Redskin: We Can Say Something Else
I talked about the Redskins and their name awhile back. My position was, and still is, there would be no change on the part of Daniel Snyder until there was organized action to effect his bottom-line. It looks like that organized action is happening through government and the court system, and it may affect his bottom line.
Trademark Trial and Appeal Board canceled six federal trademark registrations owned by the team, ruling that the term “Redskins” was disparaging to “a substantial composite” of American Indians when the marks were granted between 1967 and 1990. Five Native Americans brought a cancellation proceeding pursuant to Section 14 of the Trademark Act of 1946, 15 U.S.C. § 1064©. They also cited other sections of the Trademark Act that “prohibits registration of marks that may disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute.”
The decision hits the team and the NFL in the pocketbook by limiting their ability to pursue legal action against those who use the name and logo on T-shirts, hats, license-plate holders and other merchandise. The ruling is largely symbolic as it cannot stop the team from selling T-shirts, beer glasses and license-plate holders with the moniker or keep the team from trying to defend itself against others who try to profit from the logo. Also, the trademark registrations remain effective during the appeal process.
The Federal Communications Commission will consider punishing broadcasters for using the Washington Redskins’ nickname on air per the petition of legal activist John Banzhaf III, a law professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., to the FCC to revoke a Washington radio station’s broadcast license due to its repeated use of the nickname. The Chairman of the FCC is looking into the petition stating, “There are a lot of names and descriptions that were used over time that are inappropriate today, and I think the name that is attributed to the Washington football club is one of those.” Many publications and announcers are already pledging not to say Redskin.
“The State reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory. This sum is more than the dead bodies of all the Indians east of the Red River are worth.”
This is from The Daily Republican newspaper in Winona, Minnesota from Sept. 24, 1863. While I agree with those who claim the original use of the word Redskin may not have been discouraging, but we know for at least the last 260 years it has been a ridiculously ugly racist remark. In the case of this newspaper ad, it seems to mean the scalped head of a native american sold like a pelt for cash.
The team has long been under fire from Native American organizations who claim the team name is a shameful racial slur, and that it should not be allowed to remain the football mascot of the nation’s capital. In Pro Football Inc. v. Harjo (1999), the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled to cancel the Redskins’ trademark registrations, but the case was overturned due to a technicality in 2003 – the judges claimed that the plaintiffs should have filed their claims when they were younger. This principle is known as laches, and stipulates that a plaintiff must not demonstrate “unreasonable delay in pursuing a claim.”
Because of new lead plaintiff Amanda Blackhorse’s age at the time of the 2006 filing, 24, the Redskins probably won’t be able to successfully argue the age-based legal technicality defense this time around. The claim that there isn’t enough evidence that the name is offensive, and that it is meant to honor Native Americans is dubious.
Using The System
Native Americans groups have consistently and slowly applied pressure via the courts and government, and over time they have slowly but consistently gained traction in this issue. Will it be the Washington “Redskins” in 10 years? 20 years? 50 years? 100 years? I think we all know the answer is no. They’ll be called something else. It will be ok if we say something else.