Washington is changing the name of its NFL team. Here are other pro teams that changed their titles
Washington’s NFL team will be far from the first professional sports squad to change its name.
In fact, it’s not even the first team in the city to do so.
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Whether the decision to change names came in response to controversy or was a rebranding tactic that reflected a shift in ownership or a new era, some professional teams in all of the major sports leagues have adopted new names.
In Washington’s case, the Native American community had long since taken great offense to the franchise using a slur as its nickname. A renewed look at social justice and racial sensitivity, coupled with pressure from sponsors, compelled team owner Dan Snyder to retire the former name.
Other sports teams, like the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves and Chicago Blackhawks, have faced continued pressure to change their names and traditions for the same reason.
Relocation remains the most common force behind a team’s name change. But every so often, a pro franchise renamed itself without changing its home.
Here’s a look at some of the most recent:
Washington Bullets — Washington Wizards
In 1995, Washington Bullets Governor Abe Pollin opted to distance the NBA franchise from its name after it became associated with the rising crime in the nation’s capital at the time.
A naming contest was held and Wizards became the new moniker in 1997.
Tennessee Oilers — Tennessee Titans
After spending decades in Houston, the Oilers held onto their name when they relocated to Tennessee in 1997. The initial plan was for the squad to play in a new stadium in Nashville, but that facility wouldn’t be ready until 1999.
For those two years, the team maintained the Oilers name, even as they played games in Memphis and at Vanderbilt’s stadium in Nashville. But fan pressure for the team to establish its own identity grew so strong that ownership gave in and changed the name to the Titans.
Anaheim Angels — Los Angeles Angels
The Angels have gone by plenty of names in their 59-year existence. They started as the Los Angeles Angels, then became the California Angels and changed their title to the Anaheim Angels.
The Walt Disney Company expanded its professional sports holdings in 1996 when it took control of the Anaheim Angels. After a 2002 World Series title, Disney sold the franchise the next spring to Angels Baseball, L.P., a group headed by Arturo "Arte" Moreno.
In 2005, the new ownership announced the team name would be changing its name back to the Los Angeles Angels. The rebranding resulted in a messy lawsuit between the city and the new owner.
Anaheim sued on the grounds that the team had violated its lease by not keeping the city’s name in the franchise’s title. But the Angels found legal wiggle room by citing the team’s official name, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.The jury ruled that the Angels satisfied the terms of their lease and allowed them to keep the new name.Still, broadcasters and fans alike often omit Anaheim when referring to the Angels.
Mighty Ducks of Anaheim — Anaheim Ducks
Before its foray into baseball, Disney made its first venture into pro sports in 1993 when it founded and named an NHL team after the company’s 1992 kid’s film, “The Mighty Ducks.” When Disney sold the hockey squad in 2005, the Ducks rebranded themselves as the Anaheim Ducks.
They took the ice in 2006 equipped with a new logo and an original color scheme.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays — Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay finally fielded an MLB team in 1998, but the Florida franchise wouldn’t have anything to cheer about for the first decade of its existence.The Devil Rays finished last in their division every year but 2004, when they finished second to last.
Ownership sought to breathe new life into the organization by dropping “Devil” from the team’s name. “Rays” is meant to be more symbolic of the sunlight that beams across the Sunshine State, though a manta ray logo can still be found on the Tampa Bay players’ uniforms.
New Orleans Hornets — New Orleans Pelicans
The story of the New Orleans Hornets begins in Charlotte, N.C. In short, Charlotte Hornets Governor George Shinn had fallen out of favor with the public amid a sexual assault accusation.
Shinn wanted a new arena in the city. When multiple avenues for that failed, he relocated the franchise to New Orleans in 2002 while keeping the Hornets as the team’s moniker.
Shinn sold the squad to the NBA in 2010, who then sold it to Tom Benson in 2012. Benson made it known early on that he wanted to change the team’s name.
Drawing inspiration from Louisiana’s state bird, the Hornets became the Pelicans in April 2013, relinquishing the mascot and team history still held dear by the city of Charlotte.
Charlotte Bobcats — Charlotte Hornets
In 2004, the NBA awarded Charlotte with a new franchise, dubbed the Bobcats.
Though they played in the state-of-the-art arena Shinn always wanted, the Bobcats spent the next decade as an expansion team with no established history.
When New Orleans adopted the Pelicans moniker in 2013, Charlotte reclaimed its lost NBA nickname and identity.
When the 2014 season tipped off, the Charlotte Hornets were home.
This story was reported from Atlanta.