Commentary: The Decision to Cancel ‘Redskins’ Trademark Was Right

Ruling should show team, its fans and NFL they can’t use history as defense for racism.

Posted: 06/20/2014 12:56 PM EDT
Redskins

What does the NFL’s Black exec have to say now?

Adolpho Birch, senior vice president of labor policy and government affairs, had stood at the center of the debate about the name “redskins” and did everything to set it apart from other racist names.

The team name was not a “slur,” Birch told the world last month.

His remarks can’t stand up to reality, which played itself out in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week. The patent office sided with most people — not Birch — who saw the racist slur for what it was.

In a ruling that will shatter the notion that “redskins” is an acceptable term, the patent office canceled its trademark again, meaning to use it has little financial value for team owner Dan Snyder.

Without a trademark, the term can be used however anybody else wants to use it. People can undercut the price of “redskins” apparel — bootlegging the name is what people had to do in the past — and Snyder, if the ruling stands, can do nothing to stop them.

The decision was the right one, but it troubles me: Why did it take so long for the patent office and most right-minded Americans to see the ill in using “redskins”? The term is no more acceptable than “jigaboos” for Blacks and “wetbacks” for Latinos.

Americans, obsessed with political correctness, wouldn’t dare tie their allegiance to terms as loathsome as these last two are.

Yet for most of NFL history, Americans have done just that in regard to one team’s name. They have supported and defended the use of “redskins,” even in the face of mounting opposition to stop using the damnable slur.

Neither President Barack Obama nor 50 U.S. senators could sway people like Birch, Snyder, commissioner Roger Goodell and thousands of Washington, D.C., football fans. They believed the unbelievable: that “redskins” was a term of honor and bravery.

Their belief remained unshaken even as Native Americans revved up their opposition to its use. They picketed NFL stadiums, spoke before any audience that was open to listening and launched an expensive media campaign to fix a historical wrong.

It was a historical wrong, too.

For it was wrong when the franchise first picked the team name; it was wrong when no owner stood up to oppose its use; it was wrong for NFL fans to defend it; and it was embarrassingly wrong for a Black man like Birch – a man who, doubtless, has faced bigotry in his own life – to take a side so absurd that you wondered if he had lost his moral compass.

Surely, he would not be the first Black man who did so; of course, he won’t be the last Black man either.

But you have to hope that Birch, Snyder, his lawyers and the NFL will abandon a fight that is unwinnable. They chose to spend millions to fight the trademark ruling, but some fights are best lost.

To fight on to preserve a team nickname as racist as “redskins” is one of those fights.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Washington Redskins/NFL)

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