A closer look at the Commanders 2022 uniforms reveals splashes of a perforated diamond pattern. On the white jersey, it appears in a white-red gradation on the shoulder and player's number. On the black jersey, it is part of the camo detail of the shoulder and around the collar. Though the design, and specifically its perforations, may be small, the meaning behind it is anything but.
The origins of the uniform's diamond detail stretch back to the birth of the United States. With the Residence Act of 1790, George Washington had approved the creation of a new national capital along the Potomac River using land donated by Virginia and Maryland. The federal territory, the law described, would be in the shape of a diamond 10 miles on each side, for a 100 square mile area. Washington designated Jones Point in Alexandria, Virginia, to be the southern point of the diamond with the rest of the territory to be mapped from there by famous surveyor Andrew Ellicott and his team.
Eager to assemble the best of the best for this important work, Ellicott enlisted the help of Banneker, an African American astronomer and intellectual. Banneker's presence in the D.C. boundary project was significant during this time. Though he had never been enslaved and risen to national prominence, the self-taught Banneker was forced to constantly navigate the fervent, deep-seated racism of the day. Take this quote from a 1791 edition of the Georgetown Weekly Ledger: "[Ellicott] is attended by Benjamin Banneker, whose abilities, as a surveyor, and an astronomer, clearly prove that Mr. Jefferson's concluding that race of men were void of mental endowments, was without foundation."
Though he faced doubt and disrespect throughout his life, Banneker was not deterred from accomplishing whatever he set out do, and the D.C. boundary project was no different. He will long be remembered for helping to identify where the very first marker should be placed by "lying on his back to find the exact starting point for the survey ... and plotting six stars as they crossed his spot at a particular time of night" (Arlington Historical Society).
Check out the Washington Commanders' new home, away and alternate uniforms that were unveiled as part of the organization's rebrand. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
Over the decades, the diamond shape, and the four Northwest, Northeast, Southwest and Southeast quadrants it houses, became integral to the life of metro D.C. Today, Benjamin Banneker's legacy can be seen across the city in the many schools, parks and community centers that bear his name.
Banneker's impact in the region came into consideration when Washington's NFL franchise began formulating its new brand identity in 2021. When Nike presented the idea of pulling the D.C. diamond through in the uniform design, team ownership and other leaders within the organization could not have been more excited.
"We were always asking questions such as, 'How can we reclaim the authentic roots of this this area?'… If you want to think about the minds and innovators that literally shaped D.C., Banneker is at the forefront," Commanders team president Jason Wright explained. "He happened to be Black, as do a large portion of our fan base, our players and a large number of people who live in this area and importantly, the political and civic leaders who we've elected to represent us here. For those reasons, it made a ton of sense to pay homage to Banneker."
The story of the D.C. diamond and its inclusion on Washington's uniform does not end there, however. The perfect diamond Banneker, Ellicott and others helped lay did not last as long as they might have hoped. Ahead of the Civil War, those living in Alexandria and Arlington moved to retrocede from D.C. They vehemently disagreed with the congressional push to ban slavery and the slave trade in the territory as there was a thriving slave trade in Alexandria and many other parts of Virginia.
Ultimately, these Virginians got what they wanted and pulled back their land, which gave D.C.'s shape the look of a diamond with a "bite" taken out of it. Those edges delineate the capital we know today.
Why are the perforations in the uniform's diamond detail not the broken diamond then? It comes down to a mission and way of working to which those in the region, fans of the Commanders and the players and coaches themselves can relate. Individuals coming together as a whole – seeing themselves as part of a whole, is so important to achieving one's loftiest goals. Togetherness, to which anyone who has been inside a stadium can attest, also often brings the greatest joys.
"That full diamond shape speaks to an aspirational vision of unity, which was really a driving force behind us landing on the Commanders name -- something that's an ode to service mindset, to a cause beyond yourself that I think characterizes this area more than anything and is a unifying factor across demography, across ages, across genders," Wright said. "That full diamond speaks to that pre-existing unity. It speaks to almost a mandate of challenging racial divides, ideological divides. It speaks to bringing a whole of parts, which is exactly what we want to do."