The decision by the US Patent and Trademark Office to cancel protection for the name Washington Redskins sparked a debate on whether the patent office is the best place to decide whether the team name disparages Native Americans. It isn’t. But rather than spend his every breath fighting challenges to the team name, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder should be thinking of alternatives. The team’s players, executives, and fans don’t intend to disparage Native Americans, but many people are offended by the skin-color reference nonetheless. It’s simply good manners to avoid offending people, especially if you’re in the entertainment business.
If upheld, the patent ruling would strip the team of legal protections against others producing Redskins memorabilia. That could take a bite out of Snyder’s revenues, but it’s not, in itself, a reason to change the name. The growing list of prominent fans who advocate for a name change, starting with President Obama, is a better reason.
Last week, New Orleans Saints cornerback Champ Bailey, who began his legendary career in Washington, told USA Today that the name is “almost like N-word for a black person.” Richard Sherman, cornerback of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks (who tastefully use a Northwest Native American-inspired logo), told Time Magazine last month that the Redskins name sends the message that the NFL is not concerned about racial issues. DeMaurice Smith, head of the NFL Players Association, told The Washington Post three weeks ago that the name conveys “racial insensitivity.”
Snyder says he will never change the name. But it’s time for him to rethink his position.