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How Socially Responsible Investing Changed an NFL Football Team

The Washington D.C. football franchise, the Redskins, have long been criticized for using a racial slur as their team name. After a long battle, 2020 has been the season of change.

Trillium Asset Management, who Blue Summit has worked with for years, led a group of 88 investors representing over $620bn in assets, to send letters to Nike, FedEx and Pepsi urging them to terminate their sponsor relationships with the Washington D.C. franchise if it does not stop using the culturally insensitive name.


This did not happen overnight. It began in 1993 during the pioneering era of socially responsible investing. The investment trust of the Oneida Nation (Wisconsin) began making investments in companies it hoped to change via shareholder advocacy. One of those companies was FedEx, the soon to be namesake of the Washington football stadium “FedEx Field.” FedEx CEO Fred Smith became a partial owner of the team in 2003. At the same time, the Oneida Trust made a small, tactical investment in FedEx stock. This opened the door to raising the issue with FedEx in 2009. Oneida asked them to “discuss ways to align FedEx's sports sponsorships with their commitment to promoting a more diverse and respectful workplace and society." By that time, the Oneida Trust had amassed other supporters from the SRI industry who had ownership in companies affiliated with the team, like Pepsi and Nike.


Momentum for the issue was building, but the breaking point was the summer of 2020 and the social climate following George Floyd’s death. FedEx, Nike and PepsiCo, among hundreds of other companies, declared their support for diversity and inclusion. The NFL launched its Inspire Change program to end racism. On the other hand, the troubling team name persisted. Trillium Asset Management, who provides investment assistance to the Oneida Trust, sent new letters to the companies pointing out the hypocrisy. Shortly after, Nike and Pepsi removed merchandise from their website linked to the team name and mascot. Amazon and Dick’s Sporting Goods did the same, even though they were not targeted by Trillium.


On July 13th 2020, the team officially retired both name and mascot. The team will play as the Washington Football Team this year and take time to find a new name. After nearly 20 years of working this issue, social justice prevailed and the power of shareholder advocacy has been realized in a new context. We are thrilled to see the efforts of our industry making meaningful change in so many areas of our society.


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Some, but not all clients, are invested in funds managed by Trillium Asset Management.