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America’s Problems Solved, Congress Now Wants To Change The Redskins’ Name

Washington-Redskins

It seems as though every decade or so someone gets it in their heads the idea that the most important issue facing the nation is the fact that the football team associated with our nation’s capital is the Redskins. The controversy will last for awhile, and then fade away once it becomes clear that the team’s ownership, once the iconic Jack Kent Cooke and now the less-than-beloved Dan Snyder, makes it clear that the team’s name will not change as long as they own the team. Most recently, one group of Native Americans attempted to make an end run around the owner’s reticence by petitioning the Patent and Trademark Office to strip the team of its Trademark on the ground that the name was racially offensive. After a battle that lasted several years, they lost their petition and things seemed to quiet down yet again. Now, Members of Congress, apparently having solved every other problem facing the nation, have decided to get involved:

Ten members of Congress are urging the Washington Redskins to change their name because it is offensive to many Native Americans.

The representatives said Tuesday they’ve sent letters to Redskins owner Dan Snyder, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Redskins sponsor FedEx and the other 31 NFL franchises.

The letter to Snyder says that “Native Americans throughout the country consider the ‘R-word’ a racial, derogatory slur akin to the ‘N-word’ among African Americans or the ‘W-word’ among Latinos.”

Among the group sending the letters are the leaders of the Congressional Native American Caucus: Tom Cole (R-Okla.(, and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.).

Earlier this year, these same Members of Congress introduced a bill that would strip the team of their Trademark, however the bill has gone nowhere in Congress and is unlikely ever to see the light of day. Additionally, it’s hard to see how such a bill would not be barred by the Constitution as a Bill Of Attainder. In any case, though, it’s clear that these actions by Members of Congress have not intimidated Redskins’ ownership:

Daniel Snyder is owner of the Washington pro football team he grew up adoring. Would he ever consider changing the team name that many American Indians and others believe is a racial slur?

“We will never change the name of the team,” Snyder told USA TODAY Sports this week. “As a lifelong Redskins fan, and I think that the Redskins fans understand the great tradition and what it’s all about and what it means, so we feel pretty fortunate to be just working on next season.”

What if his football team loses an ongoing federal trademark lawsuit? Would he consider changing it then?

“We’ll never change the name,” he said. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

It’s easy to understand why Snyder would take this position.  As a team, the Redskins franchise is estimated to be worth some $1.56 billion with annual revenue estimated to be more than $350 million. It is the fourth most valuable sports franchise in the world, behind English soccer team Manchester United, the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees. Additionally, public opinion seems to be clearly on Snyder’s side in this issue. A poll released earlier this month showed that 79% of those polled support the idea of the Redskins keeping their name notwithstanding the complaints from some, but not all, Native American groups that it is offensive. The name “Washington Redskins” is a valuable commodity, and no team owner is ever going to give it up voluntarily, it’s just that simple.

Over the years, some private organizations have tried to use pressure to force a name change. One local Washington, D.C. television station spent several years referring to “Washington’s football team” during sports reports instead of using the name “Redskins.” Eventually, their practice became so widely derided that they went back to using the teams actual name. Other media outlets have taken similar measures only to abandon them. These were obviously efforts to try to persuade Redskins fans to give up the name, and they failed spectacularly.

Now, I’m a New York Giants fan, so I’ve really got no dog in this fight and on some level I’m not all that dismayed by something that embarrasses one of my team’s biggest rivals. At the same time, though, I have to wonder why this is something that Members of Congress need to be getting involved in, or why legislation is necessary to address something that is, in the end, a private business matter. The people who don’t like the name are free to protest it. Dan Snyder and the rest of Redskins ownership are free to reject their pleas. If there ever comes a time when the public sympathizes with the protesters, then perhaps the team will feel the kind of economic pressure most likely to cause them to change positions, then we’ll likely see a name change of some kind. Personally, I think the odds of that happening are pretty remote. The Redskins name has been in existence now since 1933 when the football version of the Boston Braves changed its name to Boston Redskins before moving to Washington, D.C. several years later. We’re not that far away from the 100th anniversary of that name. It’s going to be around for a long time to come, and I’m just fine with that.

Here’s the letter that was sent to Redskins ownership:

Letter To Washington Redskins Owner Dan Snyder by dmataconis

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Rafer Janders says:

    It’s going to be around for a long time to come, and I’m just fine with that.

