The Trademark Revocation of the Washington Redskins and the Ensuing Debate

I want to deviate a bit from my usual posts about church history to step into the other arena that I love: sports. There was a bit of news today in the sports world. The US Patent Office canceled the Washington Redskins’ trademark in another step toward changing the name. This comes on the heels of a powerful ad that aired during the NBA Finals the other night. I will simply link to that video here and let it speak for itself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mR-tbOxlhvE.

Today’s news provoked an interesting response on social media, and that is what I want this post to address. I have seen a few responses so far, mostly from sports fans/ sports talk radio hosts. Here are some quotes for you (with names removed): “I have read somewhere that most Native Americans are not offended.” “It’s only been since Obama became president because he always wants to stir up issues of race.” “Did you just wake up and figure out the team name? They’ve had it for years.” While you have to take internet comments and posts with a grain of salt, these attitudes should be unsettling for us.

I think that the back-and-forth over the last few years between Dan Snyder (the owner of the Washington Redskins) and Roger Goodell (the NFL Commissioner) has shown a resistance to change the team name largely due to financial reasons. While it is a lot of work to change the name of a team, Miami University in Oxford, Ohio went through this exact same thing in 1997. They changed their name and logo from the Redskins to the Redhawks in cooperation with the Miami Tribe.

The whole debate over today’s news saddens me. People are so concerned that the government is stepping into this issue that they are ignoring the problem. You also get the obligatory “everything is offensive/ bullying today” arguments. The fact remains that the word “Redskin” is a derogatory name for Native Americans. If I were a fan of that team, I would be conflicted about wearing a hat or shirt with that name on it. It’s past time to change the name. Champ Bailey, who played for Washington sums it up better than I can:

“When you hear a Native American say that ‘Redskins’ is degrading, it’s almost like the N-word for a black person,” Bailey told USA TODAY Sports. “If they feel that way, then it’s not right. They are part of this country. It’s degrading to a certain race. Does it make sense to have the name?” (full story here:  http://q.usatoday.com/2014/06/11/champ-bailey-controversial-redskins-name-like-n-word/)

I close by asking for your thoughts and comments on the issue, both from those who support keeping the name and those who think they should change it. It’s obvious where I am on this issue, but I welcome other positions.

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