What’s even more damning is the fact the woman who spearheaded this week’s decision by the USPTO, Amanda Blackhorse, is quoted in a recent online interview saying neither she or anyone she knows has ever been called a “redskin,” yet there she is with five of her closest friends forcing lawmakers’ hands and threatening to ruin a football tradition synonymous with the NFL for more than 75 years.
So, who’s really offended? All Indians? Thirty percent? Half? The parents and students of the Red Mesa Unified School District on the Navajo Reservation in Apache County, Ariz., whose high school mascot is also the Redskins, apparently aren’t offended, and, according to a poll conducted by the Annenburg Public Policy Center in 2004, roughly 90 percent of Native Americans don’t find the term offensive at all. Surely, a 10-year-old survey limited strictly to states on the mainland (not including Hawaii or Alaska, which have huge Indian populations) doesn’t begin to tell the entire story, but it’s clear there’s a divide among Native Americans despite a bunch of white, out-of-touch Senators’ best efforts to speak for the entire community.
Theoretically, Blackhorse, or any other Native American, doesn’t need to be called a “redskin” to find the term offensive or understand its negative connotation, just like I don’t need to be set on fire to know fire is hot, but it’d be nice if someone – anyone – in this case brought some real burden of proof to the table. Show us how a football team calling itself the “Redskins” for 82 years has prevented Native Americans from living healthy, profitable lives or pursuing their inalienable rights.
Without burden of proof, the USPTO is essentially telling us anyone with enough money and free time on their hands can gather four or five of their closest friends and stage a protest against anything they find offensive because no government-funded agency will dare ask why you’re offended or how any of this affects your daily life. It’s a dangerous precedent. What’s stopping Italian-Americans from blaming Jersey Shore and high cholesterol on Nintendo’s depiction of Mario and Luigi as dim-witted, big-nosed plumbers with thick mustaches?
This is where the U.S. government needs to interject, not by writing letters backing something they know nothing about, but by redefining the meaning of “offensive” or “derogatory.” What one Indian might find offensive might not bother his Native American neighbor. Same for African-Americans, Jews, Italians, etc. Anyone crying foul on something they consider offensive while demanding some sort of punitive damages needs to prove without a shadow of a doubt that the aforementioned culprit is infringing on their inalienable rights – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – otherwise the government should be well within its jurisdiction to tell the accuser to get over it and move on.
What the USPTO fails to realize is allowing Blackhorse and Co. to speak and act on behalf of the entire Native American community will actually make life more difficult, not easier, for fellow Indians. Every controversy dividing prominent races eventually leads to unwarranted, unnecessary hate crimes by angry parties from the losing side that take out their frustration on innocent bystanders who just so happen to share the same race as the people on the other side of the coin. Remember the Indian guy pulled off the train in Providence shortly after 9/11 because people thought he was a Muslim? Think about what might happen the first time an Indian family walks past a sports bar in downtown Washington in the wake of this controversy reaching its boiling point.
The ruling is counterproductive to what Blackhorse, the USPTO and all the Senators on board are trying to accomplish. It's a classic, first-world problem. If Blackhorse and her friends really want to do something to benefit the Native American community they should visit an Indian reservation in the United States – pick one – that barely has running water or other resources we take for granted and put their money behind solving the problem. Initiate some real change.
When it’s all said and done, canceling the Redskins’ trademark really doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things unless it affects the team’s bottom line, which, in turn, could affect NFL revenue sharing since all teams share the money earned through the sale of licensed merchandise. The USPTO didn’t actually force Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder to change the team’s name. It doesn’t have the power to do that. What it hopes to do is force Snyder’s hand and make him buckle under the pressure of the public backlash the way NBA commissioner Adam Silver did in the wake of the Donald Sterling controversy.
This whole thing reeks of White Guilt, another example of how screaming “injustice!” loud enough will force someone somewhere to side with you in fear of being lumped with the so-called bad guys on the other side. The Indians have had it rough for a long time. We all know the story of the Wounded Knee Massacre, and we all probably played Cowboys & Indians when we were kids without realizing what we were doing, so nobody wants to be the one to tell the Native Americans to lighten up, even if it’s the most logical solution to this mess.
What the USTPO is doing isn’t helping, nor is it initiating any sort of radical, social change that’ll impact the way we live our lives or pursue our inalienable rights. It instead set a dangerous precedent forcing us to bite our tongues and watch we say, do and – in the case of Redskins’ merchandise – wear in fear of pissing off somebody with a few dollars, a little spare time and an axe to grind.
We live in a society where bruised egos take precedence over battered wives, where we’d rather not keep score to avoid damaging our child’s psyche. Mascots and nicknames weren’t a problem 82 years when the Redskins moved to Washington, nor were they a problem during the glory days of The Hogs or Doug Williams’ historic performance in 1987. Something changed along the way, and it certainly wasn’t the meaning of an eight-letter word. It’s us.
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