    Why not just change it to the Yellowskins or the Blackskins to honor, respectively, our East Asian or African-American heritage? Who could object to that….?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 3

  2. nitpicker says:

    All the important things whined about already, Mataconis decides to whine about this now. Or is it just possible he might be capable of whining about more than one thing in a given day?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 5

  3. PogueMahone says:

    It’s going to be around for a long time to come, and I’m just fine with that.

    Good for you, Mr. Mataconis. After all, your ghostly appearance (judging by your photograph) gives you plenty of cause to object to sports franchises naming their team after the color of your skin and nothing more.

    Who could forget the New York Pale Faces? Or perhaps the Boston Pinkies? Or maybe the Chicago Colorless?

    You’ve been through this, haven’t you? You know what its like to have your race reduced to skin color, don’t you?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 28 Thumb down 3

  4. Mr. Prosser says:

    I’ll defend DC’s name when there are Boston Micks, Cleveland Bohunks, Texas Greasers and Atlanta Peckerwoods.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 19 Thumb down 5

  5. Hazelrah says:

    Keep the name and change the mascot to a potato or a peanut.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  6. Sam Malone says:

    I have to say that Congress would better spend their time trying to further rectify the wrongs done to “Redskins” over the course of this nations history.
    First the Europeans stuffed the natives onto reservations.
    Now the decendents of the Europeans want to keep other people from coming to “their” country.
    And these Congress-Critters want to squabble over the name of a football team?
    Talk about mis-directed priorities idiots.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  7. Tyrell says:

    @Mr. Prosser: I actually like those names. The main concern is why Mr. Snyder can’t build a championship team.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  8. @Mr. Prosser:

    How about the Fighting Irish?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 7

  9. PogueMahone says:

    How about the Fighting Irish?

    Now see… this is alright. Just like the “Braves.” This could be construed as something positive.

    Now if there were the Notre Dame “Drunken Irish Brawlers” then you might have a point.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 19 Thumb down 5

  10. JWH says:

    Now, I’m a New York Giants fan

    Boooo. Hissssss.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  11. How about the Indiana Hoosiers, which started as a slur making fun of the Indiana accent?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  12. Or the New York Yankees, which start as a British insult toward Americans?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  13. John Burgess says:

    FWIW, the Oxford Companion to Food says the name “Redskin” was first applied to the (now extinct) Taino People of what’s now Puerto Rico. The name was given in recognition of their custom of staining their skins with annatto, not their basic skin color.

    I’m reminded of teams like the “Fighting Illini” (Univ of Illinois/Champagne-Urbana) and the Seminoles (Florida State). That’s not even generic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  14. legion says:

    @Doug Mataconis: How is “Irish” derogatory?
    Here’s a trickier origin story, though – straight from my own alma mater. Back in the late 19th c. when “college football” was a quaint new thing, local colleges vied among themselves with whatever semi-pro layabouts they could muster. One year, the Purdue coach decided he’d just go ahead and take advantage of the lack of an NCAA to complain by stacking his team with the beefiest guys he could find. The local press called them “a great big burly gang of corn-huskers,” “rail-splitters,” “foundry molders,” and “log-haulers.” One sports writer for the Daily Argus headlined his story “Slaughter of Innocents,” with the line under that reading, “Wabash Snowed Completely Under by the Burly Boiler Makers from Purdue.”

    Thus, the Purdue Boilermakers were born. So, a bit derisive, but hardly a “slur”, and I would put name like “The Fightin’ Irish” in the same class. YMMV.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  15. bill says:

    @PogueMahone: um, “fighting Irish”? I’m Irish too, and I’m not offended by my drunkin/brawlin’ past. it’s just a freakin name, sticks and stones…..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  16. Gustopher says:

    The “America’s Problems Solved” nonsense is just kind of stupid.

    How about “Frustrated from doing any real work by a broken Republican Party with no interest in governing…” instead?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 4

  17. Neil Hudelson says:
  18. Dave D says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Congress has a right to be involved since the NFL retains tax exempt status. If they were smart they would pull tax exemption from just the Redskins and see how long they are willing to retain their name.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 5

  19. rodney dill says:

    In honor of Obama’s favorite game they could change the name to the ‘Foreskins’

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 11

  20. stonetools says:

    @rodney dill:

    Obama likes circumcision? As a sport?

