The U.S. Patent and Trademark office just voted 2-1 to revoke the Washington Redskins’ trademark on the grounds that it’s “disparaging of Native Americans.”
So what does that mean for the Redskins, their logo, and the merchandise they sell to their fans?
Nothing really. At least for now.
The supposed offensiveness of the Redskins’ name seems to be an increasingly hot topic in the media lately. For most casual football fans, the amount of attention this has garnered in the last couple of years almost makes it seem like the issue came out of nowhere. It didn’t, but it feels that way, and when dealing with an issue where feelings are central to the direction of the cause, even incorrect feelings matter.
I’m 100% opposed to the Redskins name. Always have been. My position is a direct result of the fact that I am a registered member of the Northern Cheyenne people. I’m a light-skinned Indian, but there are plenty of people in my family who look the part. If someone referred to a member of my family as a “redskin,” unless they played for the actual football team, I would have to assume that the comment was meant to be disparaging. Still, I have a different perspective than most, so to be fair, I want to examine the most common claims that supporters of the name make, and see if I can find some validity in their feelings and claims.
1) People Are Too Sensitive
This is the most common argument made by supporters of the Redskins keeping their name. There’s an irony in people saying “I feel strongly that people feel too strongly” about an issue, but it’s a valid feeling nonetheless. The most unfortunate thing about this argument is that it’s completely true- many people can have a tendency to be too sensitive about issues that don’t have anything to do with them out of an urge to control outcomes. They’re often referred to as “the PC Police.” Parties on both sides of this issue need to remember that there are two separate morals to the story “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” The first moral is that blowing a situation out of proportion for attention damages your credibility. The second moral is that sometimes the danger is real. I believe that the name is objectively offensive, and that it should be changed, but because some people jump from cause to cause for the comfort of their own conscience, real issues are marginalized as “over-sensitivity.”
If you are offended by the Washington Redskins name then you clearly are way to sensitive! And can someone tell me y its always Liberals who
— Rudy Carpenter (@rudygcarp12) October 6, 2013
Want to poke their nose into these kinds of so called controversies! I dint hear anyone making a big deal over the Fighting Irish name! — Rudy Carpenter (@rudygcarp12) October 6, 2013
2) What about Notre Dame/Chicago Blackhawks/Cleveland Indians?
The argument is that if people were truly offended by seemingly questionable sports team nicknames, the offense would be evenly distributed and not focused on one team in one sport. Again, irony abounds- in order to make this argument you have to admit to yourself that other sports team names are also possibly offensive. This point doesn’t address the validity of the “Redskins = offensive” argument, but it does make a valid point about the sincerity of those leading the charge. There are plenty of valid reasons why Redskins is challenged and Blackhawks, Fighting Irish, and Indians aren’t. If you don’t know them, you should probably back out of the fight until you do.
3) The Name is Meant To Honor Native Americans
It isn’t, but it’s easy to see where someone might get that idea. Football is awesome, and there’s an Indian on the helmet of one of the teams responsible for bringing us this awesomeness. If there was a team called the “Ralphs” with a picture of my face on the helmet, I’d feel honored… but if they had that same picture of my face and called themselves the “Vomitteers” due to the face that “puke” and “Ralph” are crudely synonymous, I’d feel less honored. History tells us that the Redskins were given their name by George Preston Marshall because he liked the logo, but didn’t want his team, which were originally called the Braves, to be confused with Baseball’s Boston Braves. It wasn’t about honor, it was about a synonym- one that at best is a literal description of a race’s skin color, and at worst is a reminder of the historical attitude that allowed for the displacement and attempted genocide of an entire group of people.
The Redskins have such a rich, positive history. How the hell are the Native Americans offended? What about the Indians, Seminoles, etc.
