Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 05:37 p.m. DST, 18 June 2014
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia -- The US Patent and Trademark Office came down hard on the Washington Redskins organization today, 18 June 2014, canceling the National Football League franchise's exclusive rights to the logo and name. Now, the Redskins trademarks will not belong solely to the team, and may be used by a host of marketing and equipment businesses, pending future bargaining.
Several Native American tribes and advocacy groups are hoping that this could be the incentive that owner Dan Snyder needs in order to change the name of the organization. This decision is part of a larger movement in US professional sports to encourage players, owners and coaches to act with common decency.
The decision follows the high-profile controversy surrounding Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, the racist statements he made about black people, and the NBA executive decision to pressure Sterling to sell the Clippers franchise. Another recent media blitz centered around Twitter postings made by Miami Dolphins player Don Jones, who made derogatory comments about NFL newcomer Michael Sam, after Sam and his partner were shown kissing during the 2014 NFL Draft.
Washington owner Dan Snyder has made inflammatory comments about the Redskins name being a "badge of honor" for Native Americans. Hold on, Snyder. How can the title "Redskin" be an honorary title, when it is simply an antiquated way of describing an ethnic group by their complexion? While you, Mr. Snyder, see the name as such a privileged distinction, several American Indian tribes and organizations do not. And 26 of these groups are demonstrating today on behalf of the name change.
Snyder has stated his allegiance to the name many times, once saying: "we owe it to our fans and coaches and players, past and present, to preserve that heritage." The words Snyder uses to describe his so-called obligation to the franchise leave me with an uncomfortable feeling, as they do many people. Why he would bring up the "heritage" of a group of sports fans, obviously indicating that this imaginary heritage trumps actual tribal heritage? Why he would choose the word "heritage" in the first place is beyond me.
To Mr. Snyder, and other people who believe that their interpretation of the Redskins insignia is more important than the Native American people who are a living representation of the Redskins organization: why does the "heritage" of corporatized sports team eclipse the heritage of hundreds of various tribal communities living throughout the United States?
For Snyder, the Redskins logo may be a "badge of honor", but to me that term is far from a compliment or a term of respect, since that title has been denounced by countless American Indians as a badge of hatred and racism.
The comments by Snyder are just one aspect in which Native Americans are treated as if they are not living, breathing people, as important and valuable as any human living today. Snyder continues to paint native cultures as a caricature, a simple icon, something bound to the past. All the while, he acts as if the Natives Americans living in the shadow of this logo benefit in any way by their representation. From the merchandise worth millions of dollars, plastered all over various pieces of apparel and jerseys, to the face of the iconic Redskin on the drink koozies of intoxicated ticket holders, I see no way in which this so-called "badge of honor" actually honors the American Indians.
Snyder's obligations to the "heritage" of the Redskins organization are insensitive and wrong. Everybody knows that Snyder's main concern is his revenue and the bottom line. His "heritage" comments seem to me to be a misplaced acknowledgment of his failed responsibility to protect the wishes of the people behind the logo.
Here's hoping that the Patent and Trademark Office's decision today will provide Snyder with enough of an economic incentive to make the proper, principled decision, even if the impetus for the name change comes only in consideration of dollars and cents.
- Patent office cancels Redskins trademark (TBO.com)
- Michael McCann:Understanding the cancellation of the Redskins' federal trademark (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)
- Meet the Navajo Activist Who Got the Washington Redskins' Trademark Revoked: Amanda Blackhorse (democracynow.org)
- What Washington Redskins trademark cancellation means for Chiefs (bizjournals.com)
- Jones: Ruling deterrent to using Redskins name (cbssports.com)