    Do tell your sources. I thought only Michelle had direct knowledge of that part of Obama’s anatomy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  21. rudderpedals says:

    Everything’s for sale. He’s staking out a negotiating position.

    Good thing there aren’t any barriers to entry or else you’d think the market’s rigged for a privileged few to take jumbo sized earnings.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  22. Rafer Janders says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    See, the difference is that (a) “Irish” is not offensive* and (b) the faculty and students of Notre Dame, many of whom were themselves Irish, came up with that name, and they can call themselves anything they want.

    But you know who didn’t come up with the name of the Washington Redskins? A group of American Indians.

    *This reminds me of an episode of “The Office” where Oscar identifies himself as a Mexican and Michael then asks him if he can use a less derogatory term.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  23. Dazedandconfused says:

    Possible replacement names that fit the character of the town:
    “Barracuda”
    “Carpet Baggers”
    “Federals”
    “Pirates”
    “Sharks”
    “Swindlers”
    “Ticks”
    “Tapeworms”
    “Hookers”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  24. Tyrell says:

    @Dave D: Oh, that’s just what we need: more abuse from the IRS!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. Electroman says:

    @Dave D: NFL teams are most definitely *not* tax-exempt. The NFL itself is (and shouldn’t be IMO). That *is* by act of congress, but repealing that isn’t likely, especially for a team name.

    As a ‘Skins fan since they were called the “Deadskins” and people went to games with paper bags over their heads (i.e. the pre-Sonny-Jurgenson era), I don’t care what their name is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. superdestroyer says:

    A few years ago, some native American activist tried to make a point when they named their intramural team at Northern Colorado Univeristy “The Fighting Whites” to show whites how it feels to have an insulting team mascot names. The plan backfired because white people wanted to purchase the tee shirts of the team because they thought it was funny. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fighting_Whites.

    The idea that team mascot names are insulting is just a play for political power by native american activist. They want to control what everyone else can say about them. In reality, having a mascot name should be considered a compliment, especially for the state universities of states named after specific Indian tribes.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 5 Thumb down 17

  27. Andre Kenji says:

    It could be worse. There is a Brazilian soccer team that has the nickname “Macaca”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  28. Dave D says:

    @Electroman: To me it is a non-issue I grew up in a state where school after school even dropped the name warriors, e.g. Marquette. I am just for cutting tax subsidies to “sports” when they rake in millions a year, see NASCAR. As for rooting for a team regardless of record, I’m a Brewers fan so I know how loyalty goes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. aFloridian says:

    @John Burgess:

    I’m reminded of teams like the “Fighting Illini” (Univ of Illinois/Champagne-Urbana) and the Seminoles (Florida State). That’s not even generic.

    Fortunately, the Florida State Seminoles are likely around to stay, as the university has the blessing of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, partly because FSU strives to represent the tribe well, but mainly because FSU and the Tribe have developed a very beneficial relationship.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  30. Septimius says:

    The New York Giants is offensive to people with acromegaly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  31. rodney dill says:

    @stonetools: I would’ve gone with golf, but your idea is pretty funny too, so we can go with that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  32. Rick DeMent says:

    Well they could simply change the logo from a Native American to a potato. Imagine the headlines… The spuds were mashed last night by the Cowboy’s …

    On a serious note, Redskins is an awful derogatory name, I mean it’s not really in the same league as Indians or Braves. And naming a team “the Whites” is not really analogous. Northern Colorado University should have named the team the ignorant crackers, I’m pretty sure T-shirt sales would not have been so robust.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  33. nitpicker says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Were they called “The Fightin’ Micks” you’d have a point. They’re not. You don’t.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 4

  34. Anderson says:

    I suggested “Zulus” at TPM a while back, because (1) Zulus were badass warriors, (2) “Zulu” is not a term of opprobrium, and (3) D.C. is largely black, so let’s have some badass-warrior black dudes be the mascot. Helmet could have an African spear tip.

    This was however viewed as racist, apparently, by the TPM commentariat.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  35. stonetools says:

    Change “Redskins” to “Warriors”. Leave everything the same.
    That simple.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  36. Socraticsilence says:

    The thing is the name is on it face offensive, I mean if I bought the the Knicks and renamed them the New York Kikes- people would be pissed, but since our early genocide of Native Americans was so successful there’s not too many objectors to a name that is essentially the equivalent of he N word.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  37. Rob in CT says:

    @Socraticsilence:

    Basically. And when they do complain, people find it easy to dismiss them as whiners.

