By Clyde Hughes
The move to get the National Football League’s Washington Redskins to change their nickname seems to be getting close to a tipping point with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruling Wednesday (June 18) that the name is disparaging to Native Americans, thus cannot have trademark protection.
Of course, this ruling will be reviewed by the federal court, where the team has been successful in the past, but the interest and momentum seems to be clearly on the side of those opposing the nickname.
“It is a great victory for Native Americans and for all Americans,” Amanda Blackhorse, one of the plaintiffs against the name,” said in a statement to ThinkProgress.org. “We filed our petition eight years ago and it has been a tough battle ever since. I hope this ruling brings us a step closer to that inevitable day when the name of the Washington football team will be changed. The team’s name is racist and derogatory. I’ve said it before and I will say it again – if people wouldn’t dare call a Native American a ‘redskin’ because they know it is offensive, how can an NFL football team have this name?”
Everyone from Congress to the media has been weighing in on the issue of the nickname, which has been around since 1932. It begs the question – if “Redskins” have been offensive for so long, why is there such a ground well now?
Many Native Americans will say there always been a negative reaction in their community, but it’s the rest of America is finally starting to listen – and see the name the way they see it, as a slur.
Longtime Native American activist Suzan Harjo brought a case to the Patent and Trademark Office by herself in 1992 and actually winning a ruling against the team in 1999. The team appealed in federal court and got the office’s decision reversed.
Harjo told the Business Insider that she has had to weather no only the legal challenges but the football “fanatics” to see the whole movement against the nickname and political correctness run amok
“Even if I’m here working right by the phone, I do not answer it even if I’m expecting a certain call at a certain time,” Harjo told the Business Insider. “We get a lot of hangups and some of those, I just assume now, are the death threats. And some of them are just – I don’t want to hear people yelling at me even if they’re not exactly threatening my life. … I had to get a restraining order against one stalker who had developed a hostile fixation against me.”
Today, though, she’s got more support, from U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, who has led a push there to pressure Washington owner Daniel Snyder to change the game, from President Barack Obama, who suggested that changing the name deserved at least a discussion.
Several members of the U.S. House sent a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell called on him last year to engage in the issue.
“Snyder says it’s about tradition,” Reid told Politico. “I ask, what tradition? A tradition of racism. That’s all that that name leaves in its wake. The writing is on the wall. It’s on the wall in giant, blinking, neon lights.”
Newspaper such as The Oregonian and San Francisco Chronicle won’t print it anymore while websites like Slate won’t post it.
The ball is in Daniel Snyder’s court. Right now, he’s dug in and has erected a verbal moot about his team and his position. The team has vowed to appeal the patent’s office ruling. No surprise there.
Even if that decision is overturned in court, just how much longer can Snyder continue to hold on to public sentiment and growing number of Native Americans who have become more vocal and forceful on the issue. Snyder seems prepared to weather yet another nickname storm, but at what cost in the near and distant future?
This article first appeared in Yahoo Voices