The history of the Washington Football Team's controversial former name doesn't date all the way back to the beginning. But now that fans can look ahead to a new chapter, some may want to revisit its past.
True Washington Football Team fans know the call from the 1982 NFC Championship Game by heart, but it was 50 years earlier that the franchise started in Boston. In 1932, it began as the Braves football team, but when it moved to Fenway Park in 1933 — home of the Red Sox — it took on a name of the same color.
Four years later, the team moved to D.C., debuting NFL’s first official marching band and fight song, according to the team website.
In 1997, another local team — the Bullets — became the Wizards under the direction of then-owner Abe Pollin. With the original name’s negative connotation to violence getting additional pushback after the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Pollin said his team would no longer go by the Bullets despite a 32-year history of using the moniker.
At the time, the spotlight was not on the city’s football team, but debates, protests and even lawsuits grew over the years. The football team’s name was considered offensive and “an insulting and contemptuous term for an American Indian,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Despite protests from Native Americans and others, Washington Football Team owner Dan Snyder long rebuffed the idea of a name change, and in a 2013 USA Today interview was quoted as saying, “We will never change the name of the team.”
Then, the summer of 2020 happened, and as the country went through a dramatic period of social awakening, corporate pressure forced the team to announce on July 13, 2020, that the name would need to change. Enough people collectively said, “Enough,” and demanded that the time was now to lose the team name many found unacceptable.
As the team’s success faded and pressure mounted, Snyder stood firm. But with team sponsors, including Pepsi, FedEx and Nike, threatening to end their support, Snyder announced the franchise would go by the Washington Football Team temporarily until it chose a new name.
Dave Johnson is Senior Sports Director and morning sports anchor. He first arrived at WTOP in 1989, left in 1992 and returned in 1995. He is a three-time winner of the A.I.R. award as best radio sportscaster in D.C. In 2008 he won the Edward R. Murrow award for best writing for sports commentaries.