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Nadra Kareem Nittle

Time to Do Away With “Redskins” Name

By September 21, 2009

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American Indian activists have protested the use of Native Americans as mascots for decades. Despite their outcry, the United States is still home to teams such as the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Washington Redskins.

But the days Washington's NFL team is known as the Redskins may be numbered. In 1992, seven activists went to court to challenge whether the NFL team had a right to trademark the Redskins name. They argued that it violates the Lanham Act of 1946, which prohibits organizations from using disparaging trademark names.

The American Heritage College Dictionary defines "redskin" as offensive slang "used as a disparaging term for a Native American." But because the football team registered it as a trademark back in 1967, the courts said that the American Indian activists launched their legal challenge after the statute of limitations had passed. Last week, however, the plaintiffs announced that 17 years after their legal challenge was tossed out, they'll petition the Supreme Court to reexamine their case.

Suzan Harjo, one of the plaintiffs, summed up her exchanges with the opposition.

"The argument has always been the same," Harjo told Washington Post columnist Mike Wise. "'We are honoring you,' they say. 'No, you're not,' we reply. 'Shut up,' they say. That's pretty much the divide for 17 years."

A slew of athletic organizations have dropped Native American references in their names over the years. Wise reports that more than 3,000 sports teams had names associated with American Indians in 1970. Today, that number has dropped to fewer than 1,000. Pro sports teams, though, seem reluctant to part ways with their American Indian monikers.

Sure, millions of dollars in merchandise sport the Redskins name, but the money at stake is no excuse for Washington's football team to continue using this racial slur. Presumably, some of the hesitation to drop the name is due to the fact that Native Americans make up a scant 1.5% of the U.S. population. How much public outcry can be expected from an issue that affects such a small minority? On the other hand, no team would dare to call themselves, say, the Detroit Darkies or the Brownsville Beaners. The name "redskin" is just as offensive as these names, though.

The NFL says that the Washington football team's use of "redskin" refers to the red paint used on the skin of Indian warriors, reported Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke. But whether the name is a reference to war paint or the skin coloring of Native Americans is really a moot point. An ethnic slur is an ethnic slur.

Plaschke agrees.

"Of the several high-profile Native American nicknames still alive in sports, nothing is more clearly disparaging than this one," he wrote.

For those of you who are unconvinced that such names do damage, Mike Wise described interviewing a Minnesota man named Phil St. John. St. John shared a horrible experience attending a high school basketball game with his son. "A white kid in war paint...made 'woo-woo' sounds in his child's face--until his kid turned away in shame, his self-esteem destroyed," Wise remarked.

I hope that the next generation of Native kids won't have to endure such taunting at sporting events.


September 22, 2009 at 1:29 am
(1) Larry says:

What is in a name? Learning something new everyday. The education and the awareness continue until the supremme court comes up with the final verdict. This will not be the end of the story and the fight for the business interest by the owners of the “Redskin” team continues. This reminds me of Procter and Gamble (P&G) and the issues relating to their logo.

September 22, 2009 at 9:28 am
(2) Ekay says:

Enough already…7 activist? These are people that have nothing better to do but try for attention and money. I love how everyone else – especially Mike Wise- are so offended yet…read this from the Telegraph in the UK.

“Despite the legal wranglings, which started in 1992, a poll in 2004 conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found that 91 per cent of native Americans did not find the term offensive.”

This is BS, we have a lot more to worry about in this world than the name of a football team. Why is everyone who is not native american so offended, when 95% of Native American’s are not?

Our world is being ruined under the guise of political correctness. Enough already….I sure hope the Supreme Court has the good sense to not hear the case and focus on more important issues….for g_d sake…it’s enough to drive you crazy..

October 21, 2009 at 2:15 pm
(3) Kim says:

Other teams have changed their name and it hasn’t been a big deal. We just need a good replacement name which will fit into ‘Hail to the ?????????….’

May 15, 2011 at 4:43 pm
(4) Bill says:

I have never understood the Indian mascot controversies. There are racist white mascots that no one thinks about.

You have:

Boston Celtics, the whitest of the whities

West Virginia Mountaineers, whose mascot isn’t exactly an idealization of white culture — an armed coot

Minnesota Vikings, murderers and rapists

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, same as above

Texas Rangers, white militia group that helped Texas secede from Mexico

Tennessee Volunteers, Confederate soldiers

USC Trojans, tunics and swords — you be the judge

Michigan State Spartans, child rapers, but hey, white people can handle the bad stuff in their history

Notre Dame Fighting Irish, not feeding into stereotypes at all

Montreal Canadiens, a PR name meant to imply Frenchies are not only sub-humans, but Canadians to boot

Oklahoma Sooners, the perpetrators of the last great land theft by the white man

Virginia Tech Hokies, another backward hillbilly mascot

September 24, 2011 at 10:56 pm
(5) Daniel says:

This is the most ridiculous load of Crap I have ever heard of… United we stand people. Divided we fall… You are dividers.

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