For many Washington Football Team fans, if not most, Wednesday brings a sad end to an era. Perhaps “bittersweet” marks a better way to describe the situation.
The team will announce its new name on Wednesday morning, and the expectation from far and wide is that name will be Commanders.
It’s safe and innocuous in a way the old name never was. Nobody should be offended by Commanders, and that might be exactly what the team now wants.
On a macro level the rebrand of the Washington Football Team seems obvious and probably overdue. On the micro level, however, it hurts.
This team, the old name and all of its past glory meant something to D.C. and its surrounding areas. In fact, it meant a tremendous amount. While the memories grow dimmer each season, the old team name once evoked incredible pride in its fans.
Few understand the power and emotions tied to the old name like former coach Joe Gibbs. The architect of Washington’s three Super Bowl trophies, Gibbs opened up about the rebrand.
"Will it be a little bit bittersweet? Yeah,” Gibbs said.
The Hall-of-Fame coach with three Super Bowl rings explained well what the old name means to many Washingtonians — and football fans in areas far beyond the District's borders.
“I grew up in North Carolina. The only football team we could get on TV was the Redskins. I grew up never thinking I’d ever have a chance to coach them. And everything in my house is Redskins," Gibbs said via the BMitch & Finlay show on 106.7 the Fan.
"That’s part of our history. But also I think for our fans and all of us that love the Redskins — I feel like I’m the biggest Redskin fan in the world — whatever that name is, we are Washington football fans and we’re gonna get behind it."
That's the key, getting old fans to embrace the new name.
The fastest way is to pile up wins on the field, but that's not a given. When Washington “retired” its old team name in the summer of 2020 the news came amid a torrent of societal and organizational upheaval. Now, after two seasons as the Washington Football Team, many fans are ready to have a normal name again and cease being a punchline.
The name debate isn’t new. It came up during Washington’s last Super Bowl run, which came three decades ago with Gibbs at the helm.
It’s been brought up on and off in all the years since -- most times out of sincere opposition, occasionally as political grandstanding.
In 2013, Washington owner Dan Snyder famously decreed the name would remain forever.
"We'll never change the name," Snyder said via USA Today. "It's that simple. NEVER — you can use caps."
So much for that bold stance.
What makes the name change harder to swallow is that it doesn’t come from a change of heart. There was not some epiphany about right and wrong.
The name change happened because of money. Because the organization stood to lose tens of millions of dollars as corporate sponsors threatened to pull out seven and eight-figure contracts if the name wasn’t changed.
Nearly two years later, here come the Commanders.
For many, that’s a part of why this all hurts so much.
Think about it this way: There are hundreds of thousands of people that own a shirt, a hat, a jacket with that old logo and name on it. Maybe millions.
There are thousands — literally thousands — of people with the old name and logo tattooed on their bodies. People of all shapes and sizes, races and genders, permanently marked their bodies with a team logo.
That name, that logo, meant far more to them than a consultant can ever process. There is no focus group that can fully explain the bond between a team and a city and a group of people from all over the country that found a single unifying cause.
That’s not to say it wasn’t time for the change. Just because the decision came for financial reasons doesn’t mean the decision was wrong.
“I don't like the language police ensuring that no one anywhere gives offense to anyone about anything. And I fully credit the claim of Redskins owner Dan Snyder and many passionate fans that they intend no malice or prejudice and that 'Redskins' has a proud 80-year history they wish to maintain. The fact is, however, that words don’t stand still. They evolve.”
The late Charles Krauthammer wrote those words in a Washington Post editorial. Back in 2013.
Krauthammer was a famed conservative pundit with a bent towards pushing back on political correctness. And he still understood the need to change the name, and that was nearly a decade ago.
“Why? Simple decency. I wouldn’t want to use a word that defines a people — living or dead, offended or not — in a most demeaning way,” Krauthammer wrote. “It’s a question not of who or how many had their feelings hurt, but of whether you want to associate yourself with a word that, for whatever historical reason having nothing to do with you, carries inherently derogatory connotations.”
The time for hollow gestures is over. Time to end the commiseration of a name and logo treasured by many, though reviled by some.
The time is now for a new name.
Teddy Roosevelt once said, "It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things."
For many Washington fans, the painful effort is over. The name is long gone.
It's time for the courage to move on to better things.