On Wednesday, the US Patent and Trademark Office canceled the Washington Redskins’ trademark registration. The team is, of course, appealing. They have two months to do so.
Now, for those of you who don’t know, a similar decision was made in 1999, in which the US Patent and Trademark Office stripped the Redskins of their federal trademark protection. But the team won on appeal that time. Has anything changed since then? A lot has, actually.
The US has become more politically correct since then; Native American groups have convinced colleges and high schools all over the country to change offensive names, but from what I have found, only one professional sports team has changed its name: The Washington Wizards used to be called the Washington Bullets.
Currently, five professional teams still use Native American names and imagery in their branding: the Washington Redskins, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Blackhawks. So, why is Washington now taking more heat than other teams? Well, “redskin” is a racial slur.
As Amanda Blackhorse, a Native American advocate said in an interview with MotherJones.com, “we are living in a time when calling someone the R-word is absolutely offensive.” When she was asked what made her want to get involved with these protests she said, “mascots are meant to be ridiculed. Mascots are meant to be toyed with. They’re meant to be pushed around and disrespected. To have stuff thrown at them.”
She believes that all of the team names should go because it’s an appropriation of Native American culture and the behavior of fans cannot be controlled. Native Americans should respect themselves and their public image of how the country views them. When asked about the Blackhawks, Blackhorse said,
Yes — it’s not a slur but it’s an appropriation of our culture. Any team name that references Native Americans, I think should go. No matter which way you swing it, you as a team owner and we Native Americans have no control over the type of imagery fans are going to seize on at your games.
The United States likes to glorify history: manifest destiny, Cowboys & Indians, the open frontier, and all of those images we see in movies. We want to think of America as a place of endless opportunity. But, in reality, in the United States, one group of people always must be cast aside for another group of people to win.
Did you know the New York Knicks used to be known as the New York Knickerbockers, which was meant to honor the Dutch people who originally settled on the land that became New York ? Or maybe it was just poking fun at their pants.
To put an end to any controversy, the team changed its logo from what, to me, looked like the scary grandfather of Cap’n Crunch to just the Knicks. I’m guessing that didn’t cost the team too much money since people probably already called the team the Knicks, anyway–Knickerbockers is a really long name.
Ultimately, that’s what it really is all about: money. It’s really expensive for a team to change its name, its logo and its identity due to printing, marketing and a bunch of other associated costs. Does a team lose fans upon a name change? I don’t know.
However, for those of you who question why this is now a problem, the National Conference of American Indians have been asking sports teams to change their names since 1968. This isn’t new; the country is simply now willing to listen for the first time.
Is there a difference between calling a team the Redskins and the Blackhawks? Yes, there is — a huge difference, in fact. However, a culture should have the right to control its image and not have it turned into the cartoon character of which the opposing team can poke fun.
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