I try to stay away from politically charged or controversial issues in sports and media mainly because it can become a tiring waste of effort and energy. People who love to argue for the sake of arguing make bold statements against your views not because they disagree but simply because you stand on the opposite side of the political landscape. That being said I have decided today that it’s about time to speak out about one of the big hot button issues currently under debate; the Washington Redskins team name. This comes on the heels of the reports yesterday that the US Patent and Trademark Office has cancelled 6 trademarks held by the Washington Redskins stating that the name is “disparaging to Native Americans.” According to the ruling “federal trademark law does not permit trademarks that my disparage individuals or groups or may bring them into contempt or disrepute.” Basically you can’t trademark terms individuals or groups find offensive just because you feel it’s OK.
This case does not require the Redskins to change their name and in fact the trademark still remains in effect until the appeal is complete but this could be the first step on a long and necessary process to finally change the dated and racist name of the Washington football team. If the ruling is upheld after appeal the Washington team would be able to retain their name; however, other organizations would be able to use the name and sell merchandise using the name and logos. With the amount of money the team and league would lose in this process I can imagine a scenario where the NFL doesn’t step in and strong-arm Danny boy into finally changing the name.
Many people will and have already spoken out strongly against the name change mainly arguing that this is over political correctness and another example of the “wussification” of America. I strongly disagree and urge anyone thinking this way to truly evaluate and understand the situation objectively. The points below help gain a stronger understanding of the situation and why the team needs to change the name.
1) Definition of “Redskin.” The Oxford dictionary definition of “Redskin” is as simple as this issue should be and it reads as follows: Dated or Offensive, an American Indian. No more description is necessary as the term means nothing more than an offensive and dated term for an American Indian. It is not a term of endearment nor is it used in a positive light, it is nothing more than a racist term used to identify someone as a Native American.
2) History of the term. The term “Redskin” or “Red Skin” was first known to be used primarily in Europe in the late 17th century and at the time was used to identify tribes or people who decorated their bodies with red paint or red pigments. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries as European settlers in America began migrating west and hunting, raping, killing, and removing indigenous Americans from their land the term began to take on new meaning in this new land. This is a process in linguistics known as “pejoration” in which a neutral word begins to take on a negative or unfavorable connotation. The term was now being used by men who offered bounties for the scalps of Native Americans including both women and children. One example of this is in the Phipps Proclamation of 1755 when King George of England himself even offered American colonists rewards of 50 pounds for male “Redskins” over the age of 12, 25 pounds for women over the age of 12, and 20 pounds for children under the age of 12. The King of England offering bounties for the scalping and murder of women and children…. this is the history the Washington Redskins are embracing by holding on to their dated and racist name? Additionally in 1863 a Minnesota newspaper announced a state reward of $200 for every “Redskin sent to purgatory.” I wonder if this proclamation also encouraged the murder and scalping of women and children? In the mid 20th century Bruce Stapleton’s analysis of 42 historical references published between 1875 and 1930 found that the over time the term “Redskin” has been used negatively significantly more than it has been used positively. Based on this information I can understand why people of Native American descent don’t want to be constantly reminded of this history when they turn on a football game.
3) Other equivalent terms. With the debate over the team name in Washington people on both sides have made arguments comparing the term “Redskin” to other sports team nicknames and other slurs we are familiar with. We should be clear on what terms are appropriate and realistic when we draw these comparisons. First of all there are in my opinion two terms that cannot be compared to any other slur; while I will not use them they are an N word referring primarily to those of African descent and a K word referring to Jewish people. Because of the history of pain, torture, and torment these words bring up I believe here is more pain behind these terms and they shouldn’t be compared. On the other side of the argument people have identified sports teams such as the Saints, Indians, Braves, Fighting Irish among others and personally I feel these arguments are just silly. The terms listed in the previous sentence have never been used historically as racial slurs and there is no real grounds for any groups to take offense to these terms. In fact terms such as Indian, Native American, and Brave, along with using the name of the individual tribes have long been recommended as non-offensive terms that should be used to avoid using racially insensitive terms such as Redskin, or Red Man. True parallel terms that have at times been common in our society would be terms such as negro, chinamen, wetback, or even Jew depending on the context. Could you imagine the outrage if we named teams the Baltimore Negros, San Francisco Chinamen, Miami Wetbacks, or New York Jews? This term which offends many should be considered no different and just because the Native American community doesn’t have the numbers to create as loud of a voice doesn’t mean they should be ignored.
4) Realistic grounds for offense. As I have touched on above there is a realistic grounds for someone to be offended by the term “Redskin.” It is completely reasonable that someone may take offense to the term and wish to not be reminded of the history behind it. Because this is true it is not relevant in any way to point out that there are some out there who are not offended by the term. The fact that some are not offended by the term (Or any term) does not mean that nobody should be offended by the term. In the scenario I listed above where fictitious teams were named after equivalent racial slurs we could find some of each race or ethnicity who do not find the term offensive or care if it is used. This doesn’t mean that those who do find the term offensive are wrong in their sensitivity to the issue nor does it mean that their opinion does not matter. If people are offended (it does not matter what percentage) based on reasonable grounds for offense then their opinions should matter and we should be sensitive to their feelings.
This issue to me is nothing more than football again becoming bigger than life and people letting their sports affiliations cloud their judgement and keep them from making an objective assessment. When it comes down to it the term is both dated and racist and should not be used in pop culture in any way shape or form. As for the Washington Redskins they can’t continue to use the argument that it’s OK to be racist simply because we’ve always been racist. At some point we need to understand that if what we are doing hurts people we should probably stop doing that thing.