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Room For Debate:
Should The Washington Redskins Change Name?

| June 22, 2014

A slur or a tradition?

A slur or a tradition?

The Washington Redskins were originally the Boston Redskins, so named in July 1933 because then-owner George Preston Marshall, one of the most racist men in American football history, thought his Boston Braves were not distinctive enough from one of Boston’s baseball team. Marshall had bought the Braves in 1932. “So much confusion has been caused by our football team wearing the same name as the Boston National League baseball club,” he told the Associated Press in a July 5, 1933 story published in the Hartford Courant, “that a change appeared to be absolutely necessary.” Marshall himself debunked back then what would become one of the team organization’s subsequent justifications for the name: that the team was named to honor its head coach, Lone Star Dietz. Not so, Marshall said: “The fact that we have in our head coach, Lone Star Dietz, an Indian, together with several Indian players, has not, as may be suspected, inspired me to select the name Redskins.”

Origins of a Racist Legacy

Marshall moved the Redskins to Washington in 1938. He was the George Wallace of the NFL. He championed segregation. He would say that his fans preferred watching white players. His was the southernmost team at the time. He catered to Washington socialites and thousands of racists who liked their society segregated. He knew there were black players great enough for his team. “Unlike the others, he was honest enough to admit that he simply didn’t want them around,” wrote Andy Piascik in  “Gridiron Gauntlet: The Story of the Men Who Integrated Pro Football in Their Own Words.”

The Los Angeles Rams started the desegregation movement in the NFL in 1946 by signing running back Kenny Washington and receiver Woody Strode. Three years later three NFL teams had black players. By 1955, all teams did. Except for the Redskins. Like Flagler County schools in Florida—Marshall’s team was the last to integrate, in 1962. That may not have happened even then had it not been for the intercession of John F. Kennedy, who found a segregated NFL team in the nation’s capital to be an offensive line of ironies he did not want to contend with. Bobby Mitchell, the black flanker, caught seven passes for 147 yards on Sept. 30, 1962, his first home game for the Redskins. He was joined by two other black players on the team’s roster: guard John Nisby and fullback Ron Hatcher. Outside the stadiums, fans brandished signs that read: “Keep the Redskins white.”

But the Redskins name endured—as did many other Native American icons in American sports: The Milwaukee Braves (until 1966), the Boston Braves (until 1952), the Cleveland Indians (until 1972, and again from 1980 to this day) and the Chicago Blackhawks (since 1964). Miami University in Ohio, in contrast, dropped its Redskins name in 1997, adopting the nickname Red Hawks instead. By then Stanford University had dropped its “Indians” name in favor of the Cardinal, and Marquette abandoned “Warriors” for “Golden Eagles.” The Wellpinit Board of Education, on the other hand–in the heart of Washington State–voted on June 18 to preserve the name of the Wellpinit High School Redskins.

The Redskins’ Position

In aletter to Congress, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell repeated the false claim that the team had been named for its head coach. He then went on to provide a defense for keeping the name: “The Washington Redskins name has thus from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context. For the team’s millions of fans and customers, who represent one of America’s most ethnically and geographically diverse fan bases, the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect. Importantly, this positive meaning is shared by the overwhelming majority of football fans and Americans generally, including Native Americans. […] Indeed, the most recent detailed survey of Native Americans, conducted by the independent and highly respected Annenberg Public Policy Center, found that fewer than 10 percent considered the name objectionable. Among the general public, an Associated Press survey conducted just two months ago found that only 11 percent felt it should be changed.”

The MMQB, Sports Illustrated’s NFL specialty site, investigated the claim and found it to be false: “We found opponents of the name in 18 tribes: veterans of the U.S. military, lawyers, college students, cultural center employees, school volunteers and restaurant servers,” MMQBwrote. “Their viewpoints align with official statements from dozens of tribes or inter-tribal councils and from the NCAI, which represents more than 250 tribal governments at the Embassy of Tribal Nations. Many of these people wondered how, or if, their voices are being counted.”

“Redskins” in Native American Eyes

“Redskins” has a particularly pejorative connotation when uttered by whites. It is similar to a white owner calling a team the Niggers, the Negroes or the Coloreds.

“Seldom,” the Ojibwe writer David Treuer wrote in The Times on April 2, “has the entwined nature of ethics and money and influence been revealed as so unavoidably intestinal in its smell and purpose: to consume the material, to nourish the host and to expel the waste. American Indians — who do not see or refer to ourselves as “redskins” and who take great exception to the slur — are that waste.”

