Unprotected Skins

The fight against the Redskin’s racist team name and NFL team owner Daniel Snyder, who has said he would never change the name, heated up this week when the US patent office entered the fray. The patent office has suspended the team’s trademark on the grounds that it is disparaging to Native Americans.


Before the good people breathe a sigh of relief, let me deliver the bad news: the Washington Redskins remain named so, and will for the foreseeable future while the appeal the team is already generating works it’s way through the courts. Team owner Daniel Snyder has yet to cry uncle.


What is exciting here’s that the government is taking a legal position, declaring racist language unacceptable, even in the service of massive profits. Native Americans and their allies have asked for a name change for years, but now both public pressure and the law are weighing in to tag team the team. Still, despite the widespread support, there is little that can legally be done to force a change. Even this week’s suspension of the trademark is not the first time the USTPO has taken a shot at Snyder–back in 1999 the office revoked the team’s patent, but the ruling was later overturned on appeal. One step forward two steps back.


Fear not, there is good news here. The recent dust up with the Washington team and the ongoing drama happening in L.A. with Donald Sterling means the courts will be forced to take up both cases. Can someone be forced to abdicate their business or their team traditions if they are found to be acting in a racist manner? The possibility exist for the courts to set new precedents that protect minorities from racism in ways that hold real consequences to those previously rendered untouchable.


The legal system has not, on the whole, done well to support the rights of minorities: slavery, Jim Crow, and today’s unfair prison sentencing policies are clear examples where our laws allowed blacks and other minorities to be oppressed without the perpetrators running the risk of repercussions. In fact, even if all Americans held hands, sang kumbaya and vowed to embrace diversity, we would still find that racist laws and policies continue to perpetuate racism. Systemic racism is pernicious and dangerous. Until racism is removed from the law, we cannot truly have a democracy that holds all men and women are created equal.

We have believed, much to our detriment, that racism is just about individuals who hold hate for others. The real heart of racial hate beats not in the chest of a man, but in the laws and policies of our nation’s systems. Public opinion is slowly moving towards inclusivity, but the courts and laws must follow or we will have done little eradicate racism. So pause, now to celebrate the courts arrival at the fight.

And lace up your gloves. We’re not done yet.

The Right to Use Wrong Words

This week the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, a Northern California Native American tribe ran this ad during the during the NBA finals.

The ad is a shorter cut of a longer version that has been making the rounds on the internet for a few months now. Controversy over the Washington Redskins is nothing new–we covered it here. Last season saw louder and more pointed calls for owner Dan Snyder to change the racist moniker, including a statement from the POTUS–all of which he ignored. Makes you wonder who really is the most powerful man in the world….


Viewers of the NBA finals are sure to have a leg up on Dan Snyder in the cause-effect relationship between racist behavior and team ownership. Snyder has clearly operated under the assumption that his decision on the team name is his and his alone.


Dan Snyder, Donald Sterling on the line….what’s that Don? Stripped of my ownership? They can’t do that….

Or can they? That is the lingering question in the slow moving explosion that is the Donald Sterling situation. What seemed so clear in the light of our outrage a few weeks ago was that a team owner could not be a raging racist ruling a plantation of players. Despite hard core hold outs on the wrong side of racial tolerance, most agreed Sterling had to go.  Players from across the league boldly put integrity before profit and pledged not to return to play if Sterling still owned the team come fall.


Despite all of Sterling’s best efforts to get a beatdown in the parking lot have a butterfly net thrown over him in an interview with Anderson Cooper, he still owns the team weeks later. Reversing an earlier agreement to sell the team for a madly profitable $2 billion, Sterling is suing the NBA for a billion dollars. Before you chalk this up to King-Lear-crazy, sure to end in tragedy, consider Sterling’s peer Snyder.



The term Redskins is a pejorative, racist name for Native Americans, period. The term has a long and ugly history, connected to a genocide, one of America’s darkest legacies. People directly affected by this have respectfully requested Snyder cease use of it many times. Widespread protest of many people, including fans have been to no avail. At what point does the decision to use the term pass from Dan Snyder to someone, anyone, who might make a change? What role does the NFL and the owners association have, if any?

The National Congress of American Indians  released this poster to call attention to the offensive Redskins logo.
The National Congress of American Indians released this poster to call attention to the offensive Redskins logo.


Dan Snyder is not Donald Sterling. It’s easy to dismiss the crazy Sterling circus, but what we do when the perpetrator is less crazy and more entrenched in both sanity and his property rights? With this protest ad running during the NBA finals, Native Americans are definitely letting the NFL know that their protests cannot continue to be ignored in an era where pointed racism is an unacceptable  way to run a sports team.

With the precedent of the blow up surrounding Sterling, we can be sure that there are a few more rounds in the fight to retract the Redskins  name.  But with the outcome of the Sterling situation still in flux, hard questions remain ahead.

Creating a hostile work environment is against the law, but calling the Washington Redskins the Redskins is still legal even if increasingly unpopular.  If we want to be fair, and respect the rights of people to not be represented in terribly racist ways, then we have to keep the pressure on Snyder and the NFL to make change.


There is power in protest if it is partnered with persistence, but it has to be more than a few lone voices.  Take a moment to shoot your good friend Dan Snyder a tweet here @Redskins, or a Facebook message here–help him avoid another season of shame.

99 Problems And Slurs Are 1

Peyton can thankfully put this year’s Superbowl in the rear view, but for the rest of the NFL, the off season’s drama is just as lively as the regular season.  Michael Sam made an appearance this weekend answering questions about his position in the draft, his play on the field, but mostly about is sexual orientation.

As much attention as Micheal Sam occasioned this weekend, the issue of acceptance of professional male gay athletes is just beginning.  Much older, and still in many ways unresolved, is the issue of racial diversity  in the NFL.  This season again spurred several high profile racial flaps like those that we talked about here, and here.


The NFL is now considering a new rule that would levy a 15 yard penalty against players using a racial slur on the field during the game.  Before it is even voted into place, the rule is already stirring up a predictable hornets’ nest of naysayers.  Will the rule be equally enforced?  And if so, by whom?  Won’t it ruin the game to have to police players’ language?  Oh, and the game is so rough, maybe calling people n@##er and f$**ot are part of the game we can’t do without.

The NFL, despite their sweet tax status, is a workplace.  I don’t know about you, but if I yelled a racial slur at my colleague in a faculty meeting, best believe I would be packing up my office by the end of the day.  Now, I don’t want my football ruined any more than you do, but if we’re going to fine players for this:


and this

QHCI2shouldn’t we fine them for yelling n@&&er on live TV?  And if we do, will we fine this guy every time he says redskins?

daniel snyder
Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, say he will “never” change the name. That’ll be 15 yards per use, Snyder.