It sounds like another change is in store for Washington’s NFL franchise, whose nickname has been changed twice already in the last three years. The new owners did just insist that the club won’t go back to that nickname used for 87 years, however.
Even though that name was a racist slur, many longtime fans want to bring it back – in part because the current nickname, Commanders, fails to resonate. The owners don’t sound keen on a hybrid using parts of the old name, as in Red Hogs or Pigskins.
When the franchise became the Washington Commanders in February 2022, head coach Ron Rivera, a former US Army brat, said he liked the new name because it had military connotations, ideal for a team in the nation’s capital.
“The military? It made perfect sense to me,” Kevin B Blackistone wrote in the Washington Post when the nickname was introduced. “But not because Rivera was the son of a 32-year Army man and grew up on military bases overseas and in this area before settling in Monterey, California. Nor because the home of this football team is the seat of this country’s armed forces, with the Pentagon just across the river in Virginia.
“Instead, it was because the military, its patriotic pomp and circumstance, is so unassailable in so many people’s eyes that it could be seen as the ultimate deodorizer for a franchise that has been rolling on one scent after another in recent years to mask its growing stench.”
The issue has no easy solution. The team’s original name is out, even though a petition has been launched to change it back. “Changing the name abruptly disregards the positive legacy that the … name has built over the years and disorients the passionate fans who have invested their emotions, time, and unwavering support in the team,” the petition reads. Ugh.
A few fans liked the temporary name used in the 2021 and 2022 seasons – Washington Football Team sounded sort of like a European soccer club – but Commanders is blah. Something had to be chosen, because Dan Snyder, who owned the team from 1999 until a group of investors led by Josh Harris bought it for $6.05bn in May, was told by corporations that they’d drop sponsorship.
But the new name has the smell of the old ownership. Snyder was loathed by fans – whether they liked or hated the old nickname – because the team was beset by a horrendous workplace culture that included sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation. Or maybe it was because Washington won only two playoff games, none since 2005, in the time Snyder owned the team.
Since George Washington, the city’s namesake, was the commander of the Continental-then-US Army from 1775 to 1783, “Generals” may have worked better as the team’s name. But a basketball team known as the Washington Generals were nightly losers to the Harlem Globetrotters for years.
Colin Fowler, a District of Columbia native who was a Washington fan as a kid and is now a design director for a creative agency, suggested to the Post recently that “District Hogs” could be a fitting new name.
He even whipped up a conceptual rebrand, using neither “red” nor “skins”. It was District, because the team hope to play in a new stadium in Washington DC proper, and Hogs, after the legendary offensive linemen who helped the team win three Super Bowls during the 80s and 90s.
Fowler even tinkered with the burgundy-and-gold color scheme and designed a gold helmet with a very angry tusked hog that subtly incorporates the three stars and two bars of the District of Columbia flag. It is more aggressive than the nondescript “W” now on the helmets.
This is not the first time a Washington professional sports franchise has had problems with a nickname. The NBA’s Washington Wizards changed their name from the Bullets in 1997 because of the gun violence that plagued DC. There was some blowback in DC, where 40% of the population is Black, because “Wizard” is a rank in the Ku Klux Klan, but the NBA team has kept its name.
“Slingers” could be a cool nickname, because it would be a tribute to the Hall of Fame quarterback “Slingin’ Sammy” Baugh, who led Washington to the NFL title in 1937, his rookie year and the team’s first in Washington.
But Mitchell Rales, the top partner in Harris’s ownership group, told a dinner crowd of 700 this month in Washington that “We’re not going to relitigate the past. We’re about the future. We’re about building the future and not having a divisive culture that we’re engaged in.”
Forget a nickname with Red or Skin in it. While they are at it, they may as well dump burgundy and gold, too. Start from scratch, like an expansion team. Washington’s NFL franchise has some lustrous history, but the last 25 years or so have memorable for the wrong reasons.
Think sleek, powerful, modern and fast. This team needs a complete reboot.
I like something like Force, because there are a lot of ways to interpret the word: air force, ground force, unstoppable force, force to be reckoned with, forced fumbles and interceptions. It would help if the team, by whatever name, win more often than they lose.