Name Change Is Needed
Published: Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 01:01
2013 was rough for the Washington Redskins. A year removed from making a surprise run to the NFC East divisional title and the NFL playoffs, the Redskins finished this season 3-13 and regressed in nearly every facet of the game. However, the on-field issues were the least of the team’s problems. Off the field, since-fired Head Coach Mike Shanahan caused a ruckus by benching star quarterback Robert Griffin III for the last few weeks of the season after RGIII himself was accused of avoiding criticism and receiving special treatment from owner Dan Snyder. Most notably, however, the controversy of the “Redskins” moniker reached new heights.
Although a constant source of contention throughout the season, a recent development has reignited the debate. Last Wednesday, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Organization (USPTO) rejected a request for a trademark by a company attempting to sell a brand of pork rinds entitled “Redskins Hog Rinds,” citing the word “Redskin” as derogatory. Although Redskins Hog Rinds are in no way affiliated with the NFL franchise, the USPTO is currently deliberating on whether to remove the Washington Redskins’ trademark protection. With the hog rinds decision serving as a precedent, the USPTO will likely rule against the Redskins.
If this occurs, the franchise would lose its ability to exclusively sell Redskins merchandise, and it would likely lose revenue from these sales to knockoff brands. As a result, the decision would inevitably force the Redskins to change their name, if only for commercial reasons.
While ESPN columnist Gregg Easterbrook has referred to the Redskins as the “Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons” for years, only in the past year has outrage over the possibly offensive nickname become a public debate. It seems that condemnation of the nickname grows every week.
While advocates such as Snyder and a portion of the Washington fan base contend that the name represents the team’s tradition and celebrates the legacy of Native Americans the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a large population of Native American protesters and even President Barack Obama himself have spoken out against the name.
Snyder, a profoundly stubborn man, said in May that the Redskins would “never” change their name. However, with so many parties opposing the nickname, it might be wise for the owner to reconsider. Morally, there is no defense for the name. It can be argued that other team names such as “Chiefs” and “Braves” celebrate Native American culture. However, “Redskin” is a historically derogatory term, and many assert that it carries the same oppressive weight for Native Americans as the N-word does for African-Americans. Regardless, if the word is offensive to even one Native American, the team should change its name. The nickname serves as a reminder that race relations are not yet balanced in America; not when a rich white man can decide whether the term “Redskin” should persist as a common term in society.
On Jan. 2, the Redskins franchise celebrated poll results showing that out of 741 NFL fans questioned, a staggering 71 percent opposed a name change. Never mind that in a similar poll conducted in April 2013, 79 percent opposed a change, suggesting that the nickname is decreasing in popularity. Additionally, the franchise cited a 2004 poll done by the Annenberg Institute which suggests that 91 percent of Native Americans do not find the term “Redskin” offensive. But the key statistic is that 9 percent of those questioned were offended by the term. While 91 percent are indifferent and would likely be unaffected by a name change, 9 percent derive emotional damage from the name. In this situation, it does not matter whether a majority of fans or even Native Americans support the moniker, it matters whether anyone is offended at all.
In 2014, the Washington Redskins will attempt to remake their identity. They have hired former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to be their Head Coach, a move that they hope will counteract the controversy of Shanahan’s departure. Although the Redskins do not have a first round draft pick, they will attempt to shore up their defensive holes and continue to build around young stars Griffin and Alfred Morris in hopes that the 2012 season was not a fluke. Ultimately, Washington will look to the 2014 season to end a year of futility. While many fans would argue that this positive change will be impossible unless Snyder relinquishes his control over the franchise, Snyder can take a step in the right direction by advocating for a name change.
It appears that political and commercial pressure will eventually force that franchise to change its name. In the current transitional period, the perfect time to make the change is now. Without a doubt, new potential Washington fans and Native Americans alike will be more likely to support the Washington Warriors than the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons.