Op-Ed: Devil's advocate — Keeping the Redskins name

Posted Jun 19, 2014 by Mike Rossi
In recent weeks, pressure has mounted on the National Football League to compel Washington Redskins owner, Daniel Snyder, to change the name of his team.
The helmet of the Washington Redskins
The helmet of the Washington Redskins
Flickr user Keith Allison
(Personally, if they do change it, I think they should become the Washington Jackals. It’s a fun alternative and fitting nod to the mudslinging, backstabbing and all-around viciousness that makes the city’s politicians go.)
The cause, made mainstream by a stunningly powerful commercial from the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and general exposure from celebrities like John Oliver, has now reached new heights.
Aided by pressure from members of the US Senate, this week the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office went so far as to cancel elements of the Redskins’ licensing protection because of the name’s “defamatory nature.”
While this decision in no way forces the organization to rebrand itself, it does put previously absent financial weight on the NFL to seriously consider the implications of Daniel Snyder’s resistance to change.
The ‘Skins, as they’re affectionately called by their fans, are part of a league-wide revenue sharing program that’s funded by the sale of licensed merchandise. The partial loss of trademark protection puts revenue, albeit a very small amount, at risk and if there’s one thing the NFL doesn’t want to lose, it’s money.
At this stage, the odds are decidedly set against Snyder.
Public opinion. Political might. Financial loss. Those are heavy considerations.
If I were a betting man, I would feel pretty confident in wagering that the Redskins will become the Jackals—or the Snakes—or the Sharks—sooner rather than later.
Personally though, I never really gave much consideration to the name itself. It never struck me as racist. I’ve only ever thought about the football team when I’ve used it.
In fact, I’m positive I’ve never actually heard the word Redskin used to reference anything but football.
That’s probably why I don’t have an issue with the name.
Nevertheless, in light of the recent media firestorm I can appreciate the various rallying cries of those against its usage. That doesn’t mean I agree with them, but I can appreciate them.
I don’t have a problem with private organizations (like the NCAI) and persons (like John Oliver) petitioning to have the name changed. If the cause carries that much importance in their eyes, they can go right ahead as far as I’m concerned. It’s their time and money.
That being said, I don’t approve of our elected officials in Washington—looking at you Harry Reid—getting involved. Sending letters to the NFL, petitioning the Trademark Office to institute changes and generally working to gather support on Capitol Hill to change the name of a private business—a football team at that—is not the responsibility of politicians.
The V.A. is in tatters. America’s infrastructure is crumbling. The economy is being propped up by what is—almost assuredly—another bubble. Inflation continues to rise and just about nowhere has minimum wage caught up.
These are just a few of the issues that should take precedent over renaming a football team.
Alas, I am getting off topic…
As you know, I side with Daniel Snyder.
No, I’m not a Redskins fan and I have no personal allegiance to their owner. I actually think he’s one of the worst owners—not for lack of effort—in the NFL. The guy is a GM’s nightmare.
No, I’m not a racist either. Native Americans and their associated tribes have a cultural richness and history that deserves ample recognition in American society. To read about their exploitation at the hands of westward expansion in North America is heartbreaking.
But I still don’t think the name should change.
As I eluded to earlier, I don’t find the Redskins name offensive. Granted, I’m not a Native American, but membership in a particular race or culture is not a perquisite to appreciate the defamatory significance of a word. If it was, I am pretty sure racist terms would still be in common, everyday usage.
Time changes many things including language and I believe the word Redskin has lost its original meaning.
To me, the title Redskins does not perpetuate false notions of Sioux or Cherokee inferiority.
It certainly doesn’t make me think negatively of the Pueblo of the southwest or the Iroquois of the northeast.
It just makes me think about football.
And I’m not just saying that superficially. I really sat down and spent a good long while thinking about the word. Not once did it strike me as something I would use to slander a race of people.
Believe it or not, I’m actually more uncomfortable using the word “Indian” than “Redskin”, because the word Redskin only partners with the NFL in my mind.
Maybe that’s a problem of and in itself, but I prefer to think of it as a good thing. That over the centuries a word once so cutting in its meaning has transformed to become something effectively harmless.
Honestly, do you know anyone who’s ever used the word Redskin and not been referring to the football team? I thought damn long and hard about it. The answer I came up with was “no”.
By and large, I believe people are getting offended about what the word meant as opposed to what it currently means. I find that silly. I hope that doesn’t make me some sort of post-modern racist.
Regardless of opinions on the derogatory significance of the team name, one thing is not open for discussion:
Daniel Snyder owns the football team.
He has the right to name the team whatever he wants: Redskins, Whiteskins or Blackskins, it’s his call.
This is still America. The First Amendment and all of its associated blah, blah, blah, still carries weight in our society.
If that’s what he wants to call the team, so be it.
People may not like the name, but it’s not their business to control, so stop hounding the guy.
If the American people find the Redskins moniker offensive, they need to have the discipline and drive to boycott the team.
Stop attending games. Stop buying the gear. Find a new team to cheer for. Hit Snyder in the pocketbook and watch his opinion change overnight.
Better yet, make the money to buy the team yourself then name it whatever you like.
To that point, the Snyder family forked over some ungodly amount of money to purchase the Washington Redskins for a variety of reasons, not the least of which I assume had to do with long-term financial windfall.
Ego aside, owning a NFL team, particularly one that has established brand recognition (see: Redskins) PAYS. Why would any prudent businessman want to jeopardize a cash cow with a massive rebranding campaign?
I know I wouldn’t.
Which brings me to my next point—and the point I coincidentally consider most important—why has America decided to target the Washington Redskins as a symbol of Native American injustice? Why attack a private business that came into existence in 1932, far removed from the era that saw the true nature of tribal exploitation?
I would think Andrew Jackson’s portrait on the $20 dollar bill a far more offensive affront than the name of a football team. The man literally went into combat against the Creek and Seminole tribes during his time as General of the Tennessee Militia.
As president, he openly supported slavery and put into effect the Indian Removal Act, subsequently leading to the infamous “Trail of Tears”.
The man, literally and figuratively, has the blood of thousands of Native American men, women and children on his hands.
Through active military campaigning and political policy, Jackson set the table for the extermination of America’s Native population. Yet here we are, honoring him with placement on what is perhaps the most commonly used denomination of American currency.
Fortunately, currency falls underneath the thumb of the public control. The $20 bill doesn’t belong to a single man, it belongs to all of us, and therefore why not start there? The Bureau of Engraving and Printing makes a far better target for political and public firepower than the Washington Redskins.
Ultimately, whether the name changes or remains has little importance. The debate that the has been generated about the appropriateness of the Washington Redskins name has had far greater implications than even the NCAI could have ever imagined.
America is talking about Native American rights, culture and history in a way they haven’t in my lifetime. People from all walks of life have found themselves engaging in discussion about a subject usually given little thought. As a people, Americans are taking a good, long look in the mirror at our own sins in history.
For that reason alone, even if the Redskins never change their name, the Native American people of this country have a victory they can be proud of.