Having watched the Redskins-Cowboys game last night, this story caught my eye. I previously wrote a Washington Post column on the controversy over the Redskins name. In the column, I mentioned that a large number of both Native Americans and non-Native Americans do not view the team name to be offensive and explored the issue of of who should decided such questions. A story in the Washington Post discusses a vocal opposition to changing the name “Redskins” in Red Mesa, Arizona. It is the other “Redskins” team from Red Mesa High School — a school composed of largely of Navajos.
As mentioned earlier, recent polls show that almost three out of four people polled still believe that the Redskins should keep its name and do not view the name as racist. Another poll shows that almost 60 percent of NFL players believe that the team should keep its name. A 2004 Annenberg Public Policy Center poll found that 90 percent of Native Americans said the name didn’t bother them.
The Navajos do not view the name as a racial slur but a point of pride — even having a spear-carrying brave lead the team on to the field to cheers of “Fear the Spear” and “Redskin Nation.”
The Post reports that “[t]here were 62 high schools in 22 states using the Redskins moniker last year.”
The story is interesting because the standard used by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board made it irrelevant whether the vast majority of Native Americans felt the same way as the Navajos in Red Mesa. The board followed an amazingly ambiguous standard that allows the denial of a trademark if it “may disparage” a “substantial composite” of a group at the time the trademark is registered. Thus, even if true, it would not matter if 90 percent of Native Americans do not oppose the use of the name or whether society as a whole does not view the name as offensive. Instead, the board focused on a 1993 resolution adopted by the National Congress of American Indians denouncing the name. The board simply extrapolated that, since the National Congress represented about 30 percent of Native Americans, one out of every three Native Americans found it offensive. “Thirty percent is without doubt a substantial composite,” the board wrote.
I frankly an agnostic on the name (until someone says that names like “the Bears” are offensive). I can see why some people find it offensive while I understand the pull of tradition in the use of the name. However, I do not believe that this is an appropriate matter to be resolved by a tiny obscure office like the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. Whether the Redskins keep their name should be left to the owner, the fans, and ultimately the market.
In the meantime, the Redskins of Red Mesa insist that they will keep the name and their mascot.
Source: Washington Post