LANDOVER, Md. — “As a lifelong Washington Football Team fan, and I think that the Washington Football Team fans understand the great tradition and what it’s all about and what it means. We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.” These are the infamous words of Daniel Snyder in 2013. It’s been 87 years, almost to the day, since George Preston Marshall bestowed the name Washington Football Team” upon his team, but NEVER is today.
July 13, 2020 will forever be the day that a new era began in the nation’s Capitol; the day the Washington Football Team nickname became a thing of the past.
In an official team statement on Monday Washington announced:
“On July 3rd, we announced the commitment of a thorough review of the team’s name. That review has begun in earnest. As part of this process, we want to keep our sponsors, fans and community apprised of our thinking as we go forward.
Today we are announcing we will be retiring the Washington Football Team name and logo upon completion of this review.
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.”
The Boston Braves franchise was founded on July 9, 1932. One year later, Marshall changed the name of the team to the Washington Football Team” to avoid confusion with the then Boston Braves baseball team (the modern-day Atlanta Braves) and he chose the Washington Football Team” name so he could keep the team’s Native American logo. He did not choose the name in honor of their head coach, William “Lone Star” Dietz. According to team lore, Marshall incorrectly believed Dietz to have Native American heritage and the moniker was meant as an homage to him and other Native American players on the team. In a 1933 Associated Press article, Marshall himself said “The fact that we have in our head coach, Lone Star Dietz, an Indian, together with several Indian players, has not, as may be suspected, inspired me to select the name Washington Football Team.”
Despite many fans’ love of the franchise name and the legacy, on the field, it holds, the name change has been a long time coming. The name is widely viewed as a racial slur, despite objections and even alleged polls that claim “most” Native Americans don’t mind the name and some actually liked it.
A fervor has grown nationwide since the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minnesota Police. Amid the insueing riots and protests around the country, even more pressure mounted for Dan Snyder and the team to change their name. This wave of public sentiment led to FedEx, the team’s stadium naming rights holder, formally requesting the name change earlier in July. That public request, along with Nike pulling all Washington Football Team” apparel from their website, as well as mounting pressure from other league sponsors like PepsiCo and Bank of America, moved the franchise ownership to “undergo a thorough review of the team’s name.” An open letter, signed by 87 different shareholders and investors representing $620 billion in assets, was sent out to the aforementioned sponsors requesting those companies no longer did business with the team until they changed their name. Even this “review” was seemingly fast tracked, to get done before the start of the 2020 season, by the rumors three minority owners (FedEx Owner and CEO Fred Smith, Dwight Schar and Bob Rothman) accounting for some 40% of the franchise were actively looking to sell their shares. The other 60% of the team is owned by Snyder, his wife Tonya, and his mother. All of this pressure ultimately resulted in the Washington Football Team” name officially being announced as “retired” today.
The “retirement” drew praise from local politicians in the area including DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s delegate to the House of Representatives. Norton said the team’s name change “reflects the present climate of intolerance to names, statues, figments of our past that are racist in nature or otherwise imply racism [and] are no longer tolerated.” The name change should also go a long way towards getting the team a new stadium, back in Washington, D.C. Both women have expressed their desire to have the team’s name changed before any discussion of a stadium in the District could seriously happen, but Bowser is on record in the past as saying “Washington’s football team should be playing in Washington” Maybe now that can be a reality.
Along with the new name, Washington will also be changing their Native American imagery. However, they will retain the traditional Washington team colors of burgundy and gold. The two reported finalist for the new name are “Warriors” and “RedWolves.” Warriors could also be shortened to “Dubs” like the Golden State Warriors. The nickname which would allow for alliteration in multiple forms, i.e. “Washington Warriors” and “DC Dubs.” The other rumored name finalist, “RedWolves” was a play on the “Red” already in the Washington nicknames that would allow the new name to have a ring to it and flow, despite the lack of alliteration.
Washington will host their rival Philadelphia Eagles on September 13, the question remains: Will Washington be searching for their first “Dub” as the Warriors or will the newly christened “RedWolves” fans howl at the moon that night in celebration? Or will it simply be Washington Football Club hosting the Eagles? The only certainty is that the Washington Washington Football Team will not be playing that day.