Commander’s owner Josh Harris focused on ‘changing the culture’

John KimESPN staff writerJul 21, 2023, 06:45 PM ET5 minutes of reading

Josh Harris focused on changing culture in Washington

New Commander’s owner Josh Harris discusses how he plans to change the culture of the organization.

LANDOVER, MD. — Enjoy Washington Commanders owner Josh Harris issued a set of priorities that would distance the franchise from what happened the past few decades under former owner Dan Snyder.

But he was not yet ready to commit to a possible name change and save that topic for another day.

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

“Everybody that works on the team … they’re a reflection on [the fans]. It’s all about culture. We are very conscious of culture.”

That comment drew applause from a number of employees and guests in attendance. Problems in these areas during Snyder’s 24-year reign helped cause an erosion of the fan base. But Harris’s 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 that leads to a name change remains to be seen. Washington dropped its original name in July 2020 and replaced it with an interim name 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. According to the NFL rule, a team must wait five years before it can rebrand it again – but there is an exception for a new owner.

Harris said he has focused more on immediate issues, such as the football season, getting back into 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 of this,” Harris said, when asked in part if he liked the name. “We will 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’s takeover. 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 spoke to the media, he went to where the fans were. He took the stage and exchanged high-fives with fans. Later, after Johnson addressed the crowd, fans began chanting, “Thank you Josh! Thank you Josh!”

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

“When Josh and I talked, the first thing I said was, ‘Do you want to win?'” recalled NBA great Magic Johnson, a partner in Josh Harris’ Commanders ownership group. “He said yes. I said I’m in. I don’t invest in sports teams for ego. I invest to win.”Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

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 he was drafted by Washington in 2019, McLaurin has been part of a franchise that made far more news for off-field issues than on-field success. Snyder was the focus of several investigations into his own conduct and the work environment he created — by the NFL on two occasions, Congress, the Federal Trade Commission and the attorneys general of Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

“You really 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 stuff – it weighs on you. Now it’s like a clean slate for everybody.

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

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

But it’s possible that a new stadium site won’t be determined until next summer — and not built until 2030. That means the franchise will have to spend money to maintain FedEx Field, which opened in 1997. There have been problems with drain pipes and other parts of the stadium over the years, including a railing that collapsed, causing a handful of Philadelphia fans to fall to the ground during the 21st season.

Current team officials have said the stadium was neglected until the past few years.

“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 don’t work. That’s what we’re focused on now.”

At Harris’ press conference, Johnson also addressed the assembled media and invited dignitaries. At least a dozen former players participated, 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 Super Bowls,” Johnson said. “They made the community great.”

Johnson also said it was a “proud day” for him as a black man to become part of an NFL ownership group, noting that minorities have been underrepresented in such roles. He asked the audience at the press conference to give Harris a standing ovation because “he could have picked anyone else who didn’t look like me.”

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