Just Because the Name is Legal Doesn’t Make it Right

redskins
My esteemed Redskinsgab.com colleague Eric Lawson wrote a great piece on the recent court ruling dismissing a lawsuit against the Redskins’ team name and trademark. The appeals court ruled in favor of the Redskins organization on the grounds that the plaintiffs “waited too long” to file their lawsuit, essentially allowing Snyder to continue using the logo and team name throughout perpetuity.

Eric’s post provides some history on the origins of the team name, which I won’t regurgitate in too much detail here, but he frames the debate like this: if the genesis of the name and trademark was without intent to cause harm or disrespect, then it should stand.

But by taking us back through history and illuminating the checkered racial past of the Washington football franchise (they were the last team in the league to integrate in 1962, and the idea that the American Indian theme was an homage to Coach Dietz, who supposedly had Native American heritage, has since been considered somewhat spurious), Eric implies that perhaps the intentions of the then owners were not so noble.

Now we all now that the way we talk about race in this country has changed over the years. It doesn’t take a degree in history to know that the American experience hasn’t always been fair to persons of color. Half a century ago prominent newspapers all over the country ran headlines from World War II referring to the Japanese as “Japs,” and perhaps there was a time that it was perfectly acceptable to refer to person of Native American heritage as a Redskin in everyday conversation.

While many polls suggest that Native Americans are not bothered by the term “Redskin,” as supposedly it is a term that some use to describe themselves, the simple fact remains that it is team name whose sole descriptive quality references the color of an ethnic group’s skin. The notion that the Redskin name is not a reference to race but instead a way to honor the courage and bravery of Indian warriors, while sounding honorable, lacks credibility.

I shouldn’t have to give examples of what this would be like for other ethnic groups, but imagine this:

*
Honoring the Samurai code, a team names itself the “Japs,” complete with a logo depicting a slanted-eyed profile of Japanese guy.

* Honoring Irish immigrants who came to this country, a team names itself the “Micks.” Logo: white guy knocking back a Guinness.

* Honoring people of the Muslim faith who have made the pilgrimage to Mecca, a team names itself the “Hajjis.” Logo: dark skinned fella with beard and turban.

The examples above are obviously ridiculous, but that’s the point. A lot of people with Irish roots aren’t offended by the term Mick, but that doesn’t make it an ideal trademark for a football team. The word Hajji was originally a term of honor, but American soldiers in Iraq have made it their own derogatory term for anyone of Middle Eastern descent, despite their specific ethnicity.

The point is, if the Redskins organization truly wants to honor the courage and bravery of the Native American people, there are plenty of names that could do so in a way that doesn’t simply reference the color of a people’s skin. Simply reverting the team name back to its original moniker, The Braves, would easily settle this issue, as there would be no doubt as to the intent or the origins or modern day usage of the term. 100 years ago, 10 years ago, 50 years from now, “brave” means “brave.” And while they’re at it, the team should drop the profile logo and replace it with the Arrowhead logo.

And don’t let anyone fool you that rebranding the Redskins would be an economic nightmare for Snyder. Everybody in sports marketing knows the best way to increase revenue is to change logos and color schemes over the years, so as to encourage fans to buy new gear and jerseys.

And changing uniforms hasn’t been such a bad thing on the playing field, either.

* The Patriots changed their uniforms and became a dynasty.
* The Bucs changed their uniforms and won a Superbowl.
* The Cleveland Browns changed their name and uniforms and won a Superbowl.
* The Oilers changed their uniforms and name and nearly won a Superbowl.

Dan Snyder shouldn’t have to have a court ruling impel him to do the right thing here. Voluntarily changing the logo and team name would send a signal that the team wants to head in a new direction. And a new identity might be the best medicine for a team wallowing in mediocrity.


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7 Responses to “Just Because the Name is Legal Doesn’t Make it Right”

  1. MarkV says:

    I continue to find it odd that white men are offended by derogatory terms of other races but not their own. Anybody offended by the Boston Celtics and their mascot? What about the Notre Dame Fighting Irish? Minnesota Vikings? The Southern derogatory for Northerns, (New York) Yankees? Anyone upset yet? Didn’t think so.

    In front of the Jacobs Field in Cleveland, I can always find a slew of white protestors yet never see any Native Americans. Why is that?!

    No professional team has ever changed its name when protesters have played the race card. If you want the team to change its name, you are better served by arguing that the name no longer represents the city or its surrounding area. Some name change examples: Tennessee does not have the oil fields that Texas does, so ‘Oilers’ made no sense. Oklahoma has no airline companies so ‘Supersonics’ made no sense. 1996 move of the Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore was a legal change to Ravens (not marketing), since they were not allowed to use the name ‘Browns’ and were technically a ‘new’ franchise.

    Correction to your post: The Cleveland Browns started out as the Browns (named after Paul Brown) and still are the Browns — they never changed their name. And they did not win a Super Bowl. As a matter of fact, they have never even won the AFC Championship game to get to the Super Bowl.

  2. wallace says:

    I am sure Irish everywhere are offended at the notion of the “Fightin’ Irish”.The Samurai notion is cool except your stupid logo idea and after that you are getting ridiculous.

  3. Smitty says:

    To MarkV: Actually, Oklahoma City has a long and proud aviation history, and it was at the epicenter of the controversial Operation Bongo II in 1964, in which the FAA unleashed more than 1,200 sonic booms over the city in less than six months, simply to test the reaction of its citizens to regular sonic booms. So in truth, SuperSonics would have been just as appropo as Thunder.

    Regarding Redskins, it’s tasteless

  4. Adam Hankins says:

    MarkV: You’re comparing apples to oranges in your first paragraph. Celtics, Irish, and Vikings are not derogatory names based on the color of a particular people’s skin. Yankees doesn’t have anything to do with race at all. The answer to your question “Anyone upset yet?” is no, because those names are nothing like the term Redskins. The only way you could compare the two is if the other term was Whiteskins.

  5. Gob says:

    The following quote is perhaps the most ridiculous support for an argument I have ever read…

    “And changing uniforms hasn’t been such a bad thing on the playing field, either.

    * The Patriots changed their uniforms and became a dynasty.
    * The Bucs changed their uniforms and won a Superbowl.
    * The Cleveland Browns changed their name and uniforms and won a Superbowl.
    * The Oilers changed their uniforms and name and nearly won a Superbowl.”

    ….really, that’s the best argument you could use to support your claim? Really?!?
    Are we to believe that the level of play changed for all of these organizations due to some rebranding?

  6. Paul says:

    Schultzie,

    Thanks for reading.

    Have you ever heard of the term “tongue in cheek?”

    That last bit about connecting team unis to wins was intended to be a bit of a joke.

    Take it easy,

    Paul

  7. Club 83 says:

    I went to a Chiefs VS Redskins Game with a Native Blackfeet Indian friend of mine from the Blackfoot reservation in MT where in the wrong part of town they still shoot at us white boys!. we saw all the protesters and he got the biggest laugh out of them, his words “It is an honer to be an NFL mascot, they have to be tough or cool, like Cowboys or 49rs, I see nothing wrong with it”