Redskins trademark brought under scrutiny

Members of University community react to derogatory Native American term


What’s in a name? Americans nationwide — especially in the D.C. area — have been asking this question for years, with legal and political charges building against the Washington Redskins.

In response to a 2006 lawsuit filed against the NFL, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board canceled the Redskins’ trademark registration, finding the team’s name to be discriminatory towards American Indian groups. This decision does not prohibit the Redskins from retaining the name and trademark; however, they are no longer legally protected. The NFL has appealed the Board’s decision, and the case is pending further review.

“I’ve seen archival news clippings from the 1800s that read as want-ads published by town marshals and even the U.S. Cavalry advertising paid bounties for ‘red skins,’” said Jessica McCauley, a program coordinator at the University’s Office of the Vice President and Chief Officer for Diversity and Equity. “They offered varying amounts of money for the skins or scalps of ‘red’ men, women, and children.”

Phil Gover, one of the plaintiffs on the Redskins case and a 2014 graduate of Darden, echoed this sentiment.

“A lot of my motivation [in this case] has to do with the fact that I’m a father,” Gover said. “My son is an interesting mix of culture, but when his schoolmates’ idea of what an Indian looks like is the guy on the side of the helmet, it’s not based in reality, and it definitely colors his viewpoint of himself and his peers’ viewpoint of him.”

Gover is registered as a member of the Paiute tribe, and McCauley identifies as American Indian and Caucasian. Both believe that the term “Redskins” creates damaging perceptions about American Indian cultures.

“Beyond the name itself just being a racial slur, it romanticizes a view of what Native Americans are and look like that doesn’t hold up to any kind of scrutiny,” Gover said.

Still, many supporters of the Redskins trademark maintain that the name is acceptable, and many football fans continue to support the Redskins team en masse. Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Redskins, said the team’s name was not intended to be offensive, but rather serve as a tribute to Native American culture.

“The name was never a label,” Snyder told ESPN. “It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor.”

But for some, the term is too far rooted in historical injustices to be seen as a tribute in any form.

“It’s so common, nobody thinks twice – you see Redskins, Chiefs, or Braves – it’s not just Redskins,” McCauley said. “It’s just so common for us to see these Native American caricatures all over the place. The question is, why does it not shock anyone?”

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