— Luke Almaraz (@LukeAlmaraz) June 18, 2014
Thank you Dan Snyder. Redskins Nation stands behind you and your decision to keep our rich history in tact by not changing the team name. — Jonathan (@iHTTR) October 9, 2013
4) The Redskins Have 81 Years Of Rich History
Every team in every sport has a history, obviously. So what makes a history “rich,” and does “richness” determine whether or not you gain the right to be above protest? Is it “rich” that the Redskins were the last team to integrate black players onto the team, and that it happened because attorney general Robert Kennedy threatened to terminate their stadium lease? Is it rich that when George Preston Marshall died, the man responsible for giving the Redskins their name bequeathed a $6 million trust to help the children of Washington D.C., so long as none of the money was used “for any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration”? Probably not. It’s “rich” because they’ve played in five Super Bowls, winning three. Let that serve as a reminder to the University of Utah Utes, Miami University RedHawks, and the Southern Nazarene University Crimson Storm, who each dropped the “Redskins” name in 1972, 1997, and 1998. Had you all just won more championships, your history would have been “rich” enough to keep your consciences from getting the better of you. Moreover- the “81” years thing is the same excuse that we all use to allow our grandparents to continue to tell racially insensitive jokes at the dinner table. “They’re old, they can’t change” might be fine for Nana, but “they’ve been doing it for a long time” can’t govern the way we do things as a country. If it did, then we’d still have slavery.
5) If It Was Really Offensive, Every Indian Would Want It Changed
You’ve seen the commercials- if only four out of five dentists agree that a certain brand of toothpaste is helpful, how can you get a group of people to agree on anything? Still, this concern needs to be addressed- and it was, by America’s most well-known sportswriter, Rick Reilly. Reilly pointed out, using his native father-in-law as an example, that there are plenty of natives who couldn’t care less about this issue. One problem- Rick Reilly’s father-in-law, Bob Burns, said that Reilly took the wrong points away from their conversation, and misrepresented him to all of America’s sports-reading public:
So you can imagine my dismay when I saw my name and words used to defend the racist Washington Redskins name. My son-in-law, ESPN’s Rick Reilly, completely misunderstood the conversation we had, quoting me as saying “the whole issue is so silly. The name just doesn’t bother me much. It’s an issue that shouldn’t be an issue, not with all the problems we’ve got in this country.”
But that’s not what I said.
What I actually said is that “it’s silly in this day and age that this should even be a battle — if the name offends someone, change it.” He failed to include my comments that the term “redskins” demeans Indians, and historically is insulting and offensive, and that I firmly believe the Washington Redskins should change their name.
When Rick’s article came out, it upset me to be portrayed as an “Uncle Tom” in support of this racial slur. I asked him to correct the record. He has not, so I must do it myself.
That’ll make Thanksgiving awkward. Well, assuming Thanksgiving isn’t already awkward enough for Indian folk.
If you’re wondering why Indians aren’t louder about this issue, look no further than the fact that only .009% of the population of the United States are registered with a tribe. It’s hard for a small group to make a big noise. And as for the idea that they aren’t unified– of course they aren’t. Different people believe different things, and in this case, you’re talking about people who live on 310 separate reservations. Still, the National Congress of American Indians is unified on the issue- look no further than the letter they sent to 2700 active NFL personnel last month, stating that the Redskins name “does not honor people of color, instead it seeks to conceal a horrible segment of American history and the countless atrocities suffered by Native Americans.”
6) This Is A Recent Controversy
It feels recent because of the media exposure, but this lawsuit over the Redskins trademark has been going on in some form since 1992, since before most of this year’s rookie class was born. The law that protesters claim the Redskins are violating with their trademark was written in 1946, and it prohibits the government from registering a trademark that disparages any race, religion or other group.
While people may feel otherwise, the above reasons to continue supporting a franchise in it’s quest to remain known as the Redskins aren’t logical. I get that people are sick of the PC police, and that if you yourself aren’t racist, and don’t know anyone who’s genuinely offended by the moniker, the whole issue seems to be a conflated “cause-of-the-day.” Football is fun, and it feels like it’s constantly threatened by lawsuits about racism, brain injuries and compensation. It would be nice to just sit down, enjoy a game, and not have people tell you that you’re causing some type of societal injury by enjoying yourself. Because of that, I’m sympathetic to the pro-Redskins cause. I’ll give you a gift. There is only one reason why the Redskins should still be called the Redskins that is both truthful and logically sound.
The people who matter just don’t give a shit.