“This is a step in the right direction,” said lifelong fan Dame Cranon, who was happy the team changed its name but remains cautious about the re-brand. Many are heartened by the team’s plan to incorporate them into its decision-making process. Experts and fans have advised the franchise all along to take its time, to use polling and focus groups to determine which parts of the brand are most important. From there, they can create a vision based on the color scheme or the word “red” or HTTR.
Jason Simmons, a lifelong fan and sports management professor at the University of Cincinnati, believes postponing the choice of a name is smart because this might be an all-time low for the fan base. The team name is retired, the organization’s workplace culture is under fire, and there’s a fair chance no fans will be in the stands this season. He thinks the team should avoid debuting the new name during such negativity and target a later, more exciting time, such as the 2021 draft.
“If you do it now, you have to dig yourself out of that [negative publicity] hole,” he said. “A year from now, hopefully, you’ll have distance from [the coronavirus and the bad culture], and hopefully fans can come together for a draft party. There’ll be excitement — and a new brand.”
The most vocal critics of “Washington Football Team” were Dallas Cowboys fan LeBron James, former Washington quarterback Mark Rypien (who tweeted, “I never played a down for the Washington Football Team, but I did play with dignity, honor and pride for the Three Time World Champion Washington Redskins”) and two Native American activists.
The decision to use Football Team was “worse than doing nothing,” said Louis Gray, a member of the Osage Nation and former president of Tulsa Indian Coalition Against Racism. He believes the franchise is “extending the name purposefully” because, until the team re-brands, fans will wear their old gear and support a name the team itself has acknowledged as offensive.
“As Native Americans, we’re used to people saying, ‘Well, maybe next year, maybe two years, maybe this,'” Gray said. “We’re used to waiting, but we really did feel like this time there was a chance for them to make this right. And I’m awfully disappointed they decided to put this off for a year.”
The business decision makes sense, but it doesn’t address the real issue, said David Glass, a member of White Earth Band of Ojibwe and president of National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media. He wants the franchise to engage Native communities on how to respectfully transition away from, as well as memorialize, the name “Redskins.”
“How does history see [what the team did after retiring the name]?” Glass asked.
On social media, players embraced “Washington Football Team,” posting jersey mock-ups with emoji such as the flame and 100. During a recent interview with offensive lineman Saahdiq Charles, The Washington Post asked what he liked for a new team name. Charles is a passionate European soccer fan, and he, like many Washington football fans, thought it would be cool to be the “Washington Football Club.”
“That’s kind of tough,” Charles said with a grin. “[It] just sounds more official. … Then you got to make the jerseys really simple. That’s tough. Keep [the jerseys] more traditional, like [Louisiana State].”
The new Washington Football Team jerseys, with their simple design and clean trim, somewhat resemble the Tigers’ classic uniforms. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins, defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and defensive lineman Daron Payne, among others, championed the look. Defensive end Chase Young and safety Landon Collins were enthusiastic on Instagram about the chance to help push the franchise into a new era.
“Glad to be [a part] of the movement to a new legacy with [Washington],” Collins wrote, adding, “The name don’t make the team” with a 100 emoji.
For some fans who disliked the decision to change the name, the Washington Football Team represents a compromise. Tim Meek, an out-of-market fan who didn’t want to lose the name “Redskins” because he associated with it more than “Washington,” is happy with Washington Football Team. The color scheme ties the organization to the past while the lack of the mascot helps it move toward the future. Others, such as Gray of the Osage Nation, see that as the problem.
For now, Washington remains in limbo. Those angered with the Washington Football Team will remain so until the name is changed. And when a new name is selected, the unified fan base will, at least for a while, be split again.
Roman Stubbs contributed to this report.