But there are Native Americans who love the name. “We don’t have a problem with [the name] at all,” Stephen Dodson, whom the Washington Redskins claimed is a full-blooded Inuit chief, said in an interview the NFL commissioner then quoted in his letter to Congress. “It’s actually a term of endearment that we would refer to each other as.” Dodson, it turned out, was neither full-blooded nor an Inuit chief.

The Patent Office’s Decision on the Redskins Trademark

On June 17, the U.S. Patent Office revoked the trademark registration for the Washington Redskins for the second time in 15 years. The patent office had done so in 1999. But a court overturned that decision. In the past, the Patent Office has blocked the trademarking of the word Heeb, finding it disparaging to Jews, and the word Khoran, which an Armenian business wanted to use to name a liquor. The Patent Office found the name too close to Koran, and therefore too intentionally inflammatory to Muslims who don’t drink. Just last year, the Patent Office blocked the trademarking of a rock band’s name, the Slants, calling it offensive to Asians. So the Patent Office has a long record of intervening to protect racial groups.

Nevertheless, the loss of the trademark registration does not mean that the team cannot use the name—or keep others from using it. As First Amendment attorney Marc Randazza wrote for CNN, “the team is free to continue to call itself the ‘Redskins.’ Moreover, it can still sue you for selling counterfeit Washington Redskins gear, and it can still block someone from starting a Washington Redskins dodgeball team. The Washington Redskins still have trademark rights, and strong rights at that.” So what’s the big deal? The trademark registration, Randazza continued, “gives you a few statutory presumptions in the event that you go to court over enforcement of your trademark. It gives a presumption of ownership and validity. In simple terms, the cancellation only means that if there is a trademark infringement lawsuit, the Washington Redskins team is going to have to pay a bit more in attorneys’ fees to win its case.”

The Debate

In 2003, a federal judge threw out the Patent Office’s 1999 cancellation of six Redskins trademarks and ruled that the Redskins could keep their name because activists had not provided enough evidence that the name was disparaging to Indians. “At best, this evidence demonstrates that Pro-Football’s fans and the media continue to equate the Washington Redskins with Native Americans and not always in a respectful manner,” U .S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly wrote. Proponents of keeping the name have seized on the decision as vindication.

Fans supportive of the name consider opponents to be advocates of political correctness run amok. Proponents use the same justifications for “Redskins” as southerners do when they fly the Confederate flag: “Hail to the Redskins — the team song — says it all,” Kevin Keeney, signer of a petition to keep the name, wrote. “The name ‘Redskins’ in this case is meant to be a source of pride and it honors Native Americans. Also, remember the team name is ‘Washington Redskins’ not just ‘Redskins.’ It’s about football, clearly not some political statement that the liberal media would like you to believe. And the team name represents, and reminds us, of team spirit and strength and courage, and proud heritage — and that is what this football team and our Native Americans have in common!”

Opponents of course don’t buy that line of thinking, seeing in it a veil for a defense of offensive stereotypes used overwhelmingly by white people. “The team’s name is racist and derogatory,” Amanda Blackhorse, a Native American who’s worked to ban the name, said. I’ve said it before and I will say it again — if people wouldn’t dare call a Native American a ‘redskin’ because they know it is offensive, how can an NFL football team have this name?”

The Redskins, the third-most valuable franchise in the NFL, are a $1.7 billion business that depends heavily on merchandising its name. But the change itself would not be costly. “The biggest cost is not developing a new name and mark,” Allen Adamson, managing director of Landor Associates, whose past clients include the NFL, told the Washington Post. “The biggest cost by far is applying it to all the points of touch that a brand like the Redskins exists on: merchandise, signage, training facilities and the stadium. That would be several million dollars, probably under $5 million. They can do it aggressively in six months, sometimes even less. Sometimes it can take a couple years to do the transition.” It will cost the franchise more to fight the change in court, he says.

The organization is resisting the name change mostly out of pride at this point. Sports talking head Al Michaels said Dan Snyder, the owner of the team, said the name would change “over my dead body.”

Jon Stewart put the case more caustically on June 19: “So your argument in keeping your name is, ‘You can’t just come in here and take over our ancestral property’ is what you’re saying. I guess what you’re saying is we had it first. It’d be like this. If a group of people taught you how to survive a harsh winter and then you invited that group of people to a feast to show your gratitude to them for helping you to survive. And then after dessert let’s say you killed them and took their land. And then years later to commemorate that day you held an annual feast that included a sporting event in which one of the participating teams’ names was a derogatory term for the original people that you had killed.”

