FedEx stays neutral in debate over Redskins name


WASHINGTON (AP) — The company most associated with the
Washington Redskins is keeping its distance from the debate over the
team’s name in the aftermath of a trademark ruling that found the name
to be "disparaging" to Native Americans.
FedEx has its name on the
Redskins’ stadium, and its president, Fred Smith, is a member of the
team’s ownership group. But both a senior official and Smith are
remaining neutral on owner Dan Snyder’s efforts to keep the name in the
face of unprecedented opposition.
"It’s not our place to have a
position on the name," Patrick Fitzgerald, FedEx’s senior vice president
for marketing, said Thursday.
Fitzgerald consistently referred to
the Redskins as "the Washington NFL team" during an interview and did
not use the nickname, but he said that was not a reflection of company
policy. Smith did call the team the "Redskins" during an interview with
CNBC, but he pointed out that FedEx Field hosts more than just the NFL
team’s games.
"We have a longstanding relationship with Washington
Football Inc. (the Redskins’ parent company). The Redskins play at
FedEx Field," Smith told CNBC. "But there are many, many other events
there: the Rolling Stones, Notre Dame, and Army and Navy football, Kenny
Chesney. That’s our sponsorship — and we really don’t have any dog in
this issue from the standpoint of FedEx."
Smith also said his personal feelings about the name will "remain personal" and that Snyder
should speak on behalf of the team.
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled Wednesday that the Redskins name
is disparaging to Native Americans and that the team should be stripped
of federal trademark protection. The team plans to appeal and the case
could take years to resolve, but the decision gives more momentum to an
anti-"Redskins" movement that has drawn in political, religious and
sports figures in addition to Native Americans.
FedEx has been
facing pressure from shareholders to end its association with the team.
The Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, which owns FedEx shares, filed
a proposal supported by five companies in April asking FedEx to
"respond to reputational damage from its association" with the team. The
tribe is separate from the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, which has
been at the forefront in the campaign to change the name.
creates a real reputational risk for FedEx," said Jonas Kron, Trillium
Asset Management, which helps manage the Wisconsin tribe’s assets and
supported the shareholder filing. "We saw what happened with the L.A.
Clippers and different brands disassociating themselves from the team.
This is really a moment where FedEx needs to ask itself if this is a
name they want to be associated with."
Kron said FedEx is seeking
to quash the shareholders’ filing through the Securities and Exchange
Commission. He said a decision from the SEC is expected within three
weeks, and the issue could come to a vote at the company’s annual
meeting in September. Last year, the shareholders voted down a proposal
that asked the company to reconsider its naming rights for the stadium.
Fitzgerald said FedEx has no comment on the shareholder filing.
date, none of the many companies with ties to the Redskins have
announced any plans to curtail or cancel sponsorship because of the
debate over the name. Harris Teeter issued a statement Thursday saying
the grocery chain "has been following this story and trusts that
whatever decision Mr. Snyder makes about the name of his organization
will be the right decision for the greater community and his team."

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