Grassroots Commentary

Redskins: What's in a Name Anyway?

Leigh Bravo · Jul. 3, 2014

How did the Redskins get their name anyway? They named the team the Redskins to honor their coach Lone Star Dietz, a Native American, when they moved the team from Boston to Fenway Park. Then in 1937, Marshall had the team moved to his home in Washington, D.C.

Flash forward to today. The Washington Redskins lost their trademark after a federal agency ruled that the football team’s name was “disparaging to Native Americans.”

Interestingly enough, back in 2009, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from a group of Native Americans who think the name, “Redskins” is offensive. That is the end to the latest round in the 17 year court battle between the Redskins and Harjo and her fellow plaintiffs.

In October of 2013, President Obama made statements regarding the Washington Redskins,

“If I were the owner of the team, and I knew that the name of my team, even if they’ve had a storied history, that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”

What is the definition of “sizable”?

A poll conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 90% of Native Americans were not offended by the name “Redskins” while only 9% said they found the name offensive.

What does losing your trademark mean?  Basically, it does not require that the Redskins change the name of their football team. It means that they no longer will have exclusive rights to that name. Therefore, anyone, including vendors, football fans, t-shirt makers, etc., will have the right to sell products under the Redskins name and logo without the team’s permission.  Does losing the trademark solve the problem? Does it satisfy those who oppose, if the team name itself is not changed? Is losing the trademark just a financial punishment by government or a show of power and control?

What about other teams such as the Florida State Seminoles, the Utah Utes, the Cleveland Indians or the Atlanta Braves? Tribes themselves endorsed the two college team mascots, therefore protecting their trademarks. In 1947, Florida State University made their mascot the Florida State Seminoles. In the 1980’s when Native American names became controversial, the University consulted with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and with the approval of a few representatives of the tribe, they were given an exemption even though other state Seminole tribes disagreed. Is that fair?

Senator Harry Reid said his state has 22 tribes and that the only tradition behind the Redskins’ name was one of racism. However, he has failed to condemn the Red Mesa High School “Redskins” in his district whose entire student population is Navajo Indian.

This is an interesting point that has received very little attention, but the fact is there are many schools on Reservations with Native American Mascots. So if they find Native American mascots offensive, then why would they give their own team mascots a Native American name?

Adrian Jawort is a freelance journalist, writer and poet and a lifelong resident of Montana as well as a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. He wrote a wonderful article, titled, “Redskins Not So Black and White."  In it he says,

"I can’t help but think how the banning of all Native American-related mascots would go over in my home state of Montana. It’d undoubtedly be ironic seeing as the reservation schools have names like the Browning and Lodge Grass Indians, the Heart Butte and Pryor Warriors, as well as the off-reservation but predominately Northern Cheyenne attended school of the St. Labre Braves just to mention a few. Go figure, the Navajo school in Teec Nos Pos, Arizona is called the Red Mesa Redskins, and there’s a 2002 Chris Eyre film that takes place on the Pine Ridge Reservation called ‘Skins.’ And although I don’t believe the redskins and scalp theory was contrived with devious intent, remember, in the study of history, one should not let their own passions of today override existing facts of the past just because they don’t fit our own modern version of political correctness.”

If you bought a sports team or you started a new business, would you give it a name that you and others considered disparaging? Or would you give it a name of honor?

Currently the United States Patent and Trademark Office has over 600 active trademarks that feature Native American men and women. So are all these other patents not considered disparaging to Native Americans?

Are they planning on cancelling all these patents?

What if your name is your identity? How will that affect your business?

If you have a successful business that has been around for 20 years, 50 years, 75 years, will you lose business if you are forced to change your name because someone or some group finds it offensive? Who will be the judge of what is offensive?

Recently, we have seen many examples of words that are now no longer “politically correct” and if used, you could be classified as a racist, a bigot, a homophobe or a multitude of other “politically correct” names. Here is a list of some of my favorites from the Global Language Monitor:

• “Peanut Butter Sandwich”: A Portland grade school principal found it to be culturally insensitive to children of other cultures.

• “Normal”: Normal persons in the presence of people with disabilities should now be referred to as “non-disabled persons.”

• “Pet Owner”: We should not be able to “own” pets, so we are now “pet guardians”

• “Dutch Treat”: Offensive to the Dutch, since it portrays them as either thrifty or stingy.

• “Swine Flu”: insensitive to pigs

• “Holding down the fort”: offensive to Native Americans, since we all know who the forts were being held down against.

In the state of Washington, governor Inslee recently signed legislation requiring the state to rewrite its laws using gender-neutral vocabulary.

Terms such as “fishermen” and “freshman” are now “fisher” and “first year student,” “penmanship” is now “handwriting."  The real estate market wants to phase out the term "master bedroom.” How ridiculous is this becoming? Soon enough, we will be forced to re-write the entire Webster’s Dictionary, because someone will be able to find something offensive or “politically incorrect” with every word in it.  When is enough, enough? When will it stop?

Should the President of the United States get involved with law suits over trademark names? Should the President have the power to use an agency to interfere in the free market system for one individual group while ignoring others doing the same? Can the government at their whim, decide who can keep a name and who cannot? Who is the judge of what is offensive and what is not? How many people have to be “offended” for your business to be forced to change its name? One? Ten? Two thousand?

A Native American group associated with the Chiricahua Apache is planning on filing a federal lawsuit against the Cleveland Indians. They are asking for $9 billion dollars. Will money solve the problem?

These cases are currently in the court system, where they should be. Washington and government have no place in this argument. Doesn’t this administration have enough on its plate dealing with unemployment, terrorism threats, the invasion of our borders, IRS targeting, to name just a few…..?

I recently saw a poster on Facebook that said, “Washington Redskins drop the word "Washington” from their name because it’s embarrassing.“

Now that makes much more sense to me!

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