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The Ongoing Washington Redskins Name Controversy

By Pedro Alvarado

Over the course of time, the word "Redskin" has a taken on a number of different definitions. "Redskin" has been used to refer to Native American warriors (http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/op-ed-redskins-nickname-honors-indian-warriors/article/2524105) and the brutal process of scalping Native Americans for a bounty (http://www.esquire.com/blogs/news/true-redskins-meaning). American English dictionaries and the Oxford English Dictionary classify "Redskin" as usually offensive, disparaging and insulting. Thus, "Redskin" is generally avoided in public usage with the exception of referencing the Washington Redskins, a National Football League (NFL) team (http://mmqb.si.com/2014/04/03/washington-nfl-team-name-debate/).

These contrasting variations have given rise to the ongoing Washington Redskins controversy. However, as the Washington Redskins team continues to face oncoming public pressure to change its name, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations, Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) rulings, the United States Constitution, and the NFL's Constitution and bylaws may legally force the team to change its name, irrespective of such pressure.

Protests over the Redskins team name have stretched as far back as 1970. Civil rights organizations, human rights activists, Native American tribes, and politicians all believe that the Redskins team name and logo begs change, as it represents a form of unacceptable ethnic stereotyping. Recently, Congress sent a number of pleas to the NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, asking to regulate the name. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Representative Tom Cole (R-Okla.) have criticized the use of the name, claiming it to be nothing more than a racial slur (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/football-insider/wp/2014/02/09/nfl-faces-pressure-from-congress-to-change-redskins-name/). Congress has also reached out to the FCC, hoping that the Redskins team name will be treated the same as other racially charged words (http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/30/us-usa-fcc-redskins-idUSKCN0HP2HM20140930). The FCC has argued that "Redskins" qualifies as broadcasting obscenity due to its derogatory and racist connotation. Id. Even the TTAB revoked the Washington Redskins' federal trademark registration after evidence showed a substantial amount of Native Americans believed the term Redskins to be disparaging when used in connection with professional football (http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/11102096/us-patent-office-cancels-washington-redskins-trademark).

In addition, the FCC has argued that the Redskins team name is not protected by the First Amendment since "Redskin" is a discriminatory word towards Native Americans. The FCC stated that the First Amendment does not protect obscene material and such material cannot be broadcasted at any time (http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/2013/04/could-the-feds-really-force-the-redskins-to-change-their-name/).

However, supporters of the name argue that banning the "Redskins" would harm the First Amendment, because words that give the slightest bit of offense would face greater scrutiny. The United States is a blend of numerous nationalities, backgrounds, and sensitivities, so, theoretically, an innumerable amount of words can offend somebody, hindering free expression. (http://libertycrier.com/fcc-redskins-ban-kill-first-amendment/). Furthermore, studies have shown that the majority of the general public supports the Washington Redskins' campaign to keep its team name. (http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/9235381/poll-majority-approve-washington-redskins-name). In July 2014, New Mexico, which has the second highest percentage of Native Americans in the United States, conducted a survey, which concluded that 71% of the participants voted to keep the name (http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/redskins/new-poll-says-large-majority-of-americans-believe-redskins-should-not-change-name/2014/09/02/496e3dd0-32e0-11e4-9e92-0899b306bbea_story.html). Additionally, both the NFL Commissioner and owner Dan Snyder support the Redskins team name and logo, claiming that "Redskins" portrays Native Americans in a positive light, which displays strength and courage (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/football-insider/wp/2014/03/26/goodell-praises-snyder-says-redskins-name-support-remains-overwhelming/).

Regardless of whether one approves or protests the name, the NFL's Constitution and bylaws provide a complicated and lengthy process that includes the NFL's and many of its sponsors' approvals. To gain approval, the NFL examines the impact of the team name from an ethical and financial perspective. However, Roger Goddell has claimed that the Redskins team name has no racial connotation, and no sponsor has indicated that the Redskins should change its name (http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/redskins/redskins-name-change-would-have-to-pass-muster-with-nfl-sponsors/2013/02/24/c4fa763c-7b0b-11e2-9c27-fdd594ea6286_story.html).

The outcry over the Washington Redskins does not end with the team name. Many also oppose the Redskins' logo, which represents an extremely racist and stereotypical view of Native American culture; a red-faced Native American with a feathered hat (http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/12/us/redskins-controversy/). Some claim that this mockery of the Native American culture is analogous to individuals who do blackface to imitate African Americans (http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/12/us/redskins-controversy/). Nevertheless, as the debate rages on, there is one certainty; neither side shows any signs of giving in to the other's demands. However, change is almost inevitable. For example, the Major League Baseball team the Cleveland Indians, recently changed its logo after 33 years due to its offensive portrayal of Native Americans. Thus, as support continues for a Redskins name change, it is only a matter of time until the NFL is forced to change, as well.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 5, 2015 2:43 PM.

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