, “We appreciate that Nike has spoken up in support of the protests stating, ‘Systemic racism and the events that have unfolded across America over the past few weeks serve as an urgent reminder of the continued change needed in our society. The Nike, Inc. family can always do more but will never stop striving to role model how a diverse company acts.' ”

The Nike letter applauds the company's support of Colin Kaepernick, whose protests against police brutality got him blackballed from the NFL, but points out that the company provides equipment to the Washington franchise that bears the Redskins logo and name.

FedEx owns the naming rights to the Redskins' home stadium in Landover, Md. It was the only company among the three to respond to Adweek's request for comment, stating, “We direct any questions about the name of the NFL team in Washington to the franchise owner.”

However, on June 1, the company stated, “There is absolutely no place for racism or unequal treatment anywhere, and we must unequivocally speak out and reject it when we see it." 

Native American leaders and advocates who want to see the NFL team change its name are acting with renewed urgency, inspired by ongoing global protests against racism and police killings of Black Americans.

“This is a broader movement now that’s happening that Indigenous peoples are part of,” Carla Fredericks, director of First Peoples Worldwide and director of the University of Colorado Law School’s American Indian Law Clinic, told Adweek. “Indigenous peoples were sort of left out of the civil rights movement in the late 1960s in many respects, because our conditions were so dire on reservations and our ability to engage publicly was very limited because of that. With social media now, obviously everything is very different.”

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