Once upon a time, like just two years ago, a name change for Washington’s NFL team did not seem possible. Now, going forward, the Burgundy and Gold representing the nation’s capital will be known as the Washington Commanders.
“We are the Commanders,” Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams said during the Wednesday reveal on NBC’s “Today Show.”
“It’s a name that has the weight and meaning befitting a 90-year-old franchise,” team president Jason Wright said. “It’s something that broadly resonated with our fans. And it’s something that we believe embodies the values of service and leadership that really define the DMV and this community.”
Co-owner and co-CEO Dan Snyder said in a statement: “As an organization, we are excited to rally and rise together as one under our new identity while paying homage to our local roots and what it means to represent the nation’s capital.”
“As we kick-off our 90th season, it is important for our organization and fans to pay tribute to our past traditions, history, legacy and the greats that came before us. We continue to honor and represent the Burgundy & Gold while forging a pathway to a new era in Washington. Today may mark the first day for the Washington Commanders, but we are and always will be Washington.”
The team released a video on the rebrand shortly after the announcement:
One legacy. One unified future.
We are the Washington Commanders #TakeCommand pic.twitter.com/Eav9NOV5Mm
— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) February 2, 2022
The new logo and uniforms were revealed.
Washington star Jonathan Allen said he “loved it” when he put on the new uniform for the first time.
“I feel like it really embodied not only what the players represent, but what this community and what the DMV represent,” he said. “We’re excited about the future.”
The guys’ first full look at the new unis 👀 pic.twitter.com/MDixKikGlX
— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) January 27, 2022
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Head coach Ron Rivera told CBS the team was “starting a new chapter.”
“We’re turning a page, we’re going forward, we’re trying to step away from all the things that have happened in the past. But we’re also, at the same time, want to make sure we honor … what has happened with this football team in terms of the World Championships and Super Bowls that they’ve won,” Rivera said.
The team hasn’t picked a mascot yet, but it’ll be something they said they’ll work with the fans on in the future.
In a September interview with ESPN’s Adam Schefter, team co-owner Tanya Snyder had hinted at some possibilities, including the Armada, Presidents, Brigade, Red Hogs and Commanders. In early January, Wright said the choice would not be Wolves or RedWolves because of legal and trademark issues.
“There’s a tactical run-up to this, doing mock ups of all the various deployments, whether it be on a jersey, on a T-shirt, on a billboard or on any other marketing materials,” said Eric Fisher, U.S. editor for Sport Business. “Then there’s the legal and trademark run-up to this, and add to that all of the opinion canvassing that the franchise did, and you get to two years of work that’s gone into this.”
The new name will undoubtedly spark debate.
“There’s a lot of ill wind surrounding this franchise and that is going to make it hard, even harder than it would have been ordinarily, to have a new name universally received,” said Fisher. “But ultimately, we get a year or two down the road and people get used to it. What really would help this franchise is if they start winning games on a regular basis because winning is the best disinfectant.”
As for fans that don’t like like the new name, Williams said “they’re gonna come to love the Commanders.”
Speaking to reporters, Williams said the name “has a ring to it, and now it’s gonna be left up to the guys on the field to make that ring sound even louder.”
“I think the more you hear the name, the more you like it. … And if they win, there’s no doubt it my mind that it speaks for itself.”
Now, the Washington Commanders have to live up to their name and take charge of other issues, including there they will play in the future.
The deal with FedEx Field goes through 2027, and the team was linked to a possible move to Virginia, but shortly after Commanders was announced as the name, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser tweeted that she would like to see the team playing in the District.
The next chapter for the Washington Commanders should be a return to winning, right here in DC. pic.twitter.com/FIk1F0QqRG
— Mayor Muriel Bowser (@MayorBowser) February 2, 2022
Team president Jason Wright told WTOP’s George Wallace that Bowser wanting the Commanders in D.C. was “a vote of confidence” that they’ve seen across the region.
“The vision for what we want to do with a new home is really to be a part of the 30-year economic development plan for this entire area,” Wright said. “And whether it’s leaders in Maryland, Virginia or D.C., they understand that, and they’ve been so great and thoughtful in helping us see the ways that we can participate in their plans to make it a better society for all the folks that they represent.”
Washington team name history
The name change for Washington was not like when the Bullets became the Wizards in 1997, another local professional team who had an identity change. The dropping of Bullets from the team’s name was at the direction of then-team owner Abe Pollin.
On Nov. 4, 1995, Pollin’s close friend Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated at a Tel Aviv peace rally. With the name’s negative connotation to violence already giving pushback, Pollin said four days after Rabin’s funeral that his team would no longer go by the Bullets despite a 32-year history of using the moniker and winning one NBA title in 1978.
Meanwhile, the city’s football team’s old 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 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.
It was a surprise that the franchise that fought so long to keep its name then jettisoned it into retirement before being ready to announce a new name.
In 2013, WTOP’s Dave Johnson wrote that a name change would come down to money and the NCAA showed the way. Syracuse is no longer the “Orangemen,” but just the Orange. St. John’s is no longer the “Redmen,” but the Red Storm. North Dakota is no longer the “Fighting Sioux.”
The NCAA threatened postseason bans for schools that did not eliminate offensive nicknames. The NFL could have done something similar. The league always had the big bargaining chip in the form of its lucrative television contract and the shares it doles out to member teams.
The NFL could have said to Snyder, “No name change, no television money.” That would have been game over and forced a new name for Washington’s NFL team. Ticket sales and concession money are nice, but NFL teams survive on broadcast cash.
The NFL allowed the name to live on. The league could have forced a name change years ago, and certainly in the summer of 2020, as the entire nation started on a journey of self-evaluation.
Instead, in that summer of 2020, enough people collectively said, “Enough,” and demanded that the time was now to lose the team name many found unacceptable. For change to happen, those voices had to make sure blue-chip team sponsors — such as FedEx, Nike and Pepsi — heard their outcry.
Back in 1991, then-WTOP Vice President and General Manager Michael Douglass stated clearly he felt the team name was an offensive term and no longer wanted it used on the air when referring to the most popular sports team in town. Johnson was anchoring sports in the afternoon at the time and for months used “’Skins” and “Burgundy and Gold” as substitutes for the team’s name.
There was no social media then and there was no groundswell of support from other media organizations or fans to stop calling the team by its name and change it. By the summer of 1991, as the team prepared to go to training camp, Johnson remembers a newsroom conversation when WTOP decided to go back to using the team’s name on air — not to make a judgment, but because that was still the team’s name.
There really was not a controversy. WTOP was, at the time, the region’s only station to stop referring to the team as by their name and by the fall of 1991, the focus had fully shifted to what they were doing on the field. The team did plenty on the field and by the end of January 1992, they were Super Bowl champions with another victory parade on the way.
In March 1992, Douglass reasserted his policy that the now reigning Super Bowl champions “should not be referred” to by their name because he still very much considered it a racial slur. Douglass’ banishment of the word from WTOP did not last and only stirred more debate about whether the word was offensive and exactly which groups were offended by the name.
There were decades of court cases and protests against the team’s name, but there was never a clear legal victory to force a change. Even President Barack Obama weighed in on the issue in 2013, but did not demand change, and only offered a new name would be something he would consider.
“If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it,” Obama said in an interview published by The Associated Press in 2013.
In the final analysis, voices to change the name were finally loud enough and a quaking corporate sponsorship base made its money talk and the team had to listen.
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