    I have no stake in this fight – no NA heritage, not a football fan, etc. But really, the name sucks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  38. Rob Prather says:

    At the same time, though, I have to wonder why this is something that Members of Congress need to be getting involved in, or why legislation is necessary to address something that is, in the end, a private business matter.

    I agree with the second part, but not the first. They can do more than one thing at a time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  39. Lisa says:

    I think Maryland needs to get rid of the major road named Indian Head.. The name comes from the British hanging the heads of dead Indians on the side of the road so they could get paid for them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  40. anjin-san says:

    In honor of Obama’s favorite game they could change the name to the ‘Foreskins’

    That’s a pretty strange thing for one guy to say about another…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  41. anjin-san says:

    They can do more than one thing at a time.

    Are you sure?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  42. Tyrell says:

    @stonetools: Not a bad idea, that would work. Some animal rights people are against teams using animal names: Tigers, Bulldogs, Dolphins, Sharks, Timberwolves etc. They claim that it belittles animals and makes them look like an object.
    What next – can’t use colors? How about rocks or minerals ? Tree names ? How about foods?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 7

  43. Dave D says:

    @Tyrell: You’re right this is just a slippery slope, from a trying to change from a racial epithet to banning every word ever that describes anything.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  44. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    First they came for the Redskins.

    How long before they come for the Browns ???

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  45. Ernieyeball says:

    @11B40: That is my family name and Cleveland can use it.
    I always thought it was a great name for a football team since it is my name too!
    …Yes, I have been to C-town.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  46. G.A.Phillips says:

    How about the Washington Commies?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  47. Johnny Deep says:

    Glad you’re “just fine” with everything.
    Thank you white males, always the most brilliant in the bunch when it comes to racial sensitivity.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  48. Dennis says:

    Are these Congressmen 5 years old? Can they not use actual adult words instead of engaging in this insipid “N-Word”, “R-Word”, “W-Word” nonsense? It’s juvenile and stupid. Then again, I expect juvenile and stupid from Congress.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  49. rodney dill says:

    @Tyrell: Goes for the Packers too. (origin: meat packers) so it gets PETA and animal rights people riled up. Someone once did a tongue in cheek article about changing the name to the “Pickers” as in fruit/vegetable harvesters. I always thought they should go straight to the heart of the matter and just call them the F*ckers*. It works for nearly all involved. After a loss to GB the Vikings or Bears fans would still be saying, “God I hate those F*ckers.” and even the inebriated GB fans would say, “Didya see how that F*cker ran after he caught the ball.” or “Man, that F*cker Rodgers can really throw the ball.” or “That F*cker really sacked their quarterback.” Hardly anyone would have to change the way they speak or think about it.

    *(…and for what its worth I’m a Packers fan)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  50. George says:

    It’s going to be around for a long time to come, and I’m just fine with that.

    So if people do something racist for a longtime, it becomes okay. That’s the logic here.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  51. Lit3Bolt says:

    Washington Smallpox-Blanket Givers

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  52. Dave D says:

    @rodney dill: Equating meat packing as an affront to vegetarians is almost the same as a racial epithet leveled against a race of people that were almost systematically wiped out as a matter of policy (see indian schools, the indian removal act the indian reorganization act, ect.) But those meat packers working in slaughter houses that make the east side of green bay smell like a landfill in summer is just as egregious. Thank you for pointing out how unfair that name is in comparison.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  53. Rodney Dill says:

    @Dave D: I’m pretty sure I don’t understand your point. If you have one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  54. Suzy says:

    Dan, why have you taken the notion that this is the most important problem facing our nation? Don’t you have anything better to write about, just like members of Congress apparently have more important national problems to solve? Don’t go telling me it’s possible to address more than one thing at a time!

    The owners are never going to change because they’re making too much money and public opinion is with them. Hey, I wonder what would happen if someone took away at least some of their ability to profit from use of the name, like by cancelling their trademarks? Or what if people who write for a public audience pointed out that the name is flat racist and shameful? Perhaps it is too much to hope that public opinion might someday shift on this issue, and that even the owners of this team are vulnerable both to being hurt in the pocketbook and shamed for their views.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1