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Fans weigh in on the new Washington NFL team name

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

After decades of debates, protests and input from fans, Washington's NFL team has a new name. Elliot Williams, with member station WAMU, reports on what the new name means for fans around Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TODAY")

DOUG WILLIAMS: We are the Commanders.

CRAIG MELVIN: (Laughter).

JASON WRIGHT: We are the Commanders.

MELVIN: The Commanders, the Washington Commanders.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, BYLINE: That's Doug Williams, a former Super Bowl-winning quarterback and current member of Washington's executive staff. He announced the new name on NBC's "TODAY" show, and team owner Dan Snyder showed off the new jerseys, an edgier version of D.C.'s traditional burgundy and gold uniforms. They said the new moniker represents a new era for a team that has seen scandal after scandal and hasn't won a Super Bowl in 30 years. The former team name was a slur against Native Americans, and activists have been trying to get the team to change it for decades.

Snyder has faced plenty of scrutiny, as former employees have accused the team of sexual harassment and a toxic workplace culture. Congress is investigating. But could this new name, the Commanders, be the start of a turning point for the team? The Commanders' president, Jason Wright, seems to think so.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TODAY")

WRIGHT: It's something that broadly resonated with our fans.

E WILLIAMS: But do Washington residents agree? I went around D.C. asking people what they thought of the commanders. Tarji Irby is a lifelong Washington fan who grew up right near the team's old stadium in northeast D.C. before it moved to the current stadium, FedEx Field in Maryland.

TARJI IRBY: The tradition is the main thing, that we keep that same tradition and fight. And, you know, always been a blue-collar type of town and, you know, the football team has always reflected that. You know, it was going to take some getting used to. But, you know, the new uniforms, man, you know, that's a great start right there.

E WILLIAMS: I spotted Corey Parkinson walking downtown with a sweatshirt bearing the old logo and name. He started watching the team 30 years ago with his dad.

COREY PARKINSON: I don't like the name. I think there was other options and avenues they could have gone. I personally like Red Tails or Red Wolves - kind of keep the HTTR alive, but very disappointed.

E WILLIAMS: Parkinson says he'll keep supporting the team in his father's honor, but not because of the name.

George Perry is a former VP of marketing for the team and professor at George Mason University. He says gaining fan support goes beyond the name.

GEORGE PERRY: So it really depends on what they do in the community and what they do to enhance that fan experience.

E WILLIAMS: Perry says that fans, even the skeptical ones, will eventually support the brand if the team starts winning and if its culture shifts to be more inclusive and community focused.

PERRY: Listen - as a fan and as somebody who was in the military and is part of a military family, I actually like this name. I think it's a good, strong name that they can get behind, and I think the fans will get behind it eventually as well.

E WILLIAMS: The team is working in the offseason to look for a new quarterback and revamp its roster with an 11th overall pick in the next NFL draft. Perry says with another Super Bowl win, it will be much easier for locals to get behind the Commanders.

For NPR News, I'm Elliot Williams in Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MT. WOLF SONG, "TUCANA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.