So: should the Washington Redskins continue to be the Washington Redskins?

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27 Responses for Room For Debate:
Should The Washington Redskins Change Name?”

  1. m&m says:

    Maybe if they change the logo to a potatoe it could pass as a Redskin and put those jerks who come up with this stuff to rest..

  2. TJ says:

    They should.
    That said, we really have bigger issues that we should be talking about both local and national.
    This is little more than a puff piece to distract from the real issues and the bigger picture.

  3. Steve Wolfe says:

    What do you do when you have a real problem?


    How much water should we pour on smoke while we are surrounded by fires?

  4. TeddyBallGame says:

    Many people have long used the word Yankee as a pejorative. That offends me. Sorry NY Yankees, time to think of another name.

    We’re already well down the slippery PC slope (sorry). It’s time to stop.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree it’s catering to the few not the majority! !
      You can make a, case to change any team name!!
      The cowboys, to cow people and you have to change
      The browns that’s a direct skin tone.. chiefs gotta go
      Too, steelers gotta change the name or colors
      Can’t be black with the steelers thats, racist! !
      Why not just call the redskins the Washington atheists! !
      And show a blank grey helmet with absolutely nothing
      On it to believe in!!!!!! It has gotten out of control! !!

  5. Genie says:

    In my own humble opinion, the administration, Congress are walking a dangerous slope. For the first time since Nixon, agencies of the federal government are being used against political enemies….the IRS, the EPA and now the Patent Office. I don’t think we want to go here.

    Leave it to the fans or the courts. If it bothers you, don’t attend their games, buy their merchandise.

    If you are not fine with it, be prepared to change almost every name in sports.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Genie, this is not at all the Patent Office’s first such intervention. The article includes a segment outlining its long history of denying trademarks to groups it thought would offend various ethnic groups, during Republican and Democratic administrations. Your comment plants the seed of ideologically-driven misinformation.

      • Genie says:

        You might be right, Flagler Live, unless of course the news wasn’t full of comments in this regard from both the President and Harry Reid. I would call them threats and demands, not what our government is supposed to be doing right now or EVER.

        Nothing ideological about it. I don’t think the government has any business even commenting, frankly. Makes no difference to me what administration it is.

        We have more pressing problems that need to be solved.

  6. devrie says:

    The name should be changed. It’s more than just an offensive name. Its logo and name reduces nations of people into one homogenous and ridiculous characterture. It perpetuates the notions that modern people are not at all modern–just a relic of history.

    We do often hear that this is some liberal political agenda–just like climate change, which completely obliterates all the real live people who want change. It isn’t just politicians fighting for this. This racial-slur fight has been ongoing for a long time. It’s not new, and it’s not just about a name. It’s about a fight for rights that is difficult to win when so many people forget that there are native people living in the modern world still fighting for their rights–iconography like the logo and name of this Washington team work against that.

    • Anonymous says:

      OK change all teams to just colors and off shades
      Of grey because of fairness!!! You libtards will be the
      Death of america and everything we hold dear!!!!
      What’s next saying the Cowboys must include women
      And they would be cow people!!!! Hell the steelers
      Need a name change or color change because your
      Saying blacks are stealers!!!!! This pc bullshit has
      Gone way to far and it has to stop right fucking here
      Right fucking now!!!!!! There is no way to make
      It to were no one is offended!!! And that should be
      The beauty of america we all have the right to be
      Offended just don’t watch or change the channel! !!!
      We all have the right to happiness but not at the
      Expense of others so we all win together or we all loose!!!
      And we are about to loose everything to the giant
      Liberal agenda! ! America is divided and broken
      And unless this stops now it will never heal!!!!!!
      And another great war will happen and brother will
      Kill brother again to see that freedom will win the day
      Or another great nation will surely die!!!!!

  7. Yellowstone says:

    What could be next if we don’t adapt to the times: A team named “Yellowskins”, “WASPS”, “Blackskins”, “Whiteys”? Well of course it should change. Not because someone tells you to – because it the right thing to do.

    Long are the days we refer to others by racial slurs (or you’d think so).

  8. M. Noyes says:

    They should absolutely change the name. They should change it to the “Washington Criminals”. Let’s see how many stand up and self-identify in protest.

  9. Warren Celli says:

    Yes, absolutely, the Redskins should change their racist name.

    And you might want to do an article on John Kerry giving “Apache” killing machines to Egypt, a country that just experienced a military coup and is now about to mass execute its so deposed democratically elected leadership. To name these death dealing monsters after a defeated tribe in America and then use them to further decimate tribes in the Middle East is arrogant, heartless and pure Xtrevilism.


