Time has come for Redskins to ditch their controversial nickname
BY RICK MORRISSEY email@example.com | @MorrisseyCST June 18, 2014 9:30PM
FILE - JUNE 18: According to reports June 18, 2014, the U.S. Patent Office has ruled that the Washington Redskins nickname is disparaging to Native Americans and the federal trademarks for the teams name must be canceled. LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 21: A general view of the Washington Redskins cheer squad as the fly flags during the game of the Philadelphia Eagles on December 21, 2008 at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 81707267
Updated: June 18, 2014 10:06PM
When are we going to get it through our heads? The only thing that matters is what Native Americans think. What the filthy rich owner of a sports team or its nostalgic fan base thinks is inconsequential.
That’s where the Washington Redskins nickname controversy starts and ends, and mostly what we’ve heard over the years is that American Indians don’t think the name should be found anywhere near the District of Columbia or the NFL.
Why would they? It’s as derogatory as calling someone “darky” or “towel head.’’
We should always defer to the group that is being reduced to a caricature, and a deferring is exactly what the U.S. Patent Office did Wednesday. In ruling that the franchise’s federal trademarks for the name “Redskins” be canceled, it called the nickname “disparaging of Native Americans.’’
It’s time for owner Daniel Snyder to change the name of the team. It was time when he bought the franchise in 1999.
Maybe he could change it to the “Tone Deaf Billionaires.’’
Wednesday’s action by the U.S. Patent Office simply tightens the screw a little tighter on Snyder, who has dug in his heels, even as he rides around in his $400,000 Maybach, which I’m guessing he would tell you cost a lot of wampum. The ruling means that the franchise might not be able to stop others from making money off the nickname.
It doesn’t matter if Washington fans want to keep the name. It doesn’t matter if Washington fans believe the name is a term of respect. The nickname doesn’t honor Native Americans if they don’t feel honored by it. The rest of us can’t tell them what they should feel good about. We can’t tell them that “Redskins’’ is a noble word when decades of discrimination and depravation tells them something entirely different.
Some of you might bring up the Blackhawks nickname and the iconic Indian head on the sweater. Why no uproar about that? Again, it comes back to what American Indians think. I haven’t heard much in the way of protest about the nickname from any native groups. If there were to be, then we could have a discussion. Offhand, neither the name nor the caricature seems offensive. It doesn’t seem to be in the same ballpark as, say, the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo logo. But sitting here as a white, middle-aged man, what do I know?
Snyder should have asked himself the same question a long time ago.
The team’s patronizing behavior has been staggering. For years, Native American groups have fought the Redskins on the nickname. Snyder patted them on their heads and sent them where he probably believes they live — in casino parking lots, quite likely in teepees. And not just him. The previous owner, Jack Kent Cooke, did the same thing.
“If the most basic sense of morality, decency and civility has not yet convinced the Washington team and the NFL to stop using this hateful slur, then hopefully today’s patent ruling will,’’ Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter and Nation Congress of American Indians executive director Jackie Pata said in a statement.
This not a political issue, though many politicians have added their voices to the debate. This is a dignity issue. Human dignity takes precedence over the pride that a group of fans has in a sports franchise.
Don’t worry about Snyder’s ability to make money. If he changes his fossilized mind and drops “Redskins’’ — or if the NFL makes him — he could rake in millions of dollars off a new nickname. Sports teams change uniform designs or introduce alternate uniforms in the hopes that fans will buy more merchandise. The same lucrative result likely would occur here.
But it could get uglier before that happens. It took more than 20 years of pressure from American Indian groups before the University of Illinois retired Chief Illiniwek, the longtime symbol of the school. Many alums have never forgiven the university. This is a different dynamic. This is one very wealthy man with a fan base that generally agrees with him on the issue. The ruling by the U.S. Patent Office might push him along in the direction of enlightenment. But this guy could use a shove from a bulldozer.
Snyder, hated over the years by some fans for his heavy-handed approach to owning a franchise, has become something of a hero among the faithful for his intractability over the nickname. Daniel Snyder fighting for a group’s rights — how’s that for irony?