CHANGE THE NAME…CHANGE THE MASCOT.
The movement to get the Washington NFL team to change its racist logo and name has come to Arizona. On October 12, about 150 people—members of tribes from throughout the state and supporters—rallied in Glendale (a suburb of Phoenix) before the Arizona-Washington NFL game under the banner of “Change the Name…Change the Mascot.”
My daughter-in-law Wenona Benally Baldenegro worked with Amanda Blackhorse—the lead plaintiff in the case that recently stripped the Washington Redskins of their trademark protection and who is now being sued by the NFL—in organizing the rally. Wenona and Amanda are childhood friends. They grew up together
—across the street from each other—in Kayenta, on the Navajo Reservation. Wenona was the event’s MC.
The “Change the Name…Change the Mascot” movement began with a petition by seven Native American activists in 1992 to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) of the US Department of Commerce requesting cancellation of the trademark on the grounds that “redskin” “…was and is a pejorative, derogatory, denigrating, offensive, scandalous, contemptuous, disreputable, disparaging and racist designation for a Native American person.”
In 1998 the TTAB decided in favor of the petitioners and cancelled the trademark. Pro Football, Inc. appealed to the United States District Court, which in 2003 overturned the decision of the TTAB and reinstated the trademark. In 2006, Blackhorse and four others brought a lawsuit, which overturned the 2003 decision and again cancelled the trademark.
In its ruling the judges relied on testimony from linguists and historians that the term “redskin” has long been used in a pejorative sense to refer to Native Americans. The judges also cited a survey that found that: “A substantial composite [46%] of the general public finds the word ‘redskin(s)’ to be a derogatory term of reference for Native Americans . . . [and] the derogatory connotation of the word . . . extends to the term ‘Redskins,’ as used in [the football team’s] marks.”
The Native American plaintiffs hope that, “…this ruling brings us a step closer to that inevitable day when the name of the Washington football team will be changed.”
How about them “Kikes,” “Wops,” “Wetbacks,” “Micks,” “Polacks,” “Coons,” “Gooks”…
Sadly and inexplicably, the President of the Navajo Nation, Ben Shelley, sat with Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington NFL team, in Snyder’s skybox during the game. But Shelley is an outlier. The Navajo Nation Council (the tribe’s elected governing body) passed a resolution objecting to the name as did the Dine Medicine Men’s Association, Inc. of the Navajo Nation.
The vast majority of the Native American tribes in the nation object to the Washington team’s name and/or have rejected funds offered by the Original American Foundation’s (OAF) set up by Washington owner Snyder in order to buy support. Only about three (3) tribes have accepted Snyder’s trinkets. Scores of tribes and tribal organizations—representing millions of Native Americans from throughout the country—have registered their opposition to the Washington team’s name.
To folks who say that the “Change the Name…Change the Mascot” movement is an overreaction to a harmless term, that it is politically-correct speech gone amuck, I ask:
Would the Jewish community and leaders support a team named “Kikes?” Would the Italian-American community and leaders support a team named “Wops?” Would the Mexican American community and leaders support a team named “Wetbacks?” Would the Irish-American community and leaders support a team named “Micks?” Would the Polish-American community and leaders support a team named “Polacks?” Would the African American community and leaders support a team named “Coons?” Would the Asian-American community and leaders support a team named “Gooks?” I doubt it. These are insulting, racist epithets—exact counterparts to “Redskins.”
“Change the Name…Change the Mascot” is a civil-rights issue grounded in the principle of self-determination, no different from the Mexican American/Chicano community’s 1970s fight against the use of the “Frito Bandito” stereotype to sell corn chips.
Snyder makes money off of his racism…
Just as the “Frito Bandito” stereotype was used to make profits, so is the Redskins slur. Professional “sports” are a business, whose sole purpose is to make money. Of all the major sports, NFL teams are the most profitable, and according to Forbes Magazine, of the 32 teams in the NFL, Washington is the third most profitable (after the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots), with annual revenues of $395 Million (as of August, 2014).
Stopping the use of the “Frito Bandito” stereotype did not hurt the company using the stereotype, which has continued to be profitable. So will the Washington NFL franchise should its owner drop the Redskins slur. After all, the team logo and name do not score touchdowns or make sacks. The players, who make the team, do this. Nor will the logo-name attract people to the almost-criminally over-priced concession stands—fans will be thirsty and hungry, no matter any team logo or name.
The Washington team folks claim that the team was named to honor supposedly Native American coach William “Lone Star” Dietz. Recent research, however, suggests that Dietz may not have been Native American at all. And, a newspaper clipping from the era quotes George Preston Marshall, the team owner who changed the name to “the Redskins” in 1933, as saying he did not name the team to honor Dietz.
But even if one concedes that the team name was not meant as a slur when it was first introduced, the fact is that language evolves as society and its people and sensibilities change. Word meanings change with time. So, whatever it might have once meant, “Redskins” is now a racial slur, and as such has no place in our lexicon. Change the Name…Change the Mascot. c/s
Copyright 2014 by Salomon Baldenegro. To contact Salomon write: firstname.lastname@example.org