Should the Redskins' Racist Logo Be Protected By Trademark Laws?

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in-a-recent-poll-79-percent-of-respondents-said-the-washington-redskins-shouldnt-change-their-nameThe Washington Redskins are mired in controversy and no, I’m not talking about the disarray stemming their recent game against the Packers. This controversy stems from the usage of ‘Redskins’ as the organization’s nickname. Many who follow the NFL – and professional sports in general – can point out that this is old news. You can’t set your watch to it, but every few years the argument that the Redskins should abandon their mascot in favor of a more PC friendly nickname resurfaces. And every single time nothing happens.

Things might be different this time. This past summer, ten congressmen including the co-chairs of the House Native American caucus sent letters to Redskins owner Dan Snyder, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and FedEx CEO Fredrick Smith calling for removal of the name. You can read the entire letter here. The letter doesn’t simply appeal to Redskin’s Owner Snyder’s and Commissioner Goodell’s sense of political correctness, it announces HR 1278, a congressional bill seeking to remove ‘Redskin’ from trademark protection.

Both Goodell and Snyder are refusing to change the name. The logo ‘Redskins’ has been in use since 1933, and both Snyder and Goodell stress the name’s historic value to the league. Instead of a racial epithet, they see it as an homage to the fierceness and bravery of Native Americans, ideals personified by the team itself. Perhaps the real incentive in preserving the name lies with the costs of rebranding. The franchise boasts nearly four generations of loyal fan support with incredible market saturation on a national level. The costs of rebranding would be incredibly high.

Andy Dolich, the team’s former president for business operations, argues “You’re not just going to Larry’s T-shirt Store and saying, ‘Hey, Larry, we need to change this. In terms of merchandise and the team’s presence on the Internet and all their corporate sponsorships, the Redskins have millions of exposure points. So there’s a dollar figure attached to any sort of overhaul.”

Several recent franchises can attest to the high cost of name changes. The Charlotte Bobcats, an NBA franchise, will be reverting back to their old moniker ‘Hornets’ in time for the 2014-15 NBA season. Their estimate of the name change comes in at around $4 million. Similar expenditures have been seen with the then New Orleans Hornets to the now New Orleans Pelicans, or the then Washington Bullets to the now Washington Wizards. For teams to even consider changing their franchise nickname is a high cost. When the Vancouver Grizzlies moved to Memphis, there was discussion about changing mascots. Exploratory costs alone tallied $125,000. Further costs could include overall drops in future consumerism of franchise goods and even impact fan support. The Redskins cite as a real fear the loss of fans, and casino online therefore profits, should they undergo rebranding.

But the noise to change the name is growing louder. This past Sunday, in Wisconsin, the Redskins’ players and coaches were met with protests. Native American organizations have raised funds to broadcast anti-Redskins messages on the radio in every away city the organization goes to this season. Even while current players remain silent, former players are beginning to speak out against the organization. Former Redskins Hall of Famer Art Monk recently stated, “[If] Native Americans feel like Redskins or the Chiefs or [another] name is offensive to them, then who are we to say to them, “No, it”s not?”” Multiple journalists, including Bill Simmons of the Grantland Network and ESPN, are refusing to address the Redskins as the Redskins, opting solely for ‘Washington.’

The word ‘redskin’s’ first written appearance dates to 1769, and then again fifty years later in a letter to James Madison. Over the course of the 19th Century, the word appeared more often. Its connotation became increasingly derogatory. Redskin was synonymous with lazy, drunk, savage, and untrustworthy. Occasional treatment of the word was reverential, coupled with the idea of ‘savage nobility.’ But even this formulation belied an undercurrent of patronizing irony. In 1915, poet Earl H. Emmons released Redskin Rimes, a compilation of racist poems about Native Americans. The book provides stunning insight into prevalent attitudes concerning Native Americans in the early 20th century, only two decades before the Redskins name would be assumed.

Language, the spoken and written word, is our conscious reflection of the objects themselves. Verbalizing words induces a process of internalization for both speaker and listener. It sculpts ideas and impressions. This idea, of language driving attitudes, is obvious today. Words carry weight. They matter. They resonate. And the term ‘redskin,’ matters to Native Americans across the country. It needs to matter to us as well. It’s time to get a different name.

In related news, a recent study found that fans who root for losing teams consumer up to 28 percent more saturated fat the day after the game, as opposed to fans of winning teams, who decreased their consumption of said fat by up to 16 percent following a victory.

About Sean Dugan

Sean Dugan is a recent graduate of the University of San Francisco School of Law and holds a B.A. in History from the University of Berkeley. His legal interests are expansive but he holds a special affinity for intellectual property rights. When not focusing on the law, Sean enjoys politics, the AMC series 'Breaking Bad,' and the city of San Francisco. His greatest passion is cheering for the Boston Celtics. His second greatest passion is rooting against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Posted in: Congress, Law, Politics, Sports
  • Eugene Lanzl

    This is all I want to say.