By Ethan Miller ’23
Commanders, while boring, is safe and inoffensive. And in today’s reactionary culture, it may have been the best option.
After a year and a half of being essentially nameless, the Washington Football Team (formerly known as the Washington Redskins) announced Wednesday that they are rebranding to be known as the Washington Commanders. The storied NFL franchise traces its roots back to the foundation of the NFL in 1932 and is one of the original eight teams. The Redskins had a storied history- with this new name, they hope to create a new legacy.
Washington can trace its roots back to 1932, when George Preston Marshall founded the Boston Braves. One year later, they were rebranded to be the Washington Redskins, as the owner wanted the team to sound familiar to the iconic Boston Red Sox, a baseball team. In 1937, the Redskins were moved to Washington, and found success in the decade afterward, winning two NFL championships (pre Super Bowl), as well as reaching multiple championship games in which they lost.
Following their early success in Washington, the Redskins slipped into a playoff drought that would last until 1971 where, under the tutelage of head coach George Allen. The “Over-the-hill” gang, known for being composed of seasoned veterans, made the playoffs 5 times in the 70s, including a trip to Super Bowl VII, in which they lost to the Miami Dolphins 14-7. After over 30 years of toiling, Washington was once again respected in the NFL.
When Joe Gibbs joined the team as their new head coach in 1981, it didn’t take long for the Redskins to rise to being one of the best teams in the NFL, winning 3 Super Bowls in just over a decade, culminating in a win over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI in 1991. Following Gibbs’ retirement to pursue other interests in 1993, Washington slowly faded into obscurity once more.
Dan Snyder bought the team in 1999, and although the first year under his ownership went well, with the Redskins going 10-6, the team has largely been underwhelming in the two decades under Snyder ownership. Snyder has consistently been accused of meddling with football operations, not caring about the fans, and a myriad of other team culture issues.
In 2020, 15 women accused the Redskins of sexual harassment and toxic working environments in a Washington Post. Many front office executives are named, and Snyder came under fire for creating a toxic workplace. Following investigations and probes revealed a long history of belittlement, harassment, and abuse within the organization. Snyder, in the past, had also repeatedly said that he would never change the name, most recently in 2020. Just weeks later, it was announced that Washington was retiring the “Redskins” moniker and would operate under the name “Washington Football Team” while a new name was being created.
After 2 seasons as the Football Team, in which they went 14-19 overall with one playoff appearance, Washington announced that a new name had been found, set to be revealed on February 2nd, 2022. In the weeks leading up to the name reveal, leaks were numerous. However, many fans brushed the subpar images off as misdirection or fake, none believing that an 18-month process would produce such a lackluster name and image. Alas, when February 2nd arrived, it turned out that the leaks were actual leaks- and the franchise that’s currently valued at $4.2 billion hadn’t even produced a mascot for the ambiguous “Commanders” moniker. After saying that they valued the fans’ opinion in the decision, fan favorites such as “Redwolves”, “Redtails”, and “Hogs” weren’t even considered in the final decision.
There’s nothing wrong with the name- it’s fine. But it’s also considered boring by most of the fanbase. After two decades of having the most polarizing name in sports, Washington executives chose the most inoffensive option. Some say that it’s just a name which, in truth, doesn’t have any impact on the on-field performance, but to others it’s the soul of the team. And for Washington, a team whose attendance has been backsliding for years, a dull rollout doesn’t help one bit.