Posted by: Jeff | November 18, 2009

Redskins Win Something

Kind of.  The U.S. Supreme Court announced this week that they are punting on the issue of whether or not the Washington Redskins’ team name and logo are racist.

Whether or not you personally find the name offensive, you surely can see that many would and do.  The direct reference to a derogatory label referencing the skin color of a broad racial group is horribly hypocritical – it would be as if the New England Patriots were called the New England Palefaces.  Poor taste at best and offensive at worst, there really isn’t much you can say to defend its continued use other than that they’ve been called the Redskins for many years.

It’s unfortunate that the Supreme Court passed on this case for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, no lower court has as of yet rendered a ruling on whether or not it is offensive.  Given the argument made by the plaintiffs, that the connotation of the “Redskins” name denotes a particular historical period in which Native American body parts were fetishized commercial commodities, this case likely deserves a closer look than the previous cases have allowed.

At the lower level, the case was dismissed on a technicality – though the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled in 1999 that the name was indeed offensive, subsequent appeals to the federal court level were dismissed due to the age of the individual plaintiffs.  Because the case was only filed in the 1990s, the fact that the plaintiffs were years removed from the minimum age required by law to file suit eliminated their ability to file against an established brand name.  Or so the law has been read.

Eleven high schools and two major universities have abdicated mascots with Native American references.  The stance of the Washington Redskins organization has been that as a corporation, it is not accountable to the public (like a state university, for example) or a larger governing body such as the NCAA.  That seems to dodge the essential issue once again.

As a fan of the University of Illinois, I’m familiar with both sides of the argument.  And I can see the appeal of consistency among the Washington fan base.  But delicate social issues, especially those that deal with the institutionalization of racism and discrimination, do deserve a forum in which the merits of both sides can be weighed.  The Supreme Court clearly dodged a case that would have given it the opportunity to resolve an issue that to this point has not been substantially addressed in a court of law.



  1. I think it is good that they are allowed to keep there name and if you thing calling the patriots palefaces is a good comparison is you just trying to make a point

  2. Apparently I should have attended Lebanon Valley College:

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