Investors Tell FedEx to Distance Itself from Racist NFL Team Name

Jun 21st 2014

y Robert Kropp

FedEx has naming rights to Washington DC stadium that is home to the Washington Redskins, the professional football team under increasing pressure to change its racist name. -- There is no denying that a consensus of influential groups and individuals now condemn the name of the Washington Redskins football team as racist. "Two hundred civil rights organizations, including the NAACP and every single national American Indian organization, have condemned the name," a coalition of sustainable investment organizations stated in a press release this week. "Even national voices as disparate as President Obama, US Senator Harry Reid, and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer have weighed in against the team name. Sportswriters and newspapers have also chosen to stop the use of the name."

Also this week, the US Patent and Trademark Office ruled that the team name is disparaging to Native Americans and recommended that the name lose trademark protection. The team's trademark attorney contends that the ruling "will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo."

The transport corporation FedEx has naming rights to the stadium through 2026, and the company's investors are growing concerned over the reputational risks to it through its association with the football team. A shareowner resolution filed by the Oneida Trust of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin requests that FedEx "respond to reputational damage from its association with the Washington DC NFL franchise team." The company is seeking to have the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) exclude the resolution from its 2014 proxy ballot on the grounds that it is not a significant issue.

At last year's annual general meeting, Susan White, Director of Trust for the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, moved a similar resolution from the floor, stating, “As investors we are frustrated that the board and management of FedEx refuse to acknowledge that, through their sponsorship of the Washington NFL franchise, they are complicit in propagating what amounts to hate speech every time a game is broadcast.”

The Oneida Trust was assisted in its filing by a number of sustainable investment firms, including Boston Common Asset Management, Calvert Investments, Mercy Investment Services, Trillium Asset Management, and Walden Asset Management.

"Each time a game is broadcast or the team name mentioned, the company is perceived as supporting disparaging and racist language," said Jonas D. Kron of Trillium Asset Management. “Concern over the team name has grown over the past eighteen months, with heightened calls to change it.”

And Reed Montague, Sustainability Analyst at Calvert Investments, said, "As times change, so must our language. Given the historic and present connotations of the name, turning real people into caricatures and mascots or insulting a portion of our population with an offensive name is no longer acceptable in this day and age."

The 2014 annual general meeting of FedEx is scheduled t be held on September 14th.