Just when you thought Washington’s NFL team couldn’t get any more offensive with its deeply problematic nicknames, it finds a way to do it.
On Wednesday, the organization previously known as the Washington Redskins and then simply the Washington Football Team unveiled its new, long-awaited rebranding for the franchise, with the team now identifying as the Washington Commanders. How ignorant.
“This new identity embodies the most powerful aspects of Washington’s story by paying tribute to the team’s rich history and championship culture, personified by mission-driven players who take command, forge success and break barriers on and off the field,” the team said in a press release dripping with privilege through words like “power,” “command,” and “success.”
“The result of an 18-month collaborative process with fans, alumni, players, community leaders and stakeholders across the D.C., Maryland and Virginia (DMV) area, Commanders brings to life the commitment to service and leadership that defines the DMV community,” it continued.
Prior to its “Football Team” moniker, the organization, known then as the “Redskins,” faced much-deserved backlash for its grotesque appropriation of American Indian culture. While such obvious and disdainful cultural confiscation may not matter to American Indians (as polling has shown that 90 percent of them don’t find the “Redskins” name offensive), what truly matters is the feelings of those who are not of American Indian ancestry, but are ready and willing to be offended on their behalf.
Commanders Is Even Worse Than Redskins
Although the sports media will cheer and say the “Commanders” nickname represents a fresh, progressive new start for the team, they’re wrong. To anyone who’s really committed to being an antiracist, it’s fairly obvious that the “Commanders” identity is far worse than the “Redskins” branding.
In fact, when I asked my 4-year-old niece what she thought of the name change, her eyes swelled with tears as she lifted her chubby little fist into the sky in a rage so palpable, it could start a revolution: “I can’t take any more of this BIPOC brutalization!”
A quick overview of the nickname’s etymology reveals that “commander” is derived from the Old French word “comandeor,” with its origins traced back to the early 14th century. As many are aware — if you aren’t, educate yourself — France later went on to become a worldwide colonial power beginning in the early 17th century, with its rule over indigenous peoples extending throughout the Americas, Africa, and Asia.
While some may point to the Franco-Indian alliance during the French and Indian War (1754-1763) as an example of France’s cooperation with American Indians, that argument fails to acknowledge the devastation caused by European diseases that annihilated the American Indian population.
But the racist, Euro-centric, white-colonizer backstory of “commander” goes even deeper. The Latinate root means “to order, enjoin,” which obviously reflects a white supremacist hierarchical worldview in which whites “command” those they deem inferior, and set up command systems to impose state violence on POCs.
Furthermore, notable figures throughout U.S. history such as George Washington, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and Robert E. Lee all held positions ranging from “commander” to “commander-in-chief” over the course of their lifetimes. They, of course, used these positions to advance their white supremacist ideology throughout the United States.
Whereas the bigotry and offensive nature of “Redskins” was blatantly obvious for everyone to see, the intolerance of “Commanders” lies just below the surface to avoid detection by the general public. It’s a systemic problem.
Whether they know it or not, Native Americans such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren are being savagely mocked and brutalized in even worse ways than they were before, as the “Commanders” moniker gives white men like team owner Dan Snyder cover to continue their cultural assault against those who don’t look like them.
So while those in the mainstream claiming to be “woke” continue to champion the name change as a form of societal progress, I refuse to participate in such a celebration. If the Washington franchise had any real interest in starting a national conversation about the suffering of American Indians — I mean, Native Americans — they would have educated themselves and chosen an inclusive nickname. Instead, they’re just perpetuating more pain.