The freshly renamed Washington Commanders will play their first-ever regular-season game on September 11, and I’ve been thinking a lot about whether to watch. The contest against the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars promises to be one of the weekend’s least essential matchups, but my hesitation goes far deeper than that. For many of us longtime followers of the team’s previous incarnation, this feels like something of a crossroads moment. I’ve loved DC’s NFL team for decades—as long as I can remember. But am I now going to be a fan of this thing called the Commanders?
I’ve never been one of those avid sports people who can rattle off team rosters and spit out statistics, but Washington football has been a part of my life since at least the early ’80s. In those days, the team was a source of local excitement and discussion in a way that’s impossible for recent arrivals to comprehend. I still recall the eerie quiet of streets on Sunday afternoons in the autumn; rare was the local host who dared schedule a social event during game time. The team’s burgundy-and-gold shirts, hats, and jackets were ubiquitous, and we all idolized giants (definitely not Giants!) such as Art Monk, Darrell Green, and even kicker Mark Moseley.
In elementary school, the kids in our daily carpool held their breath as we drove past Dorset Avenue in Bethesda—a collective expression of loathing for Dallas Cowboys star Tony Dorsett. The team’s first Super Bowl victory came in 1983, when I was in middle school, and I joined an estimated 500,000 other admirers for a chaotic, rain-soaked victory parade, the size and intensity of which surprised even the players. Coach Joe Gibbs told the crowd that “there’s no other fans in the world that would come out on a day like this except in Washington, DC,” and it certainly felt that way; back then, Washington was one of the great football towns, the kind of place where the gritty offensive line—our beloved Hogs—were as revered as big stars like Joe Theismann and John Riggins.
When Dan Snyder bought the team in 1999, I was living in New York, happily watching games at neighborhood bars with fellow DC expats. At that point, the team’s 1992 Super Bowl victory was still relatively recent history; little did we know what lay ahead. Snyder’s ensuing tenure has been defined by a futile shuffling of quarterbacks and head coaches that has yielded little playoff success and not a single Super Bowl appearance. For more than 20 years, DC football just hasn’t been much fun.
Still, no real fan would abandon a team simply because they’re perennial also-rans. It’s the depressing off-field spectacle that really rankles—the grim allegations of a toxic workplace and sexual assault and harassment; the NFL investigation that resulted in significant penalties to the team but—infuriatingly—no public report of its findings; and on and on. Who wants to root for all of that?
For me, the final indignity is the new name, unveiled in February. Ditching the old racist moniker was both necessary and overdue. (Snyder’s years of resistance to that move was yet another reason to resent his stewardship.) But the Commanders? No, thanks. I’m sure plenty of other fans will make the switch relatively seamlessly, especially because the updated uniforms aren’t a radical departure from tradition. But I can’t see myself ever adjusting. With its militaristic, authoritarian overtones, “Commanders” just feels off-key.
And so recently, I’d been contemplating whether I want to keep doing this. It would be a sad farewell; I have so many memories wrapped up in all those Sundays spent cheering on even the most listless of defeats. But my heart just isn’t in it anymore.
Which is why as the season fast approaches, I have arrived at a big decision: Starting this fall, I’m giving up and moving on. Come Sunday afternoon, I’ll be doing something other than rooting for DC’s team. I am—after more than 40 years—canceling my fandom. Dear Dan Snyder: I quit.
This article appears in the September 2022 issue of Washingtonian.