Here’s a vote, even if it doesn’t count (which is somehow appropriate, given that it comes from the District of Columbia, home to the disenfranchised): keep Washington Football Team.
In July, when the local NFL team announced it would finally and thankfully drop its old nickname and play the 2020 season under a placeholder, I couldn’t have imagined ending up here. It sounded so … generic. The franchise that for so long had a marching band and a fight song and a beloved stadium in the city for which it is named would now play in a soulless edifice hard by the Beltway with its moniker eliminated and be called … the Football Team? As inspiring as a Brutalist federal office building.
Yet somehow it now feels right.
Before we get to why, drink in the process and get a load of the alternatives.
“As I have said before, this is an effort that we want to take the time to get right — and that means going through a deliberate process that gathers input from our fans and others to design a new brand that represents the values and interests of our broader Washington community,” Wright wrote.
The note asked each recipient to weigh in on a list of options. An individual season ticket holder didn’t receive all of the suggestions that appear here. There are no finalists right now, and this wasn’t a deciding vote.
Still … the Anchors? Certain columnists might already be awaiting a 3-13 season, what with all the easy jokes about thudding to the ocean floor. The Belters? Because what Washingtonians want to be reminded about is the hours they’ll never get back sitting in traffic on I-495? The Monarchs? Didn’t we fight a war 2½ centuries ago trying to break from such a form of government?
There’s a thread of options that make a certain amount of sense — Ambassadors, Brigade, Commanders, Majors, Presidents, that ilk, fitting of official Washington. All are fine. None would, um, rally the troops.
Over the past year, there has been an argument for Red Tails, the nickname for the Tuskegee Airmen, the first Black aviators in American military history. Red Tails, the case goes, would be a way of honoring a group that flew missions for the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II. Nodding to men who broke through racial barriers would also have the benefit of offsetting the racism inherent in the old, retired nickname. It’s even two syllables and starts with “red,” so it similarly rolls off the tongue — even if it means something completely different.
But Red Tails would also unwittingly tie the franchise to outdated, Jim Crow thinking, to a time when the U.S. military was segregated. What those men went through in fighting for a country that didn’t see them as equal should be remembered and revered. But naming a franchise for them would only remind new fans about an era in American history we’re still struggling to move past. Well-intentioned but off base.
Washington Warriors has often come up as an option. In 2000, when team owner Daniel Snyder was considering bringing an Arena Football League team to town, he filed for a trademark on that name, though it was later abandoned.
But Warriors is fraught, too. Marquette University abandoned it as its nickname way back in 1994 — replacing it with Golden Eagles — because so many of the school’s old logos depicted cartoon images of a Native American warrior. Even now, the NBA’s Golden State Warriors face pressure to change their name. Given the nickname Washington left in its past, a clean break is in order here, not something that could be tied to the old relics. We want one change, not many changes.
Which brings us back to the Washington Football Team. Nine months into this experiment, it no longer seems strange. Indeed, it’s quietly dignified.
Maybe a quarter of a century ago such a name — a team name that’s not really a name at all — wouldn’t have been even remotely palatable. But we are now more keenly aware of the naming practices of, say, English Premier League soccer clubs — of Manchester United and Manchester City, of Liverpool FC and Everton FC and the rest. Indeed, so many franchises in stateside Major League Soccer have followed the form that it now feels normal — certainly better than the Utah Jazz or the Seattle Kraken.
On that basis, Washington D.C. Football Club — a suggestion in Wright’s letter — would make some sense, if Washington Football Team hadn’t come first.
Go through the list of possibilities and find a candidate that the fan base would rally behind. Icons? Griffins? Pilots? Wayfarers? No, no, no and no. Defenders, Renegades, Rising or Royals? Pass, pass, hard pass and hard pass. 32FC? As old friend Tony Kornheiser asked me on his podcast Monday, “That might be a pant size?”
If I could just drop five more pounds, I might fit into a 32FC?
(Best guess is it’s a nod to the club’s founding year, but given that it’s also the number of NFL teams, it’d be too easy to use the nickname as the club’s annual standing in the league.)
What this list of possibilities or suggestions accomplishes: There’s no runaway alternative.
So here we are, saying a full-throated “yes” to Washington Football Team. The font is authoritative, sturdy. The end zones — with “Washington” dominating one deck, “Football Team” in smaller print on another deck, followed by “Est. 1932” — look cool. Burgundy and gold remain burgundy and gold. It’s comfortable. It’s confident. It works.
It took too many years to rid the franchise of the old name. It makes sense to take time to find the new one. Pondering Demon Cats or Archers or Aces or (ahem) Wild Hogs? Sure. But how are any of those better than what the franchise has now? Washington Football Team, now and forever.
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