Père Jacques Marquette was a Jesuit priest who explored the Mississippi River region and Upper Midwest back in the late 17th Century. He became a teacher to many natives he encountered and was one of the first European settlers to live in Chicago.
The university that bears his name is located 90 miles to the north in Milwaukee. When Doc Rivers played there, its basketball team was called the "Warriors," in honor of the Native Americans who Marquette encountered back in the day. The school changed its name to the "Golden Eagles" in 1993 without any input from students or alumni, of which I am one. It was an arbitrary, out-of-the-blue-and-gold decision made by the school's president. Like Rivers, I'll always consider myself a Marquette Warrior, even though my college basketball career consisted of intramural games in the school's rec center.
I do this not because I'm racist. The mascot issue at Marquette was the result of a non-existent controversy. The name Warriors was rooted in tribute and the only students who were eligible to serve as the "First Warrior" (an admitted upgrade over Willie Wampum) mascot during athletic events had to be of Native American heritage.
Wednesday, in another arbitrary ruling, the US Patent and Trademark Office declared the team name Redskins "disparaging" and "a racial slur." The 2-1 vote by a three-member appeal board of judges appointed by President George W. Bush marked the second time the name was invalidated. The board's similar decision in 1999 was overturned on appeal by an actual court.
In its infinite wisdom, the federal government decided that the team name was racist, so it opened the door for anyone to use it commercially without fear of a trademark lawsuit. Makes perfect nonsense to me.
Coming soon to a website near you: "Redskins" everything.
The team, of course, will appeal.
The debate over the team name "Redskins" has breached the natural and necessary barrier between sports and politics. Sports is supposed to be refuge from the real world, which seems to be crumbling on multiple fronts from Northern Iraq to the local V.A. hospital.
Since the 1980s, there's been a back-and-forth discussion about the true meaning of NFL team name Redskins and the real and imagined racism that comes with it.
But this time, it's political and a matter of political correctness. The president has weighed on this vital matter of national interest. The Senate, which at one point in 2013 had gone more than 1,350 days without passing a budget, had no problem finding 50 signatories to a letter urging Dan Snyder to change the team's name last month. This latest ruling from the Patent Office is just another step in the government's use of force to get Snyder to change his ways. Up next, the FCC.
It's scary foolishness being told by anyone in authority what is "disparaging" and what isn't, no matter how you feel about Snyder or the Redskins team name. First, the Redskins and Snyder are a private entity owned by a private citizen. The NFL enjoys a government anti-trust exemption, but does not trump Snyder's first-amendment rights to call his team something that two out of three appointed judges deemed "racist." The anti-trust exemption was not mentioned in the panel's decision.
The Patent Court, in essence, tried to erase millions from Snyder's balance sheet by lessening the value of his property. This all looks good when it's Dan Snyder getting taken to cleaners. But what happens when it's someone you actually like.
When this debate first surfaced decades ago, it was confined to the Native Americans who saw offense in the team name, their supporters, and those who, for whatever reason, saw no reason to change it. Now, this issue has become one of law and power. If you disagree with the random decision of these two Patent Court judges for any reason, you are by association and decree a "racist."
Racist by decree. Where have we seen that in the last six weeks, Bruins fans?
What's to stop some well-meaning Washington or Guardian of the Good types to come out against the name "Patriots"? For some it conjures up offensive images of gun-toting, big-government-hating, radical rich white guys from the Province of Massachusets Bay (they could only afford one "t" back then) who didn't offer women the vote and gave their de-facto blessing to slavery by helping to establish a nation that allowed it.
They also dressed like this guy:
Deemed offensive by millions.
It's amazing the NFL's Patriots have lasted this long.
Very disparaging. Expect the online petitions to start any day.
By the way, despite what "Rolling Stone" put on the backside of
Vice President Meyer, Boston's John Hancock did not sign the Constitution.
Let's go down the list in Boston. Celtics: Defamatory toward the Celtic peoples and exclusionary toward everyone else. Bruins: Exploitative toward animals, denying them their basic dignity. Red Sox: Insulting to those who are color blind. The slippery slope gets ridiculous in a hurry. Revolution: See Patriots.
The intrusion of the federal government and politicians into the fray over the Redskins' name once seemed like a boost for those who hated the term. But the president's approval rating fell to an all-time low Wednesday and the approval rating of Congress, which still includes the Senate, languishes in high single-digits. These elected types politicizing the Redskins issue have automatically crystallized opponents to the name change, many of whom otherwise didn't care one way or another.
This remains a debate over the name of a pro football team. This is not slavery, righting the wrongs committed toward Native Americans, racial segregation, or the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The actual decision is 177 pages. That's 176 pages more than it took the Supreme Court to issue its decision in "Brown vs. The Board of Education."
This should not be the domain of government officials, politicians, or the Patent Court, which lost this same battle on appeal 15 years ago.
This issue is best decided in the marketplace of ideas and money. If there was money to be made in changing the name, it would have already happened. If the NFL felt threatened economically over this issue, it would have forced Snyder's hand long ago. The Patent Court went directly at Snyder's wallet with this ruling because it could not outright "ban" the team's name. Time and the courts will tell if that strategy works.
Meanwhile, the First Amendment continues to hang by a tweet.
Various news organizations have stopped using the name Redskins. They share the same right not to use the name as Snyder has to use it. But the Redskins are still the Redskins. Calling them something else serves no purpose except to avoid that reality. The trade of journalism is supposed to center around objective reality or subjective opinion built upon that reality. Journalists aren't supposed to change or ignore facts they don't like.
If the government or courts somehow force the name Redskins to be changed, the issue will remain a divisive one because it has been pushed into the political domain.
The name change should come as a result of altering the hearts and minds of those who see nothing wrong with an NFL team being named Redskins. Creating a huge demand for a new name in the marketplace would speed things up even further.
Threats, extortion, and brute force, no matter how cleverly disguised, often inspire as much courage as they do fear. That's exactly what's happened in the battle over the Redskins name once it entered the political and governmental arena. Snyder has been backed into a corner and he's going to fight. For now.
The single best argument against the usage of the team name Redskins appeared on my Twitter feed less than hour before word came of the Patent Court's decision.
It came in the form of an Esquire.com article written by the Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes. He is a "proud Native American, of Cherokee and Choctaw lineage" from Washington state and Oklahoma whose parents "steeped me and my brothers in that culture so that it would live on within us."
The story was titled simply: "A 'Redskin' Is The Scalped Heat Of A Native American, Sold, Like A Pelt, For Cash." It's one of the most accurate and self-explanatory headlines in recent months.
Disclosure time: Holmes and I follow each other on Twitter. The Globe and Boston.com are both owned by John W. Henry. He covers the Celtics. I offer thoughts about the Celtics. That's your grand conspiracy, folks.
His column (which includes a link to a follow-up post) was a compelling, personal and informative narrative of how the term "redskin" was introduced into North American culture and how he grew up hearing the stories about it from his mother as a young boy.
Holmes' column generated a tremendous amount of reaction, positive and negative.
No one seriously believes the Redskins football team, no matter its origins, took the name as a literal salute and interpretation to how the word originated. But knowing the term's origins certainly help one understand why it is so painful for so many others.
There was no threat to anyone's personal freedoms in Holmes' argument. It did not come from the desperate-for-a-distraction, politically-motivated and politically-correct focused halls of the White House or Congress. It didn't require 177 pages of explanation. It came from facts, the heart, and offered a real-life example of why this name should be changed today.
Those types of arguments win every time.
The OBF column is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or at his
Obnoxious Boston Fan Email Address. Thanks always for reading and pass the clicker.
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