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In its season opener, the Washington Football Team rallied to beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-17, in front of an empty stadium due to restrictions in place to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Had spectators been allowed at FedExField, what they wore to the game might have revealed something about how much of the fan base is accepting the team’s name change—and how much they might be resisting it.
Would the crowd have sported nothing but old jerseys bearing the name that Native American activists and critics have decried as racist for decades? Or would they have proudly wore newer gear that just bore the word “Washington” or a block W?
Shortly after dropping its old name this summer, the franchise created a new line of apparel to sell to its fans, with many of the shirts, hoodies, hats, and face coverings displaying the full (and potentially permanent) name, “Washington Football Team.” But some retailers have been slow to roll out the products, and the question of whether fans even want them is another matter.
“It’s really a mix. A lot of people are just refusing,” says chef and longtime fan Ted Abela, better known as “Tailgate Ted” among his peers. “They’re going to wear their old, retired gear until the day they die. They’re not gonna put any more money into it. And some of them are embracing the new, interim name, thinking it’s going to be a collector’s item and they’ll go back and look at this and say, ‘Hey, I remember when this was.’ And some people are really just over it in general.”
In July, in the midst of a racial reckoning across the country, Washington announced its decisions to review and ultimately to retire its previous name. The team’s sudden change of heart was brought on largely by corporate pressure. Not only did FedEx say it intended to remove its signage from the team’s stadium unless the nickname was changed, retail giants like Amazon, Walmart, and Target pulled all products with the old moniker and logo, as did NFL apparel partner Nike.
Curiously, not all of those retailers have since restocked with the team’s replacement merchandise. Nike’s website does not yield any results for searches of either the old nickname or “Washington football,” even though Nike itself is responsible for manufacturing much of the team’s new apparel. Nike did not respond to requests for comment about this discrepancy.
Target also hasn’t made any Washington Football Team items available online yet, and anecdotally, the selection is scarce at local brick-and-mortar stores.
“I definitely have not been able to find anything in the store,” says Pascal Todd of Alexandria. “I spend a lot of time in different Targets, and they used to have tons, like an aisle of it. Now it’s just Nats stuff.”
A Target spokesperson tells City Paper that the company plans to sell Washington Football Team products online and in area stores “in the coming weeks.”
That’s not to say it’s difficult to track these items down. Official channels like the team’s online store, NFLShop.com, and Fanatics, the league’s online retail partner, all carry Washington Football Team shirts, jerseys, and the like. Amazon, Walmart, Kohl’s, and Dick’s Sporting Goods also have items for sale, with different degrees of variety. A Kohl’s spokesperson says the company “will have a limited assortment available in select stores this fall.”
But fans face the unique predicament of whether to buy merchandise bearing what many of them believe to be a placeholder name. Owner Dan Snyder told the Wall Street Journal that the franchise could stick with “Washington Football Team,” but it’s just as likely that a more traditional, plural noun is chosen and a new logo and branding accompany the change.
Todd and Deonte Hallums, also from Alexandria, are friends and Washington fans who launched the “Tae and Todd Washington Football Podcast” in May. Both men plan to buy Washington Football Team gear to support the franchise; Hallums views it as a step in a transformation process from the old name to the future name.
“I do personally feel that ‘Redskins’ stuff is being retired with the name,” Todd adds. “I mean, people are still going to wear it, but long term, it’s kind of being retired. Whereas stuff from this year from ‘Washington Football Team’ to me will be timeless, and will actually almost be limited edition because you can only get it for one year.”
Abela bought himself a Washington Football Team shirt and pair of shorts through Fanatics. “I’m a fan of this franchise, I’m not a fan of a name,” he says. “The history is still there. None of that has gone away. So I’m going to wear my gear proudly.”
But Abela also understands why others aren’t lining up with their wallets out. Some have joked about the blandness of the current name. Evan Thomas tweeted he was “not gonna spend money on a one-year merch” and would wait for the team to confirm its new, permanent look.
As the team moves away from its old controversial name and logo, and items from that era start to become something of a relic, and at least one high-profile fan isn’t abandoning it completely. In August, Washington safety Landon Collins, who grew up following the team because of the late superstar Sean Taylor, told reporters he has no plans to part ways with any of the old team gear he has at home.
“That’s like what you pass down,” Collins said. “I used to play for the Redskins, now I play for the Washington Football Team, then I’m going to play for a different name in the future … That’s stuff you just hold onto forever, because you can always say, ‘I played for this team.’ It’s always something that’s close to me because I was a Redskins fan—I am a Redskins fan.”