Washington D.C. football team replaces controversial name with "Commanders"

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Friday, February 4, 2022

The team's new logo has a W for "Washington."
Image: Washington Commanders.

The American football team based in Washington, D.C., announced Wednesday on the Today Show it would adopt the new name the Washington Commanders.

The team, which plays in the National Football League (NFL), had previously been called the Washington Redskins.

For years, Native American organizations had argued it is offensive for sports teams to call themselves Indians. The Washington team drew more criticism than most, because unlike "Indians" or "braves," the word "redskin" is specifically, as Ray Halbritter of Oneida Nation Enterprises called it, "a dictionary-defined slur."

On Wednesday, team president Jason Wright told viewers the new name "embodies the values of service and leadership that characterizes the DMV [D.C., Maryland, Virginia region]."

Current and former players Jonathan Allen and Gary Clark praised the new uniforms, which feature a prominent letter "W." Allen said that although the name did not have meaning or history, the experience and atmosphere of seeing players in their new uniforms would soon bring enthusiasm from fans.

For a long time, team owner Daniel Snyder resisted changing the name, once threatening to "put it in all caps." However, in June 2020, 87 sponsors that pay hundreds of millions of dollars to affiliate with the team, including FedEx, Nike, and Pepsi, wrote a letter to the team management asking the name be changed. The team had also faced increasing complaints the old name was insulting to Native Americans. The team hired John Wright, who consulted with fans, a former player, and Native Americans to find a new name. Fans liked variations of "Red Wolves," but too many other teams had already trademarked and copyrighted similar names and imagery.

Reactions from Native American voices were mixed.

Crystal Echo Hawk of IllumiNative said the team had an opportunity to "put a horrible chapter to rest," adding: "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."

Fawn Sharp of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) said team management had not done enough to acknowledge the harm done by the former name: "Without an apology, without any measure of accountability, and without fulfilling the honored commitments they made to tribal nations in 2020 to right this wrong, the NFL and Snyder are simply 'Commanding' a continued course of open, intentional and profit-driven racism and erasure."

About one thousand sports teams in the United States are named after Native Americans in some way, down from about three thousand in the 1990s. The American Indian Movement and NCAI, among other organizations, have advocated for these teams to adopt non-Native American names and mascots.