Are you easily offended?
Whatever the answer, there’s room to debate what is too easy and what is a justifiably rapid response to a serious problem. This new round of wrangling over the power of the Washington Redskins name demonstrates how strong that divide can be.
Say the Miami Dolphins, for whatever reason, decided to change their nickname. Starting immediately, they would be known as the Miami Sharks, or the Miami Marauders or the Miami Mariners. Like them or not, those names were among the finalists in the original contest to name the franchise in 1965.
Such a change in branding would do nothing to improve or destroy the product on the field. Still, there was a certain level of fan uproar last season when the Dolphins altered their logo, ditching the old-time mammal with the cartoonish football helmet on its head for a sleeker, stylized creature.
Some people were downright angry at first over the killing of tradition and the erasure of treasured imagery, but in the end, all agreed that there are bigger fish to fry on the list of vital world issues.
The point is that fans of the Redskins will survive the eventual rebranding of their favorite team, whenever it comes, and with far less kicking and screaming than now seems possible. Not too many years from now their offspring may even see the whole controversy for what it is — silly and shallow and just plain bullheaded.
Whoa. I can feel the blood pressure rising out there now.
Does every syllable and sentiment need to be justified in this age of political correctness? Will the Florida State Seminoles and every other sports outfit identifying with Native Americans be compelled to call themselves something safe, maybe the “Participants,” in the next round of revisions?
The answer on FSU came in 2005, when the Seminole Tribe of Florida made a public declaration of support for the school’s use of the Seminole name and imagery. As reported first by the Palm Beach Post, the other major branch of the Seminole Tribe in Oklahoma also gave its approval at the time.
What sets the Redskins apart is the corralling of an entire ethnic group under a terminology that is slang for sure and racist at its root.
It shouldn’t take a trip to the dictionary to chase down this conclusion, or a ruling by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in support of a lawsuit brought by five Native Americans.
Soon there will come a tipping point where the other NFL owners ask Washington’s Daniel Snyder to think a little harder about who he is hurting with his stubborn resistance.
Cutting right to the bone, he is denting the wall between the league’s business and intervention by the federal government. Even more, Snyder winds up hurting himself in money spent to appeal the cancellation of his trademark, and in exclusive revenue lost should other vendors start peddling the Redskins logo.
Powerful people don’t like being told what to do, of course, but societal evolution has a way of steamrolling everybody into a new shape.
It’s worth noting that the Redskins were the last NFL team to have black players. The Secretary of the Interior had to step in on that in 1962, ordering that any team playing on land overseen by his department must follow federal laws against hiring discrimination.
Here’s another antiquated and distasteful reference to the way things once were. “Hail to the Redskins,” the franchise’s famous fight song, originally included the following lyrics: “Scalp ‘em, Swamp ‘em, We will take’em big score! Read ‘em, Weep ‘em, Touchdown, We want heap more!”
That’s a shameless parody of an entire culture, on the order of an old-time Vaudeville actor performing in black face. If the Redskins franchise has come a long way since then, it wouldn’t hurt to go a little farther.