News & Politics

3 Signs the Commanders May Be Dumping Their Dreadful Name

Is new NFL owner Josh Harris gearing up to make a move? There are no coincidences—only hints.

Photograph by Jeff Elkins .

Almost nobody likes the Commanders. Not the actual local NFL franchise, of course. The perpetually-downtrodden team still has plenty of fans, and now that wildly unpopular former owner Dan Snyder is finally—mercifully!—out of the picture, there’s no reason to believe that a few winning seasons can’t restore most of the long-lost goodwill and enthusiasm surrounding all things burgundy and gold.

Nope, when we say “Commanders,” we mean the name. It’s dreadful, and just one of Snyder’s many screwups, including a glaring inability to gracefully handle the squad’s previous name, which made the team fodder in America’s ceaseless culture wars. (Wherever you stand in the great Proud Tradition vs. Racial Slur debate, you can probably concede that for anyone in the business of selling tickets to football games, willfully anchoring your brand at the center of said debate is not exactly the stuff of a Harvard Business School case study).

Last year, a Washington Post poll found that nearly half of the city’s residents either “dislike” or “hate” the name Commanders; by contrast, only five percent “love” it. That’s the bad news. The good news? The team’s new ownership may share that antipathy—or a least a strong sense of apathy—toward the moniker. And that means a change could be coming, sooner rather than later.

Sure, new Commanders owner Josh Harris was as noncommittal as a GOP politician asked to say something bad about Donald Trump when asked if he liked the current name during an introductory news conference in July. “It’s not about how I feel, it’s about how the city feels about all this stuff,” he said. Only don’t be fooled. Harris and the rest of the franchise’s brain trust are absolutely going to dump Commanders for something different—and, by sheer default, almost certainly better. 

The evidence? They’ve already dropped plenty of strong hints. Just consider:


The Telltale Polo

When Harris joined ESPN announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the broadcast booth for an interview during a recent Monday Night Football broadcast, he made headlines—and was gently roasted on social media—for awkwardly shaking Buck’s hand when Buck was simply gesturing and not extending his hand for a shake. 

So far, so funny. But look closer. Check out Harris’s burgundy-colored polo shirt. Team colors? Yes. Team name? Nowhere to be found. Just as athletes often remove any sign of their current team from their social media accounts before jumping to a new home, Harris is very clearly signaling that the Commanders Era will be short-lived. Sometimes a shirt is just a shirt; sometimes it’s a telltale tabula rasa with short sleeves.

The Team That Must Not Be Named

During the first quarter of the Commanders’s recent preseason game against the Cleveland Browns, fans noticed something odd: play-by-play announcer Chick Hernandez, a local sports media stalwart, was very conspicuously using the term “burgundy and gold” to refer to the team instead of “Commanders.”

Coincidence? There are no coincidences. A personal expression of disdain for the name? Possibly, though preseason broadcasters work directly for the franchise—which means that instead of operating off-script, Hernandez may have been avoiding “Commanders” on direct orders from or with the tacit approval of the team’s top decision-makers. And why would they want to de-emphasize their current branding, unless they’re prepping viewers for a coming revamp?


Magic Johnson Basically Said So

Okay, okay: this one isn’t so much a hint as a sharp elbow in the ribs, followed by staring at a WE’RE CHANGING THE DANG NAME billboard while being subjected to the Ludovico Technique from A Clockwork Orange. In July, the basketball legend and new Commanders minority owner said on  The Today Show—before God and Hoda Kotb—that when it comes to getting rid of the moniker, “I think everything’s on the table, especially after this year.” Not exactly a vote of confidence!

Patrick Hruby
Deputy Editor