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Trademark Board hears Racist Washington R-Word

11:59 am in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

As I’ve noted in previous posts (here, updated here and here), lately sentiment has increased in Washington, DC, to change the racist name of its NFL team, as something that reflects badly on the nation’s capital. The team’s own arguments for keeping the name have certainly been refuted.

However, it has always been recognized that moral arguments have little or no effect on the team’s front office and ownership, and that the change will occur only when their bottom line is affected. To that end, a case against the team’s trademarking the name and associated symbols, brought by a group of five Native Americans organized by long-time activist Suzan Shown Harjo, was heard yesterday by the U. S. Patent Office’s Trial and Appeal Board. The hearing by three judges was covered by the Associated Press and reported on the ESPN website and in WaPo. A HuffPo article from yesterday makes some other points.

Basically, what has to be shown to get the trademark cancelled is that the R-word “was disparaging to a significant population of American Indians back when the team was granted the trademarks from 1967 to 1990.” A ruling in the plaintiffs’ favor would not ban the sale of items such as T-shirts with the current team logo, but would remove protection from the sale of knockoff paraphernalia at cheaper prices. A similar case was won at this level in 1999 but the victory was thrown out on appeal, on the technicality that the plaintiffs waited too long to file the action.

The 90 minute hearing included arguments by the opposing attorneys and tough questions to both by the judges. However, it is reported that one judge seemed incredulous when the team’s attorney tried to invoke the technicality that doomed the last proceeding, asking rhetorically “one year is too much?” Two judges questioned the team’s claim that the name actually honors Native Americans, with one of them wondering out loud if the same claim would be made if the team were called “the Washington N-word.”

The team’s general manager was in attendance and responded to reporters’ questions afterward by saying that the team has a positive image, and that he was unaware “if it’s been proven” that the name is offensive to Native Americans.

A ruling is not expected soon (possibly as late as a year hence), and of course would be subject to appeal.

Is the End Near for the Washington R-word? II

11:05 am in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

Redskins Helmet

There's growing support for renaming Washington's football team.

This is an update to last Saturday’s entry on the Washington NFL team’s name. First, for the benefit of people who left the thread before the last comment was entered on Monday, as I note there the Washington Post selected five letters to the editor to publish that day on the subject, of which three supported ditching the current name for good reasons.

There are a few more letters on a possible name change today, mostly humorous (“the Washington Bureaucrats,” “the Drones”), but the real news is that columnist Sally Jenkins, who is the conscience of WaPo‘s sports section if anyone is, has advanced the momentum for a name change with a really trenchant piece.

It seems that as propaganda against changing the name the team’s website (to which no link will appear here since it’s offensive) has lately taken to listing high schools in the nation that also use the R-word as their team’s name — as if the mores out there in Middle America were definitive — and to interviewing their coaches on the kids’ supposed consciousness of the issues. To this Jenkins responds:

I’m willing to hazard that most 10th graders don’t realize a team calling itself [the R-word] might as well rename itself the Darkies, Guidos, or Slant Eyes. I’m pretty sure they are unaware that the term [R-word] dates to the settler era when hunters boasted about shooting down “damned government pets” and peddled Indian scalps as if they were animal pelts along with deerskins and bearskins.

She goes on to satirize the team owner’s appeal to “heritage” as a defense of the name, by noting the actual heritage: the owner who originally coined it was a racist anti-Semite. And there is more, including a choice remark from a participant at that recent symposium at the National Museum of the American Indian (cited in my previous post), and a suggestion that the U.S. Armed Forces get on the owner’s case by reminding him of the American Indians who have served.

I won’t hold my breath waiting for that last one, and I think ultimately the trademark lawsuit mentioned in the previous post may prove decisive. But read the article. My only criticism is that Jenkins should stop spelling out the R-word (or if it’s her editor that’s making her use it he should stop). There are newspapers in this country that have found ways to report on games involving inappropriately-named teams that sidestep mentioning the names, so it is possible.

A suggestion to commenters: wendydavis has persuaded me that it is too extreme to flag comments that spell out the R-word, a slippery slope leading to censorship (see her @ 17, 20, and 30 on the last post). Still, I wish you wouldn’t do it. Imo THE R-WORD IS JUST AS OFFENSIVE AS THE N-WORD.

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Is the End Near for the Washington R-word?

12:00 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

Washington, D.C.’s NFL team is named with a racial slur against Native Americans: you know, the one from the old John Wayne westerns where people say things like “the only good Injun is a dead Injun.” The name has long been controversial, but the team and fans alike have resisted changing it, and even the large African-American fan base has been unmoved by such questions as “how would you like it if they were called the Washington Sambos?”

However, there are signs that the attitude is changing. An insightful piece in yesterday’s Washington Post by local affairs columnist Courtland Milloy explains that the obstinacy is largely because the team’s rise to NFL prominence after it was finally integrated in the early 1960s produced a sense of pride, and it has been hard to disassociate the name from that pride. But as Milloy also points out, the team’s prestige has gone far downhill, so that one basis for resistance to changing the name is fading.

Thus in his recent State of the District address, the mayor pointedly avoided using the word, simply speaking of “our football team,” even though he has backed off any suggestion of requiring a name change as a condition for the team to move back into the District from a Maryland suburb. And WaPo itself is starting to get on board. As its “Ombudsman” (don’t get me started on the inaccuracy of using that term for him) now summarizes, two columnists besides Milloy (a maverick) have now endorsed a name change. An editorial can’t be far behind.

This flurry of reformist sentiment coincides with a symposium held two days ago at Washington’s National Museum of the American Indian, where the issue of racial stereotypes as sports mascots was discussed by panelists like longtime Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee activist Suzan Shown Harjo, who was involved in a 1990s failed lawsuit precisely against the Washington team. The point was made that the best chance of forcing a name change might well be a new lawsuit that is in the works against the team’s trademark (the failure of the last one was due to a technicality).

You also have to wonder if the symbolism of a racist name for the team representing the capital city of a nation with an African-American chief executive might not be getting noticed in the corridors of power. We shall see, but my prediction is that the change will happen, and at a date not too far off.

Hold forth, people, but be forewarned: any comment that spells out the R-word will be flagged.