The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

What’s in a Name?: A Reflection on the Redskins’ Troubled Legal History

Fibonacci Blue (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

In the world of D.C. professional sports, almost all of the teams have achieved great success in the last couple of years. 

In October, the Mystics were crowned WNBA Champions. The Nationals won the World Series later that month against the Houston Astros. The Capitals won the NHL season in June of 2018. These championships bring pride to the DMV.

There is one team that stands out though, but for the wrong reasons. The Redskins’ season has not gone well. Since the beginning of the season in August, they have only been able to win three out of thirteen games as of early December. 

In addition to playing poorly, there is controversy around the team’s name. The name’s infamy has caused backlash over time, as it has been deemed “offensive” by Native Americans to their community. For example, the “I am not your mascot” campaign was launched as a way for Native Americans to express their disapproval of stereotyping and racism in mascots.

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The team has even faced legal trouble related to its name. One example of this is activist Amanda Blackhorse, a Navajo woman from Arizona, who is known for her work against the Washington Redskins’ name. “In a 2006 case, Blackhorse and others argued the NFL’s Washington Redskins’ name was offensive to American Indians and therefore not eligible for trademark registration. In 2014, the U.S. patent office’s trademark board agreed and revoked six team trademarks,” according to AZ News. 

However, in 2016 when an Asian-American band called “The Slants” won their case in the Supreme Court regarding their “possibly offensive name” (by using the First Amendment to defend it), it also guaranteed a win for the Redskins’ name.  “The Supreme Court vindicated the team’s position that the First Amendment blocks the government from denying or canceling a trademark registration based on the government’s opinion,” said Lisa Blatt, the Redskins’ attorney on the case.

Additionally, the owner of the Redskins, Daniel Snyder, defended the name in 2014, telling ESPN’s John Barr, “it represents honor, respect and pride.”

The team’s name notoriety is well known around the WIS community, too. 

Alex, a junior at WIS is an avid fan of the Redskins, and has been a fan since he was in the fifth grade. He said he  became heavily invested in the football world, “as a way to cope with school stress.” He started out as a New Orleans Saints fan, but as he grew older, he “matured, and understood sports more” and started rooting for his hometown team.

Alex still supports the team even though their name can be perceived as controversial. “I do still support them because I understand that people have a lot of opinions on the Redskins’ name, and how it may be perceived as racist. But on the club level there’s a huge wall that shows the progression of Redskins’ history,” he said. 

He then went on to describe the name’s history. He says that, “In the early years, [The Redskins] decided to have the Native American theme, but instead of being the Braves (because there was already a baseball and football team called the Braves), they decided to keep it Native American focused and call themselves the Redskins, which at the time was used as a sign of respect to their coach (Lonestar Dietz) who was a player and a coach for the Redskins.” 

According to The Washington Post, George P. Marshall (the owner of the Redskins at the time) 

In an open letter made in 2013 published in The Washington Post, owner Daniel Snyder stated that the name was chosen in 1933 to honor the coach, William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz, the four Native American players on the team at the time, and Native Americans in general. The letter was made as a response to the National Congress of American Indians’s (NCAI) opposition to Indian mascots and team names generally, especially targeting the Washington Redskins.

101 dietz carlisle.JPG
William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz. The coach when the Redskins’ name was brought to the team.

Nevertheless, Alex is aware of the racial connotation that the name carries. “(I’m) not here to say that the Redskins’ name is not racist. I understand that over time the name has received a negative connotation to it. I very much understand how people think this name could be offensive. But I’d honestly say keep going to protests and rallies. I love the team for the team, players, and the community, but I don’t love the team for the name. Would I be opposed to a change [in the name]? No. It really comes down to the owner.”

However, there are students who don’t support the team name, including Junior Yared Zegeye. “I feel like the name Redskins has been normalized to the extent that we don’t really contrast it with other things that are provocative.” He touches on the small amount of Native Americans in D.C. “Considering that DC has no native Americans it barely makes sense for it to be called the Redskins anyways.”

According to the 2017 Census Bureau data of the District of Columbia, the population of American Indian or Alaska Native was 0.6 percent, and 0.1 percent Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. According to this interactive map, D.C. stands on a part of the Nacotchtank (Anacostan) tribe land, which was a part of the Piscataway (an Indian Nation that is still around today).

A possible solution to the deemed offensive label could be to include a warning label on the logo. However, Zegeye believes that, “People aren’t going to be like, ‘Oh this is racist, I will read this label.’ The problem with it is that is IS so normalized. If you say that it’s offensive but you keep using it, it’s kind of counter-intuitive.”

Others feel that until the name changes, the team won’t improve. “The Washington football team has been in slow decline for nearly three decades. Now it’s losing attendance, losing more games, more talent and the last modicum of respect. There is no escaping the curse of that team’s name,” according to The Washington Post’s Courtland Milloy. 

As the times are changing, it’ll be interesting to see whether Dan Snyder will continue with the team name. And if he ever decides to change the name, would it have an impact on the team’s ticket sales, attendance, and wins?

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