A couple of months ago, Magic Johnson said the name of the Washington Commanders team he’s part owner of would eventually come up.
It did Wednesday, and fans of the old name aren’t going to be happy with the first public comments on the matter made by a member of that ownership group.
Mitchell Rales, the top partner in a group, led by Josh Harris and including Johnson that purchased the Commanders for a record $6.05 billion, told a crowd of about 700 at a Washington dinner that the owners may consider a new name for the team somewhere down the road.
But it will not be the Redskins.
“That ship has sailed,” Rales said. “We’re not going to re-litigate the past. We’re about the future. We’re about building the future and not having a divisive culture that we’re engaged in.”
More than 130,000 people have signed a petition urging the new owners of the Commanders to change the team’s name to the one that had been used from 1933 to 2019 — a name that was considered by some Native Americans to be offensive.
For many years, then-owner Daniel Snyder defiantly stood by a name under which the team won three Super Bowl titles and two pre-merger NFL championships. But in July 2020 — at a time when racial relations in the U.S. were under intense scrutiny following the death of George Floyd — the organization announced it was dropping its controversial nickname. After two seasons as simply the Washington Football team, the franchise unveiled the Commanders name in February 2022.
As the petition indicates, the new name isn’t popular with everyone. Johnson may have unintentionally gotten some hopes up during a “Today” show interview in July, saying “the name of the team will come up eventually, but right now we’ve got enough work to do and that will keep us busy.”
But team president Jason Wright said in a radio interview last week of a possible return to the old name: “It is not being considered. Period.”
Rales said Wednesday that any thoughts of altering the team name, as well as other major organizational decisions, will be put on hold until at least after the 2023 season, which begins for the Commanders on Sunday at home against the Arizona Cardinals.
“We’re going to look at everything come the end of the year and think about a lot of different things and do a lot of testing and see what people think,” Rales said. “And we’ll learn. The beauty is we have the time to look at all of this stuff intelligently and make fan-based decisions.”
Johnson also made his first appearance at practice Wednesday as a team owner, with the players looking to soak in the knowledge that comes with winning five NBA championships with the Lakers.
“You could tell they really bought into it,” Commanders coach Ron Rivera said. “It’s funny. It’s kind of like being a parent. You can tell your kid all you want, but till someone like Magic says it, then it means something.”