The Washington Commanders' New Name Explained

On February 2, 2022, the Washington Football Team revealed their brand-new team name, bringing to an end decades of controversy surrounding their old moniker. In an announcement on NBC's "Today," Team President Jason Wright, legendary quarterback Doug Williams, and current defensive tackle Jonathan Allen unveiled the team's new identity: the Washington Commanders.

According to the Washington Commanders, the new name "embodies the most powerful aspects of Washington's story by paying tribute to the team's rich history and championship culture, personified by mission-driven players who take command, forge success and break barriers on and off the field." It's the byproduct of a nearly two-year process to choose would be a suitable replacement for the former name the team had used for over 80 years — but was put into retirement in 2020.

The team's primary logo will be the letter W, something retained from the two years the franchise spent using the generic name. The W is different than what graced the helmets of the Washington Football Team, with the Commanders sporting a more stylized version of the letter. The team also unveiled a new wordmark and a slate of three new uniforms — including a black alternate — that retain the franchise's iconic burgundy and gold color scheme.

According to ESPN, while the executive director of non-profit advocacy group IllumiNative, Crystal Echo Hawk, called the change a "momentous moment" she added, "There's still a lot of healing that needs to happen, so I don't think the team's work in regards to reconciliation and healing is over."

The franchise started as the Boston Braves

The team's former identity was one of the most well-known — and controversial — in all of sports. The organization started play in 1932, not in Washington, but in Boston. Originally the team played under the name Boston Braves. This only lasted for one season, as the longtime moniker was adopted in 1933, sticking with the team upon their relocation south to Washington D.C., until it was abandoned ahead of the 2020 NFL season (via Pro Football Reference).

One story for how the original name was selected was that it was intended to honor the team's then-head-coach William "Lone Star" Dietz. Dietz claimed Native American heritage, but this has been called into question over the years. According to ESPN, Dietz was sent to jail for falsifying Native American heritage in an effort to avoid being drafted into World War I. 

A post to the Marquette University Law School Faculty Blog offers a different explanation. Citing an article in the Washington Post by columnist Robert McCartney, it explains that a newspaper article from 1933 — the year the team's name was switched from Braves to "Redskins" — quotes team owner George Preston Marshall as saying that the name was meant to differentiate the team from Major League Baseball's Boston Braves, with whom the team shared a stadium in 1932. Football and baseball teams with shared names were somewhat common in the era, but upon their move to Fenway Park in 1933, the new name was adopted.

The team's nickname courts controversy

According to CBS Sports, the first instance of the Washington "Redskins" name appeared in 1971 and grew in 1972 when the team introduced a new wordmark that the team would go on to use for decades. The controversy that flared up around the wordmark prompted team president to state that the franchise's intent was to "convey and not disrespect — but reverence for the Indian."

A Super Bowl appearance in 1992 would prompt the next salvo in the team name controversy. Super Bowl XXVI pitted Washington against the Buffalo Bills. The game took place in Minnesota and was met with large protests against the team's name and a petition to have the team's right to use the name taken away.

The franchise first acquired the trademark for the "Redskins" name in 1967 and starting in the 1990s that trademark would be the focal point in a series of court battles between the team and Native American activists. The dispute would end in 2018 with a ruling in favor of the team (via USA Today).

The team announced the retirement of the longtime name in 2020. The team's statement at the time mentioned that "Dan Snyder and Coach [Ron] Rivera are working closely to develop a new name and design approach that will enhance the standing of our proud, tradition-rich franchise and inspire our sponsors, fans, and community for the next 100 years."

In the interim, the team played the 2020 and 2021 seasons under the also controversial — though for a much different reason — Washington Football Team name.