Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Redskins Name Will Continue to Be Offensive. Or Not. It Depends on Who You Ask. I Lost the Plot.

Um, no

A Curly R twofer for your Tuesday morning.

First, yesterday the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the case of the Redskins team name, ending this particular legal challenge to the propriety of naming a for profit enterprise with a term recognized now as an epithet.

To summarize this long running case, a group of what some people would call activists and others would call defenders of the oppressed and yet others might call enforcers of political correctness brought a lawsuit against the Redskins in 1992, calling the Redskins name offensive and demeaning to American Indians. The Redskins went 9-7 and made the playoffs that year.

The group won the first skirmish, in 1999 when the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board agreed the name could be considered offensive. The result of that case was not the Redskins being forced to change their name but rather that they were to lose their trademark, meaning anyone and everyone could create and sell Redskins merchandise and the team and league would lose millions. The Redskins went 10-6 and made the playoffs that year.

Logically following that decision, the team would have been pressured to change its name by the league if not internally just in order to have a trademark to generate licensing revenue.

The team then appealed the case into federal court, resulting in a reversal in 2003 by federal judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, best known for being the federal judge assigned to US vs. Microsoft after judge Thomas Penfield Jackson was dismissed in 2001, on grounds that the plaintiffs had not produced enough evidence and that the issue was way too old to be visited legally at this point in history. The Redskins went 5-11 that year, missing the playoffs.

The plaintiffs appealed and the case was returned to judge Kollar-Kotelly for review, she focused on the timing issues and ignored the matter of offensiveness or propriety of the name, in July of 2006 ruling that the individuals that brought the case all had waited too long to bring it. The Redskins went 5-11 that year.

In July of 2008 the same appeals court that had returned the case to judge Kollar-Kotelly agreed, leaving the Supreme Court the only recourse for the plaintiffs. The Redskins went 8-8 that year.

By refusing to hear the case the Supreme Court is saying law is established in the area of standing and when an offended party may bring a case. This case had nothing to do with the offensiveness or propriety of the name Redskins, that was not what was adjudicated, it was simply about whether the plaintiffs had standing to make a case.

The plaintiffs have said they will remount a another legal case against the team after leagal review in the hopes of finding the right mix of standing and justification.

It is of note that Supreme Court Samuel Alito once ruled as an appellate judge that lawsuits may be brought against disparaging trademarks at any time. This would mean in societal terms that there is a legal remedy to address trademarks that may at one point in time not have been considered offensive but now are with the evolution of socio-cultural tastes.

When this case ended yesterday, nine games into the 2009 NFL season, the Redskins were 3-6.


The other half of today's Curly R twofer concerns that alternate reality Redskins helmet image above. Mark Newgent at Redskins Examiner found a piece at Fast Company by a graphic designer that wanted to spruce up some boring NFL helmets, and the Redskins was one, that is his prospective design.

I do not like it for the simple reason that the re design encompasses a half measure toward ridding the team of the name, and that is ridding the team of the logo of the Indian brave.

As I have written many times here and will happily engage in conversation, I am over the talk of changing the name. As a young man I held the position that it is not offensive because I am not offended and those that are offended simply do not understand the name and logo are honorifics.
With maturity I realized that is a flawed perspective of the type that leads to separate but equal and that failing to consider another's point of view is fundamentally narrow minded.

So then I went through a phase where I wanted to burn down the team name, even if it meant the arrival of some awful generic name like the Monuments or the Power or the Cherry Blossoms with some awful teal and black 90s color scheme.

Now, I simply haven no opinion on the matter. Yes I understand the term redskin has a demeaning connotation. I also know it has been in use as the team name since 1937 and that an anecdotal majority people do not consider it so offensive that the team would have the motivation to make a change. In fact it is a bit of joke among football fans, you know you are winning the argument as a Redskins fan when the other guy breaks out the well my team name is not offensive line of attack.

Too bad we do not hear that too much these days with such a crappy team on the field and off.

We will not see a real motivation to change the name until the NFL's corporate partners and overlords, ESPN, FOX, Anheuser-Busch, General Motors, etc., take a position on the matter and refuse to recognize the name or patronize the league that supports the continued use of the name.

This of course will never happen because these business are all in bed together, big business is fundamentally conservative in approach to change and public positions on controversial matters and no one wants to rock the money boat that is the NFL. The desire to change, outside a successful future lawsuit, can only come from one place, the team itself and the owner, and Dan Synder has by all accounts never even considered changing the name.

So change it. Or Don't. The name, colors and logo do not matter to me. This is my football team and always will be. You can put them in green and black and call them the Washington Frankenfish, put them in parchment and black and call them the Washington Independence, the Spirit, the Cougars, the Blueberries, the Asian Tigers, the River Dogs, the Politicos, the Spirit, the Internets, the Administration, the Panthers or any other unused bird, big mammal, fruit, vegetable or icon of the region. I just root for the laundry now and will whatever the team is called.

And if that happens we will see all new colors and logos on the helmet so I will pass on the alternate design above, if you want to make the Indian go away, go all the way and let us not pretend him away, he's my guy and I'm going with him until it's time for him to hit the showers.

Alternate Redskins helment from here.