The Washington Football Team’s current name came out of necessity. It might end up staying because of popularity.
That’s the sentiment from team president Jason Wright, who said in an interview with ESPN that a significant portion of the team’s fanbase has grown to prefer the name, and that could lead the club to make it permanent.
“There are a set of folks that have warmed to the Washington Football Team,” Wright said. “Some of the things that are emerging from that are the Washington Football Team has something that ties deeply to our history. It feels like that isn’t jettisoning all the things we have been in the past, whereas something that’s completely new might feel that way.
“It’s important for a substantial part of our fan base to feel that this is a continuation of something versus a complete reset, something brand new.”
Washington Football Team, as it stands, evokes feelings that come from the sport’s earliest days, when franchises carried with them a variety of unique names, like the Decatur Staleys, Dayton Triangles, Rochester Jeffersons and Columbus Panhandles, all of which played in the NFL’s inaugural season of 1920, when it was known as the American Professional Football Association. In fact, the league had two teams go by the same nickname — Pros — which was used by both the Hammond Pros and the championship-winning Akron Pros.
Football Team, though, evokes tradition because of its lack of specification, harkening back to American sports’ earliest days, when clubs’ official names across sports were known not just by location and nickname (as wacky as those often were), but those two details and football or baseball club added on. Football Team also fills the space of a specific nickname that would replace the nickname Washington left behind via retirement last summer.
In the short term, it allowed for the franchise to keep its uniforms and colors without making drastic changes in a process that typically takes two years. Washington just stripped logos and stripes from its helmets, replaced them with numbers — a common feature on the game’s earlier headgear — and replaced its former nickname with “Washington” on the chest.
That branding switch is what Wright talked about in satisfying fans’ desires to avoid appearing as if the franchise itself was rebooting. When the Browns moved to Baltimore, the team became the Ravens as a result of unpopularity of Baltimore Browns, which was alliterative, but not exactly what Maryland fans wanted in their new team. Cleveland, meanwhile, pushed to keep the team’s nickname and history for a reboot, which it received in 1999 as an expansion franchise.
Other franchises — the Rams, Colts, Cardinals, Raiders and Chargers — kept their nicknames and just changed geographic locations, going from Los Angeles to St. Louis and back to Los Angeles (Rams), or moving from Chicago to St. Louis and later Phoenix (before ultimately assuming the state name of Arizona Cardinals), for example.
Washington didn’t lose its team, nor did it change locations. It simply changed its name, a practice not uncommon in American sports as of late, especially at the collegiate level.
If the club ends up deciding to change its nickname to something more specific and befitting of the current sporting landscape, it will decide on that in the future. The franchise announced a “last call” for name submissions to a team-established website on Tuesday, setting a deadline for April 5 for suggestions for a new team name before the club “moves into the next phase of a total rebranding effort that will culminate in a new team name, logo and brand identity.”
There’s no telling at this point whether that process will produce a new name and branding, or just a new appearance for the Washington Football Team. Wright wouldn’t put a concrete timeline on the process, emphasizing the franchise wants to get such a significant name right.
“The sooner the better, that’s one thing I hear from the fan base,” he said. “I would like it sooner than later, but it’s hard to commit to timing because the importance here is thoroughness, rigor and ensuring that we have been inclusive of all the folks that need to listen. That works against speed in some ways, but we’re moving as fast as possible.”