Harris: Washington culture a priority before name


LANDOVER, MD. — New Washington Commanders owner Josh Harris issued a set of priorities that would distance the franchise from what transpired the past couple of decades under previous owner Dan Snyder.

But he was not yet ready to take on a possible name change, saving that topic for another day.

“A lot of stuff happened that was unfortunate,” Harris said at a news conference Friday. “We’re focused on changing the culture. It’s about creating a management team that doesn’t look the same. It’s about zero tolerance on ethically challenged behavior. When you own a sports team in a city, everyone looks at what you do.

“Everyone who works at the team … they’re a reflection on [the fans]. It’s all about culture. We’re very intentional about culture.”

That comment elicited applause from a number of employees and guests in attendance. Issues in those areas during Snyder’s 24-year reign helped cause an erosion of the fan base. But Harris’ arrival has signaled a new day.

“We want to change everything that’s happened to this franchise,” said Basketball Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, one of Harris’ limited partners.

Whether or not it leads to a name change remains to be seen. Washington dropped its original name in July 2020 and replaced it with a temporary one for the next two years — the Washington Football Team — before unveiling the Commanders in February 2022. Some fans have been vocal about their disdain for the new name and have clamored for another change. By NFL rule, a team has to wait five years before it can rebrand again — but there is an exception for a new owner.

Harris said he’s focused more on immediate issues, such as the football season, getting back in the community to reconnect with the fan base and improving the fan experience at games.

“It’s not about how I feel, it’s about how the city feels about all this stuff,” Harris said, when asked in part if he liked the name. “We’re going to look at everything and see where we are, but those are our three priorities now.”

An estimated 5,000 fans attended an event at FedEx Field on Friday afternoon to celebrate Harris’ group taking over. They were joined by several former Washington players, including Hall of Fame corner Darrell Green, and Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs.

NFL owners unanimously approved the sale to Harris on Thursday.

After Harris addressed the media, he headed to where the fans were. He bounded up the stage and exchanged high-fives with fans. Later, after Johnson addressed the crowd, the fans started chanting, “Thank you Josh! Thank you Josh!”

“I’ve waited seven years to see the fan base like this,” Washington defensive tackle Jonathan Allen told the crowd earlier at the event.

Receiver Terry McLaurin, the other current player in attendance, said, “There’s an enthusiasm around here. There’s a lot of optimism for the future.”

Ever since being drafted by Washington in 2019, McLaurin has been part of a franchise that made far more news for off-field issues than for on-field success. Snyder was the focal point of numerous investigations for his own behavior and the work atmosphere he created — by the NFL on two occasions, Congress, the Federal Trade Commission and the attorney generals in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

“You truly don’t understand the weight of everything,” McLaurin said. “Even I couldn’t appreciate the weight, but when you get the questions, obviously the things you see in the media and things like that — it weighs on you. Now it’s like a clean slate for everyone.

“Everyone gets to get back to focusing on what’s on the field instead of worrying about what could be going on off the field.”

Harris, who was born in the D.C. area — his limited partners include many from the area — also was noncommittal about any stadium plans. The ownership group will consider sites in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia.

But it’s possible a new stadium site won’t be determined until next summer — and not built before 2030. That means the franchise must spend money to maintain FedEx Field, which opened in 1997. There have been issues with drainage pipes and other parts of the stadium over the years, including a railing that collapsed, leading to a handful of Philadelphia fans falling to the ground, during the 2021 season.

Current team officials have said the stadium was neglected until the last couple of years.

“You truly don’t understand the weight of everything. … Now it’s like a clean slate for everyone. Everyone gets to get back to focusing on what’s on the field instead of worrying about what could be going on off the field.”

Commanders WR Terry McLaurin

“When you have guests in your house, you treat them well,” Harris said. “You don’t have couches that are broken. You don’t have TVs that aren’t working. That’s what we’re focused on now.”

At Harris’ news conference, Johnson also spoke to the assembled media and invited dignitaries. At least a dozen former players attended, representing Washington’s success in the 1980s and early ’90s in particular, when the team won three Super Bowls and played in a fourth.

“When Josh and I talked, the first thing I said was, ‘Do you want to win?'” Johnson recalled. “He said yes. I said, I’m in. I don’t invest in sports teams for ego. I invest to win.”

He then pointed to some of the former Washington greats.

“Not only did they win the Super Bowls,” Johnson said. “They made the community great.”

Johnson also said it was a “proud day” for him as a Black man becoming part of an NFL ownership group, noting that minorities have been underrepresented in such roles. He asked the crowd at the news conference to give Harris a standing ovation because “he could have chose anybody else that didn’t look like me.”

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