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USA Today via Reuters

As the 2024 NFL Draft came around, Dale Earnhardt Jr would’ve hoped for one thing above all else: a solution to his favorite team’s quarterback crisis. Did he get that? Likely yes. And along with that, he also got a salute to Dale Earnhardt Sr from the Washington Commanders. Or is it the Washington Redskins? Or the Washington Football Team? So many names, right?

On the first day of the Draft, the Commanders tweeted, “IT’S DRAFT DAY #RaiseHail.” Appreciating the nod to the “Raise hell, praise Dale” cheer for his legendary father, Junior responded, “I can get behind this hashtag 😀 IYKYK.” Later that day, the Washington team drafted quarterback Jayden Daniels as the No.2 overall pick, taking a step towards not only solving their crisis but also winning rings. And Dale Jr couldn’t have been happier about how things are looking up for his team.

On the Rich Eisen Show, Eisen asked Junior about Daniels’ signing and what it could mean for the Commanders moving forward. There have been quite a few changes in the team this off-season – a new head coach and changes in the staff and the roster. Acknowledging these, Dale Jr said it would take time to start working in their favor. However, he said, “I think this is the first time in a long time I feel like there’s a real chance. There could be a new identity created, a whole new identity built around this team.” Eisen couldn’t help but ask him about the Commanders’ name.

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“Do you think they should change the name to something else to keep that identity rolling?” The thing is, the Commanders have experienced significant changes in its name and branding in the past few years. Under increasing public and corporate pressure, the team relinquished its original name, Redskins, in 2020, torn down due to racial insensitivity. Despite being a landmark step in the sports industry – which was estimated to have cost $20 million, per the Washington Post – some say it caused them to lose their individuality.

The team then adopted the interim name, Washington Football Team. Referring to this, Dale Jr told Rich Eisen they should bring back this name. Revealing how he warmed up to the name, Junior said, “When they changed the name to the Football Team, we all had the same reaction: ‘Man, this is weird. This is odd. I don’t like it.’ But actually, by the end of the first season as the Football Team, we were different. It was good; we liked it. I think most people who wrapped their brains around it were like, ‘I kind of like this.’ It set us apart in the whole NFL’s industry with that type of a name.”

Despite initial doubts and ridicule over its apparent simplicity, this temporary name unexpectedly gained favor for its minimalist and inclusive style. And maybe that made Dale Earnhardt Jr love the team even more. His fondness for the team intertwines with personal relationships, especially with NASCAR team owner and former head coach of the Washington Redskins, Joe Gibbs. Gibbs’ venture into NASCAR created a mutual history that deepened Earnhardt’s connection to the football team.

 

The Washington Football Team served as a provisional identity while the franchise reassessed its branding. It introduced Washington Commanders as its new permanent name in 2022, eliciting a variety of responses from the public.

How did Dale Earnhardt Jr and the community perceive the Commanders?

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Back in 2017, Dale Earnhardt Jr was visibly sad when he had to scrap a paint scheme for his car: it carried the then-Redskins’ logo. In an interview, he’d revealed his love for the iconic football team bloomed in 2012 when his mom bought him an entire Washington uniform for his 9th birthday in 1983. Perhaps that could be why Junior is so sentimental about his team name preference.

However, critiques from fans and observers target the new name’s lack of the unexpected straightforwardness and character that The Washington Football Team possessed. Dale Earnhardt Jr shared this view, stating his feelings hadn’t aligned with the Commanders by the end of season one, casting light on the wider community’s mixed reactions.

“I didn’t feel that way at the end of season one around the Commanders. Will I in a few years? Maybe it’ll become normal and feel normalized to me. But that Washington Football Team name was kind of cool and had a blank slate with jerseys and everything there. That would be kind of neat to go back,” he shared.

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After a long-standing controversy and increased scrutiny over racial representation in sports, the franchise retired its original name and mascot. This step aligned with a worldwide re-evaluation of cultural symbols, propelled by heightened consciousness and sensitivity towards historical wrongs. The interim name served as a strategy to reset and rethink the team’s identity to resonate inclusively with a diverse audience.

The Washington Commanders’ name aimed to convey leadership and command but failed to strike a chord with the community as strongly as intended. This gap between the franchise’s goals and the public’s response highlights the complexities of rebranding that respects traditions while moving forward.