On warpath over Redskins

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?

–JACK SULLIVAN  

BEACON HILL

US District Court Judge William Young expresses skepticism about the case against two aides to former Probation commissioner John O’Brien, CommonWealth reports. Meanwhile, a parade of lawmakers start testifying about House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s largesse with Probation jobs.

A bill raising the minimum wage to $11 over three years clears the House and appears headed toward final approval, State House News reports.

MARATHON BOMBING

The defense attorneys for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev formally request a change of venue to Washington, DC.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Weymouth town councilors are considering a leash law for cats and a reqirement that owners clean up after them if they do their business outdoors.

CASINOS

The town of Somerset now wants a seat at the gambling table to offset revenue losses from the closing of the Brayton Point power plant, hiring a firm to market a 100-acre town-owned property to would-be resort casino developers.

The head of the casino repeal effort talks about the group’s efforts to place a question on the ballot if the Supreme Judicial Court gives the go-ahead.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The New York Times argues that Detroit‘s new hybrid pension plan may become a model for over-leveraged governments across the country.

Good luck with that: Two senators propose a hike in the federal gas tax to keep the Highway Trust fund solvent.

Electronic cigarette executives get schooled at Senate hearing, Time reports.

ELECTIONS

The three Democrats running for governor start trying to distinguish themselves from one another at a debate at WBUR. On casinos, for example, Don Berwick would vote yes if a casino repeal question makes it on the November ballot while Attorney General Martha Coakley and Treasurer Steven Grossman say they would vote no.  

The three Democratic candidates have a number of African American, Latino, or Asian staffers on their teams.

Charlie Baker makes a $230,000 down payment on his fall television blitz.

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera, a darling of US Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Niki Tsongas, endorses Steven Grossman for governor, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Gail Collins is not thrilled to see Mitt Romney back in the national eye, but she’s happy to mark Romney’s return by making a dog-strapped-to-the-car-roof joke in the second paragraph of her Times column.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A plan to take Beverly Bank public would net three employees a $5 million payday, the Salem News reports.

Ten Massachusetts biotech firms went public this year setting a new record for the state.

A Harley Davidson ad suggests the motorcycle manufacturer may be about to unveil an electric bike, Time reports.

EDUCATION

UMass freezes tuition and fees for undergrads, the Associated Press reports.

TRANSPORTATION

The Department of Transportation approved a $210 million contract to move the South Coast Rail project from the planning to the construction stage.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The former finance director for the Quincy Housing Authority who was fired last Friday when police seized his work computer pled not guilty to child pornography charges after .prosecutors said they found more 200 images of children, including some nude.

MEDIA

Ken Doctor  responds to Clay Shirky’s critique of him for suggesting print media still have a future.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch replaces George Will with Michael Gerson on its op-ed pages, noting a recent column by Will on sexual assault victims on college campuses made the decision easier.