Washington NFL team unveils new name: Commanders

Associated Press | 2/3/2022, 6 p.m.
Washington has some new Commanders in town.
Washington Commanders President Jason Wright speaks during an event to unveil the NFL football team’s new identity Wednesday in Landover, Md. The new name comes 18 months after the once-storied franchise dropped its old moniker following decades of criticism that it was offensive to Native Americans. Photo by Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Washington has some new Commanders in town.

The NFL team has a new name, 18 months after fresh pressure from sponsors helped persuade the once-storied franchise to drop its old moniker following decades of criticism that it was offensive to Native Americans. The organization committed to avoiding Native American imagery in its rebrand after being called the Washington Football Team the past two seasons.

Washington is the latest American major professional team to abandon its name linked to Native Americans, and it was considered one of the most egregious.

Suzan Shown Harjo, who is Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, called the change “an amazing and a giant step in thematurationofAmerica.”The 76-year-old Ms. Harjo has been advocating for sports teams to drop Native American imagery and mascots since the 1960s.

“That’s sort of our place in the world, Native people’s place in the world, to help the rest of the country come to grips with its past and to understand how to move on,” she said. “And, I hope, how to do it with grace.”

While Major League Base- ball’s Cleveland Guardians have changed their name, the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks and baseball’s Atlanta Braves have said they are not planning to make a change.

That doesn’t sit well with IllumiNative, a Native Ameri- can women-led social justice organization, though founder and executive director Crystal Echo Hawk praised the move by the Commanders.

“Native mascots are inaccurate and stereotypical depictions of Native culture,” the Pawnee woman said in a statement. “They do not honor or celebrate Native peoples but are rather a tool of white supremacy created to dehumanize and objectify us. Research has shown time after time that Native mascots lead to lowered self-esteem and self-worth, and increases rates of depression, self-harm, and violence against Native youths.

“The Washington Commanders are proof that ending the use of Native American imagery in sports is possible. The Cleveland Guardians are further proof.” Washington owner Dan Snyder said the change that pays “homage to our local roots and what it means to represent the nation's capital."

"As we kick off our 90th season, it is important for our organization and fans to pay tribute to our past traditions, history, legacy and the greats that came before us,” Mr. Snyder said. “We continue to honor and represent the Burgundy and Gold while forging a pathway to a new era in Washington.”

President Biden welcomed the name change by posting a picture on Twitter of Commander, his recently acquired German shepherd puppy, in front of the White House.

“I suppose there’s room for two Commanders in this town,” President Biden wrote.

From 1932 until two seasons ago, Washington had used a mascot name that offended Native Americans and others.

The former name is the worst name that NativeAmericans can be called in the English language, according to Ms. Harjo. She said the word hearkens to a time when bounties were paid for the scalps of Native Americans.

While thousands of high schools, colleges and professional sports organizations have dropped Native imagery and mascots, she estimated about 1,000 remain.

“All of this cultural thievery really has to stop,” Ms. Harjo said. “What the Washington team and the Cleveland team have done is to remove two of the most grotesque and vile images and names that exist.”