Finally, the team has a name. More than 18 months after it dropped its longtime name and began an extensive search for a new one, Washington’s NFL team revealed Wednesday that it will be the Commanders, a tribute to Washington’s military ties.
On a makeshift stage set up in a pavilion outside the stadium, Daniel Snyder gave a brief, scripted speech thanking those involved in the rebranding process for “helping us to connect our past to our future.” Tanya Snyder, his wife and co-CEO, offered similar words before unveiling three mannequins outfitted in the team’s new uniforms — one in all burgundy, an all-white set and alternate black uniforms.
“We landed on this in part because we believe the Washington Commanders can carry the rich legacy of this team — a championship legacy,” Wright said. “It’s something that broadly resonated with our fans in this process, and it’s something that embodies the values of service and leadership that really characterize the DMV.”
Three decades removed from its most recent Super Bowl championship and the glory years of Joe Gibbs, the team’s beloved former coach, Washington’s legacy is complicated and — more recently — fraught with controversy and litigation. Since Snyder purchased the team in 1999, Washington has produced only five winning seasons and has been plagued by off-the-field woes — from its controversial original name, considered a slur and the target of Native American protests, to dozens of accusations of sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace.
On Thursday, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform will hold a roundtable titled “Examining the Washington Football Team’s Toxic Workplace Culture.” The goal of the discussion is to give congressional members a chance to hear firsthand accounts of former employees who experienced harassment and a toxic culture while working for the team, which may help form legislation related to workplace harassment and discrimination.
The stakes surrounding the rebranding couldn’t be higher. The team has been bleeding fans, with shrinking attendance figures and lackluster merchandise sales, and it has spent the past several years negotiating with Maryland, Virginia and D.C. leaders about land for a new stadium, desperate to move on from aging FedEx Field in Landover, Md. Some officials in D.C. had said a new stadium in the city could not happen until the team changed its name.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said Wednesday’s announcement is “a new, necessary chapter” and called on the team, which is headquartered in Northern Virginia and has played its home games in Maryland since 1997, to return to the city.
Even with the congressional inquiry and harassment allegations hanging overhead, team officials were eager to declare Wednesday the start of a new era, not simply a new coat of paint.
“We have an opportunity right now to do something a little bit different, and that’s an opportunity to go forward,” Coach Ron Rivera said. “With the Redskins and with the Washington Football Team, we dealt with some pretty anxious situations and circumstances — serious ones. And now’s an opportunity to establish that we’re starting a new chapter. We’re turning the new page. We’re going to go forward.”
The team now hopes its fan base — the loyal, the apathetic and the angry — embraces the new name and logo as a rallying point.
Team officials knew there was no name that would please everyone — like Snyder, many resisted change for years — and the immediate reaction was mixed, with many fans criticizing the new moniker as uninspiring.
“I don’t think it shows a lot of imagination,” said Sean Cissel, 42, who grew up in Prince George’s County rooting for Gibbs’s Super Bowl-winning teams. He said winning would certainly influence his fandom; he has distanced himself emotionally from the team in recent years.
“Just anything that Snyder touches, I think, for a lot of fans like me is going to be automatically a loser,” Cissel added.
Still, some fans gathered at FedEx Field hours before the press-only announcement, arriving as early as 3 a.m. to buy Commanders merchandise. Stephen Boyd, known around the stadium as “Rally Captain,” wore his signature chain and “W” and said, “We’re going to do what it takes to get the fan base riled up to get behind” the new identity.
“A lot of people aren’t going to like it,” he added. “But there’s also going to be a few out here that do like it. Give it time. They will eventually gravitate to it. It’s going to take a minute. But the fact of the matter is, we’re here. We’re die-hards, and we aren’t going anywhere.”
Washington’s rebrand was years in the making — dating from the early 1970s, when its old name received criticism and drew protests for being derogatory toward Native Americans. For years, Snyder vowed he would “NEVER” — saying to use all caps — get rid of the name. But that changed in 2020, when the murder of George Floyd sparked protests worldwide and led to an intensified national discussion about racial equality. The team’s top sponsors, including FedEx and PepsiCo, threatened to pull the plug on their agreements, and as the pressure mounted, the team finally relented in July 2020, deciding to retire its moniker and adopt Washington Football Team as a temporary name as it began to overhaul its front office and find a new identity.
“I don’t think they had a lot of choice but to go with this interim brand name because I think the pressure came fairly quickly,” said George Perry, Washington’s former vice president of strategic marketing. “You have to make sure you get the right brand, and it looks like they’ve done a lot of research and tried to get it right.”
Wright, who was hired a month after Washington shed its old name, helped lead the search and was the face of the initiative, appearing in promotional videos and writing letters to fans on the team’s website. Along with members of his executive team, digital creative agency Code and Theory, designers from Nike and NFL executives, Wright guided a rebrand that he said focused heavily on the input of fans, alumni and current players and coaches.
Former quarterback Doug Williams, now a senior adviser to Wright, participated in focus groups to weigh in on possible names and logos. His preference was to keep Washington Football Team. He said he has embraced Commanders but that moving on from the old name is bittersweet.
“But we all realize that the name has to be changed,” he said. “So we’ve got to grab on to this name, put our arms around it and go from here. We’re the Washington Commanders. But at the end of the day, when you put your Super Bowl ring on, you know what it says.”
Speculation about the new name ran rampant on social media in the months preceding the announcement. Internet sleuths scoured trademark applications and website domains, and they found clues hidden in videos posted on the team’s website. Leaks of the logo and the name were circulated, and interviews with alumni, notably star quarterback Joe Theismann, only validated many fans’ theories.
Then, on the eve of the announcement, a news helicopter for the local NBC affiliate zeroed in on a Commanders banner hanging in FedEx Field — a dead giveaway just hours before the launch.
“Welcome to not the best-kept secret in D.C.,” Daniel Snyder joked as he began to present the new name and uniforms.
The announcement elicited reaction across the NFL and beyond, with even President Biden tweeting, “I suppose there’s room for two Commanders in this town,” attaching a photo of the family dog, Commander, in front of the White House.
As fans continue to digest the new identity, the Commanders face an even bigger hurdle. Even with a new name, a new logo and new uniforms, true change is likely to start with its performance on the field.
“It’s an opportunity for our players as we step into this new phase of our organization to build a new legacy,” Rivera said. “Believe me, that’s something I’m going to harp on with our players. This is our chance to do that, and probably the best way, obviously, is to win.”
Andrew Golden contributed to this report.