The growing movement to change the name of the Washington Redskins football team has scored a surprising victory. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has canceled the team's trademark registration after concluding its name and logo are disparaging to Native Americans.
Democracy Now! speaks with Amanda Blackhorse, a Navajo activist and plaintiff in the case.
The decision does not force the team to change its name, but it could make it more difficult to legally guard the name and logo from use by third parties. The team can reportedly keep the trademark while they appeal. But Native Americans and other critics of the Redskins' brand have hailed the ruling as the latest sign team owner Dan Snyder will inevitably be forced to drop it.
"We don't think that Dan Snyder and the Washington Redskins co-owners should make money off of a racial slur directed at Native American people," Blackhorse says.
"When you have a Native American mascot for a team, you have no control over what happens in that stadium. There's a lot of things that are very negative towards Native American people," Blackhorse says.
She explains the racist history of the word "redskin":
"The name is a textbook definition of the word is a racial slur and it's a disparaging name towards Native American people. ... The name itself actually dates back at the time when the Native American population was being exterminated, and bounty hunters were hired to kill Native American people. One could make a great living off of just killing Native American people. And there was a tier effect that was paid out. The highest paid was for a Native American man and then a woman and then a child. And so, based off of that, there were news clippings and flyers and stuff that were posted up, asking people to go out to kill Indians and bring back the red skin. So, in order to show that they made their kill, they had to bring back a scalp or their skin. And so, that's where the "redskin" word has been kind of passed down. So, in our community, we do not use that word."
Blackhorse also points to other professional sports teams with racist names, such as the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indian baseball organizations.
"What people don't understand is what happens at these games. You see people wearing a red face. You see people wearing fake feathers in their hair, mocking the headdress. You see people with war paint, doing the tomahawk chop and, you know, saying, 'Scalp him.' It's very offensive."
Democracy Now! also speaks with political sports writer Dave Zirin about the case and how this ruling could impact not only the team, but the entire National Football League. Zirin explains:
"The Washington football team brand is one of the most powerful in all of the NFL. And that's what's so important about this case that we have to remember, is that 31 of the 32 NFL teams, every team except the Dallas Cowboys, they pool their merchandise money and then divide them equally. And the Washington football team is responsible for a very big slice of that pie. So if the trademark is removed and all of a sudden the market is flooded with bootleg gear, that actually cuts into the profits of other NFL owners and creates a new arena of pressure on Dan Snyder to change this name, beyond indigenous activists, beyond senators, beyond sportswriters who refuse to use the name. But it creates an avenue of other owners who are now saying, 'Wait a minute, we don't really care about racism or not racism; what we do care about is the color green. So it's not Redskins, but greenbacks. And the greenbacks in our wallet are hurting right now, so, Dan Snyder, you need to get on it and change the name.'"