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Dan Snyder opened his remarks on Wednesday morning with a joke.
“Well, first off, welcome to not the best kept secret in D.C.,” he said.
Snyder, of course, was referring to the unveiling of the local NFL team’s new name. After 18 months of deliberation, thousands of suggestions from fans, months of online speculation, and recent leaks, the team formerly known as the Washington Football Team has rebranded as the Washington Commanders.
“Today’s a big day for our team, our fans, a day in which we embark on new chapter as the Washington Commanders,” Snyder said Wednesday morning at FedExField in front of Commanders players, alumni, staff, and media members. “It’s been a long journey to get to this point. We’ve been grateful to everyone who’s been part of this process along the way.”
Snyder, the co-owner and co-CEO of the Commanders, had long resisted changing the team’s old racist moniker, but the franchise announced in the summer of 2020 it would be retiring the old name and logo after a wave of protests against police brutality and anti-Black racism in the U.S. led to sponsors pulling support from the organization. Native American activists and their allies had fought decades for this moment.
Washington hired Jason Wright, the NFL’s first Black team president, that August, and Wright has led the name change process. For the past two seasons, the Commanders played as the Washington Football Team. On Wednesday, Wright stood before the assembled guests to briefly recap the past year and a half.
“When we started this journey 18 months ago, I didn’t know what we would be saying at this announcement,” Wright said. “And it has been a long process, but an engaging one and an insightful one that’s really been driven by our fans. And we landed on this after getting 40,000 submissions to washingtonjourney.com plus thousands of other submissions by snail mail. That got us down to 1,200 unique names and eventually to where we are today. And we set a precedent that that process was going to be open and engaging. This wasn’t something that we were going to go off in a back room and just decide.”
Wright added that the name reveal on Wednesday was “just the beginning” of the fan engagement process to build a “deep and emotional connection” to the fan base.
“What this effort really is, at its core is not about landing on a name that was going to be unanimously loved by everybody,” he said. “But to start a process by which we can continue to preserve what has been as best about the burgundy and gold. Those have been colors and a name and a franchise under which people who have trouble talking to each other on other topics could come together and huge and high five and be one while cheering this team on. And we believe that the Washington Commanders will allow us to continue to preserve that unity, and build those bonds at a time when I would argue we need it more than ever as a nation.”
Super Bowl champion quarterback Joe Theismann, who seemingly leaked the name reveal earlier this week, said the name Commanders has a sense of “strength” and “authority,” and told the young players watching: “It’s your chance now to be able to create a legacy as the Washington Commanders.”
“The name Commanders is going to be mean something to everybody in this community and we’re gonna uphold that legacy, for sure,” said defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, who spoke on stage after Theismann.
After the remarks, the team opened up the team store to the few dozens fans eagerly waiting to purchase Commanders merchandise. Ralynne Simpson was one of those fans, even though she is still lukewarm on the new name.
“I’m not gonna lie, I’m still sketchy and iffy,” Simpson, a 32-year-old D.C. native, said of the Commanders. “It’s gonna grow on me, though … This is my team, so I’m gonna always represent no matter what we’re called.”