Washington has some new Commanders in town.
The NFL team announced its new name on Wednesday, 18 months after fresh pressure from sponsors helped convince the once-storied franchise to drop its old moniker following decades of criticism that it was offensive to Native Americans. The organization committed to avoiding Native American imagery in its rebrand after being called the Washington Football Team the past two seasons.
“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,” owner Dan Snyder said. “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 and Gold while forging a pathway to a new era in Washington.”
The Commanders will play the Bears at Soldier Field next season.
Washington joins Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Guardians among North American major professional sports teams abandoning names linked to Native Americans. The NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, NHL’s Blackhawks and baseball’s Atlanta Braves have said they are not planning to make a similar change.
From 1932 until two seasons ago, Washington had used the name Redskins — which offended Native Americans and others.
“The Washington Football Team, now known as The Commanders, are the latest example that teams can make the decision to end a racist practice that has plagued professional sports,” said Crystal Echo Hawk, founder and executive director of an activist group called IllumiNative.
As the Commanders, Washington keeps the same burgundy and gold colors that were around for the three Super Bowl championships in the 1980s and early ‘90s glory days. It follows the desire of team president Jason Wright and coach Ron Rivera for the new name to have a connection to the U.S. military.
“When we started this journey 18 months ago, I didn’t know what we would be saying at this announcement,” Wright said. “It has been a long process but an engaging one and an insightful one that’s really been driven by our fans.”
Wright said the team received 40,000 submissions from fans for a new name.
“This wasn’t something where we’re going to go off in a back room and just decide,” he said, adding there were numerous conversations with focus groups, alumni, fans and community leaders. “We landed on this in part because we believe the Washington Commanders can carry the rich legacy of this team, a championship legacy.”
Commanders was chosen over other finalists such as Red Hogs, Admirals and Presidents. Red Wolves, an initial fan favorite, was ruled out earlier in the process because of copyright and trademark hurdles.
“I think Commanders rings a bell. It gives a ring of control,” said former Washington quarterback Doug Williams, who led the team to a Super Bowl title in the 1980s and is now a senior advisor. “The bottom line is winning. If we win, these fans around here are passionate about their football. They loved the Redskins but if we win they are going to love the Commanders.”
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said his teammates had mixed reactions when they heard the new name.
“I’m looking forward to the future and the name Commanders is going to mean something special to everybody in this community,” Allen said. “We are going to uphold that legacy.”
The rebranding process had been going on since the summer of 2020, when team officials opted for the temporary Washington Football Team name that lingered into the 2021 season.
The change comes amid the organization’s latest controversy: dozens of former employees describing a toxic workplace culture, which caused Snyder to commission an investigation that was taken over by the NFL. After the investigation by attorney Beth Wilkinson’s firm, the league fined Washington $10 million and Snyder temporarily ceded day-to-day operations of the team to his wife, Tanya, while he focused on a new stadium agreement.
The league did not release a written report of Wilkinson’s findings, a move that sparked criticism. The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform is holding a roundtable discussion Thursday with a handful of former team employees to discuss their experiences.
Getting a stadium deal done is next on the agenda for Snyder and his front office. The team’s lease at FedEx Field expires after the 2027 season and momentum is building for an agreement in Virginia, though sites in Maryland and the District of Columbia are still under consideration.