On warpath over Redskins

The pressure on Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder just got ramped up exponentially after the US Patent Office revoked his team’s trademark on the name, calling it “disparaging” to Native Americans.

But the reverberations of the split vote, and the essentially toothless result, will have an impact on a number of professional, college, and high school teams who use nicknames that in the view of some are derisive, disrespectful, and downright ugly, whether they mean it or not.


“Whatever tradition started­ it, in this day and age, it’s not appropriate,” Claudia Fox Tree, a board member for the Massachusetts Center of Native American Awareness, a nonpolitical group, told the Boston Herald. “If you use an extreme caricature or name, it’s obvious that it’s not appropriate.”

Snyder has vowed “NEVER – you can use caps” to change the team name that he is trying to convince the world is meant as a term of respect and has a long tradition. What Snyder isn’t saying is it’s also one that has helped him and the NFL continually rake in big bucks as the team’s merchandise is consistently in the top sellers.

The decision was seven years in the making but the debate has been going on for decades at all levels of sports. In 1999, the Patent Office issued a similar ruling against the Redskins but that was thrown out in a court appeal because the plaintiffs had brought their complaint far too late after the logo was first introduced.

The vote is breaking along the ideological divide, with opponents of the decision railing against the PC police or insisting the federal government is not the one to make the decision. Supporters say it’s about time we rid the sports world of unacceptable terms and images that have lasted through the years only because they’ve been around for a long time, not because they are inoffensive.

In the crosshairs now are the Cleveland Indians’ cartoonish logo of “Chief Wahoo” and the Atlanta Braves tomahawk. But you can bet it will flow down to the local level  pretty quickly. The Herald points out there are more than 40 high school teams in Massachusetts that have names or logos that are potentially problematic, such as the North Quincy Red Raiders, the Tewksbury Redmen (what do they call the girls’ teams?), or the Wakefield Warriors.

“We’re real proud of our program and our kids and what we represent. I think we go out of our way to honor the people who were here first in this country,” Brian Hickey, athletic director in Tewksbury, said about worries of his school’s Redmen logo. “I think most of the people in Tewksbury feel that way. Most people understand that it’s a point of honor for us and our town, and we try to do honor to them.”

And therein lies the disconnect. While Hickey and others may truly believe they are paying homage to a Native American legacy, none of the administrators, coaches, or players are actually red men. What if they were, say, the Tewksbury Polacks, or perhaps Drunken Paddies, or, simply, the Blackies? No one can truly be offended by the term Redskin if they could never be called redskin.

Over the years, a number of schools have bowed to pressure. Locally, Natick dropped the name Redmen while Dedham and Nauset Regional high schools abandoned their Native American logos. Nationally, schools such as Syracuse, Miami (of Ohio), Stanford, and Dartmouth have changed their Native American-related logos and nicknames to more neutral images. UMass Amherst was among the first to get out in front of the controversy, changing the team’s nickname from Redmen to Minutemen and Minutewomen in 1972.

Here’s a parting thought: Did you know the word Tonto, the name the Lone Ranger uses for his sidekick, means “stupid,” “fool,” or idiot” in Spanish?



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