    “Kerry, however, said his country’s relationship with Egypt is strategic and that US gunship deliveries to Egypt held since Morsi’s ouster will be released.

    “The Apaches will come, and they’ll come very very soon,” Kerry said in response to a reporter’s question on whether the halt of deliveries expressed US antagonism to Egyptian authorities.”,-prom.aspx

    Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

    • Sigmond Seamonster says:

      No one in the Federal Government speaking out on this ridiculous topic has publicly addressed the real and glaring problems of extreme poverty on Indian Reservations or the fact the US Government is in complete control of the Reservations and has been since their origin. THis is a ridiculous topic that, if happens, will be the beginning of even more extreme censorship and oppression by the US Government to ALL Americans.

      • Steve Wolfe says:

        You bring up a fine and necessary point about how absurdly contrary it is for the Feds and politicians to beat their chests in front of news cameras in defense of the dignity of the very people over whom they have provided nothing more than impoverishment. Why aren’t there more voices addressing conditions on reservations, and the history of treaties and promises broken by the “white devil” (federal government)?
        Like I asked, if the name of a football team is so bloody important, what do you do when you have a real problem?

  10. Red Star says:

    “You Americans are so gullible. No, you won’t accept communism outright. But we’ll keep feeding you small doses of socialism until you finally wake up and find you already have communism. We won’t have to fight you; we’ll so weaken your economy until you fall like overripe fruit into our hands.”

  11. Charles Gardner says:

    Yes, they should move and change the name to Virginia Redskins and have a Virginia peanut as their logo.

  12. jo says:

    The redskins name is a name associated with pride and honor for many and not considered in any way shape or form a derogatory term in regards to this team and name! Teams do not pick names that are demeaning, they pick names based on fierce pride and honor! Like the fighting Irish and the Minnesota vikings and the 49ers. When was the last time someone used the word “Redskin” as a derogatory term in this day and age?. Times and views change. Why can we not move forward? This is a severe overreach of government and should be reversed! Obama needs to be stopped!

  13. First Amendment. No it should not be changed. Done next question. If I have to explain it to you I guess you are the racist bigot.

  14. FB says:

    Let me first ask you all this question: would any of the following names be acceptable? New York Niggers. Kansas City Kikes. San Antonio Spics. Seattle Slants. Pittsburgh Honkeys. If you don’t see the irony in being deeply offended by any of these team names but not the Washington Redskins then i can’t help you.

    • Anonymous says:

      Any and all teams share one thing in common
      They all have people who are, offended by their
      Names and mascots! ! The browns!!!! Really
      And your picking on the redskins!!!! It’s all about
      Money and political will!!! This pc bullshit has got to
      Stop or a new civil war will decide it for us!!!
      The big picture is yes we all have the right to be Offended
      but the minority does not get the power to change
      Everything the majority does that’s how, america
      Is supposed to work !! If the entire country wants
      A name change then it will happen but it should
      Not happen if its, only a handful of offended idiots!!!!
      That are after more than just a name change!!!!!
      Blacks want money for being slaves that they never were!!!
      Native Americans want to be paid again for being
      Dumb and they already were given reservation lands
      Tax free!!! Ileagles want rights and services in our
      Country for free!!! And most Americans want to keep
      What they have busted there ass working for and not
      To give it to people who did not earn it!!!!!
      America better wake up the liberal plan is to divide and
      Conquer and we are divided !!! The liberals are really
      Communists!!!! Why else has obama been working
      So closely with putin! !!! We will all loose our rights
      And freedoms if they succeed! !!

  15. Bball Mom says:

    OMG – what is wrong with you people! Let it go and put your big boy pants on! Get a job, or hobby or something else to occupy your time!

  16. Jack Spratt says:

    Redskins is way racist. How about the Washington Politicos? George Washington profile on helmets, cheerleaders in little blue dresses with stains? Or, the Washington Hogs? As in the hogs from back in the day? Either one is good, even Unicorns. Just no more Redskins.

  17. Seminole Pride says:

    Perhaps let them keep it only under the agreement that they donate a sizable amount of money to the Native Americans.

  18. I just trying to get it together to get into the show! says:

    Warriors. Keep the logo, it’s fine. It’s what the people want and it’s good for native Americans.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Keep the name as long as the team owners want it!! It was not meant as a slur is not a slur to most people in its use.

  20. OMG says:

    REED and OBAMA have bigger things to worry about than a name of a football team The FREE MARKET will determine if they should keep the name!

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