Washington selects Commanders as new NFL team name after two-season process

LANDOVER, Md. — It’s the Washington Commanders.

After 87 years with its former name and two years as the Washington Football Team, the franchise announced Wednesday morning its new name would be the Commanders. The team also unveiled its new logo and uniforms.

Washington’s leaders — team president Jason Wright and coach Ron Rivera — had stressed during the 20-month process that it would like to incorporate the military because of its connection to the nation’s capital.

Commander is a term used most often in the military as a naval officer rank, but it also can be used as a generic term.

“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,” team owner Dan Snyder said in a statement. “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.”

Washington’s quest for a new name began in July 2020, following protests across the United States after the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. Around that time, Snyder started having discussions with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about possibly changing the name that was considered by some to be offensive and racist. The team kept its burgundy and gold colors but is done with Native American imagery.

Crystal Echo Hawk, executive director of the nonprofit organization IllumiNative, had called Wednesday a “momentous moment” and said they can “put a horrible chapter to rest. There’s still a lot of healing that needs to happen, so I don’t think the team’s work in regards to reconciliation and healing is over.”

“The NFL is not done,” Crystal Echo Hawk added. “The [Kansas City] Chiefs have to step up and follow the lead and be on the right side of history. Washington has shown these rebrandings can be successful. This is a good thing. All eyes turn to the Chiefs.”

Ray Halbritter, the nation representative and CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises, said the new name is important for all Native Americans, but especially future generations.

“They’ll no longer be subjected to such an offensive and harmful slur every Sunday during the football season,” Halbritter said. “It’s a great moment for Washington fans. They want to support a team, to love a team, and now they won’t be put in position having to do that with a dictionary-defined slur as a name.”

The franchise said on July 3, 2020, that it would undergo a thorough review of its former name. Ten days later, it announced that it was retiring its previous name and adopting Football Team as a temporary moniker.

Snyder for years had resisted changing the name, telling USA Today in 2013 to “put it in all caps” that he would never make such a move. Some who have worked for Snyder said they believed he would rather sell the team than use a new name.

But that changed during the spring and early summer of 2020. In June of that year, a letter signed by 87 investors and shareholders with a total worth of $620 billion was sent to sponsors FedEx, PepsiCo and Nike, asking them to stop doing business with the team unless its name was changed. When that was reported by Adweek.com, multiple people — including current and former employees — echoed the same thought: It’s over. Most, if not all, were unaware that a possible change was already in the works.

A small group in the organization, including Snyder and Rivera, discussed a new name at the time, but it was shelved. At the time, there were reports of trademark issues holding up a possible new name.

The search began more in earnest when the franchise hired Wright a month later. Wright’s group met with alumni, fans and some Native Americans during the process, keeping fans apprised with updates on the team’s website, whether by video or through his President’s Briefs.

Wright said he didn’t want to release the name until all the designs and logos were completed. In July 2021, Wright announced the new name would not contain any Native American reference or imagery.

Last month, Wright said one popular name among fans, RedWolves, was dropped because of trademarks held by others.

Former Washington quarterback Joe Theismann, part of the organization’s first Super Bowl triumph after the 1982 season, had called the name a “new start.”

Theismann said he will still feel an attachment to the franchise because of the team’s accomplishments of the past. And he said fans will accept the new name if the team does something it hasn’t done in a while: win. Washington has posted five consecutive losing seasons, though it won the NFC East in 2020. The team hasn’t won a playoff game since 2005 and hasn’t appeared in the NFC Championship Game since 1991, also the last season it won the Super Bowl.

“I don’t feel detached, and the reason why is because of the fans,” Theismann said. “Believe me, like anything else, you build it and they will come. You start winning, people will show up. If you don’t win, people get disillusioned.”

Former Washington defensive end Charles Mann, who played in three Super Bowls and won two with the franchise, said he will continue to associate with the team’s previous name.

“That’s what we were when we played,” Mann said. “But there’s a new era. New records will be broken. All of that to me is different and fresh and new. I don’t have anything to worry about us being lost or forgotten. We did some incredible things when we played.”

Wright said throughout the process that he did not want to be viewed as an expansion franchise. During the past two seasons, the team had “1932” (the year the franchise was established) painted on the field and adorned on signs with the name “Football Team.”

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