It's been just over a year since the NFL team based out of Washington, D.C., rebranded as the Washington Commanders, ending a yearslong debate over the team's previous name. Now an online petition that launched in June has garnered more than 75,000 signatures in favor of the team reverting back to its old name, which many Indigenous and Native Americans consider to be a racial slur.
The calls come just months after a group led by American investor Josh Harris agreed to purchase the franchise from longtime owner Dan Snyder for a record $6.05 billion in May. NBA legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson is one of the people in the ownership group and has since hinted at the possibility of changing the team's name — again.
"We will see where we are with the name, but I can't say that right now," he said in a sit down interview with the "Today" show. "We're going to spend this year understanding what we have in place and then I'm sure that that'll come up. The Commanders, the name of the team, will come up eventually. But right now we got enough work to do that will keep us busy."
The petition in support of the effort to restore the team's original name had more than 76,000 signatures as of Thursday afternoon, with a "next goal" of reaching 150,000. Daniel Fazzolare, the leader behind the movement, claims it's a matter of history and legacy.
"We acknowledge the concerns surrounding cultural sensitivity and the need to foster inclusivity," Fazzolare wrote in the petition description. "However, we firmly believe that there are alternative ways to honor and respect Native American heritage without erasing it."
He goes on to say that the old name "can be a catalyst for positive change, fostering understanding and appreciation for Native American heritage through community outreach, education, and collaboration."
Meanwhile, the Native American Guardian's Association endorsed the petition and has been promoting its own "Reclaim The Name" campaign. The nonprofit organization claims to advocate for "increased education about Native Americans, especially in public educational institutions, and greater recognition of Native American Heritage through the high profile venues of sports and other public platforms," according to its website.
NAGA founder Eunice Davidson said her organization has also sent a letter to Washington Commanders ownership, threatening a boycott that would be "similar to what happened with Anheuser Busch" if the Commanders' former team name isn't restored.
In Washington, the racist slur was used for more than 80 years before former franchise owner Dan Snyder bowed to calls from some Native American and Indigenous groups who argued that nicknames like the old team name have long reduced them to caricatures and stereotypes. Other professional organizations have also followed suit and dropped their Native American nicknames — notably, the Cleveland Indians, which also rebranded in 2021 as the Cleveland Guardians.
Whether or not these new calls lead to yet another Commanders name change remains to be seen. But it would appear highly unlikely — and extremely offensive — to revert back to one that is now widely considered a racist trope.
New Commanders owner Josh Harris has said he's more focused on immediate issues, like winning football games, reconnecting with fans, and revitalizing the D.C. community.
The Commanders' 2023 season kicks off Friday night with a preseason game against the Cleveland Browns.
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