Commanders’ owner Josh Harris talks 12th man, team name ahead of season opener

Part 1 of WTOP Sports Director George Wallace's interview with Commanders' owner Josh Harris

Maryland’s own and new Washington Commanders owner Josh Harris is excited for the new season — but knows eyes are on him.

Washington Commanders owner Josh Harris speaks with a member of the media at Planet Word Museum ahead of an NFL football season kickoff party in Franklin Park in Washington, Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)(AP/Andrew Harnik)
“You’ve shifted the pressure on us, now we’ve got to deliver,” Harris told WTOP Friday in an exclusive interview.

The Commanders face off against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, kicking off a new era of football for the NFL franchise with a new ownership group, a new starting quarterback, and a new offensive coordinator.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am about Sunday,” Harris told WTOP. “I obviously won’t be sleeping too much between now and then. [It’s] a big day for the franchise, big day for us. And we’ve got to make sure a lot of things go right for the fans.”

Washington’s season opener at FedEx Field is sold out and expected to be filled with Commanders fans, a sight that has not been seen in years. The excitement of having an actual home-field advantage heading into the new NFL season is something that’s got members of the front office abuzz.

“No one could have anticipated the outpouring of support from Washington and from the DMV. The fans have been amazing. The city has been amazing,” Harris said. “We really appreciate the support.”

Since his ownership group took control of the Commanders after NFL owners approved the sale of the franchise in July, the Chevy Chase native said he has been focused on engaging with current players to find out how to support them better to make Washington “a destination” for others to come and play.

Meanwhile, several former Washington players, such as John Riggins and Robert Griffin III, are expected to appear during Sunday’s season opener. Harris said alumni are always welcome, calling those who played for Washington during his childhood “my heroes.”

“This is a big franchise,” Harris said. “This franchise has won since the beginning and allowing for our our team [and] our fans to understand that they’re part of a great history, and that these individuals created it. I think that’s really meaningful for everyone.”

Part 2 of WTOP Sports Director George Wallace's interview with Commanders' owner Josh Harris

Meanwhile, some fans have asked if the new owners will return the team to its former name.

The franchise dropped its previous moniker in 2020, which Native American advocates and experts called a “dictionary-defined racial slur.” However, some in Washington’s fan base still hold the previous name in high regard due to the team’s prior success.

Before Friday’s fan rally in D.C.’s Franklin Park, Harris said it was important to come out and say that the former name is not coming back. He understands why some fans love it but he doesn’t want distractions right now.

“I grew up in the glory years, and I remember the team from that era and worshipped it but the old name … some of our fans felt disrespected by it and sports is supposed to unify people,” Harris told WTOP’s partners at 7News on Friday. “I didn’t want the distraction. So we came out and hopefully we ended that conversation and got the focus back on football, where it should be.”

Mitchell Rales, the top partner in Josh Harris’ ownership group, echoed similar sentiments at an event for the Economic Club in D.C. on Wednesday, stating “that ship has sailed.”

“We’re not going to re-litigate the past. We’re about the future,” Rales said. “We’re about building the future and not having a divisive culture that we’re engaged in. We’re going to look at everything come the end of the year and think about a lot of different things and do a lot of testing and see what people think. And we’ll learn. The beauty is we have the time to look at all of this stuff intelligently and make fan-based decisions.”

With the fan base energized and awaken like “a sleeping giant,” Harris told WTOP it’s his primary focus to make sure that he and the rest of the franchise matches their supporters’ level of excitement.

“We need the 12th man. We need the sort of fans to act like they did when I was growing up, and I’m feeling good about it,” Harris said. “It feels like that support is there.”

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George Wallace

George Wallace is the WTOP sports director. He began at WTOP on Christmas Day of 2000.

Ciara Wells

Ciara Wells is a freelance digital writer/editor at WTOP. She is a recent graduate of American University where she studied journalism and Spanish. Before joining WTOP, she was the opinion team editor at a student publication and a content specialist at an HBCU in Detroit.

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