Congress Wastes Time Wading Into Redskins Debate

Congress should stop kvetching over the "offensive" name of the Washington Redskins.

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Congress might force the Redskins to change its name through the power of the law.
Congress might force the Redskins to change its name through the power of the law.

They're baaaaaaaaack.

The "Society of the Perpetually Offended" is at it again. The Washington Redskins just absolutely must change their name. It's offensive. It's racist. It's killing small dogs and cats throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

OK, I made up that last one. But it's not that far a stretch. And now, the Offended Ones have new ammo – 10 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have signed a letter saying they seek to amend the Trademark Act of 1946 to prohibit protection for the term "redskin."

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

This, presumably, would enable anyone to stamp "Redskins" on something and sell it without compensating the team. Which, presumably, not only would hit billionaire owner Daniel Snyder in the pocketbook but lower the costs of said garments. Which, presumably, would mean more of them being worn on the streets of America. Which would not seem to be the goal of these 10 members of Congress.

But, alas, anticipating consequences of legislative overreach never has been a strong point for the Society of the Perpetually Offended.

The facts are these. Snyder grew up in Maryland as a rabid Redskins fan. He went out and made a few bucks, then bought the team. He has said, again, in the last month that he will "never" change the name.

And the people are with him. Recent polling shows 79 percent don't think the team should have to change its name; only 11 percent do. Moreover, 90 percent of American Indians say they have no problem with the name.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Football Be Fundamentally Changed to Make It Safer?]

Indeed, as Robert "Two Eagles" Green, retired chief of the Patawomeck tribe in Fredericksburg, Va., said recently, "It's not a term that the white man created. It's actually a term that the Indians themselves created … And if you look at the logo, there's nothing offensive about the logo … [I]t's an Eastern Indian … I think sometimes, we're a little too touchy in our society these days."

Then why the fuss? Why are 10 members of Congress threatening to tinker with well-established trademark law? Tom Cole, the lone Republican on the letter, is a registered Chickasaw Indian and represents a district that includes a substantial Native American population. Fair enough.

But the rest of the cast looks dreadfully familiar. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's non-voting delegate to Congress, has been especially exercised about all this. She demanded on MSNBC recently to know "what [principle] Snyder is standing on." That question is easy enough: He owns the business, so he decides what it's called. But what principle is Norton standing on? That she knows better than us when and to what degree we should be offended by names of sports teams?

[Take the U.S. News Poll: Is Football Too Violent?]

"I'm not surprised that most Americans don't see any harm in the word," she said. "Most of us have had to be educated by Native Americans, who after all, are only less than 2 percent of the population. They don't exactly have a microphone every day. If it were African-Americans, you'd know all about it."

Exactly. African-Americans make up only 12 percent of the population. And the clearly demeaning language they were subjected to has been largely scrubbed from our society because overwhelming majorities realized it was wrong.

But success wasn't enough for some African-American leaders, such as Norton. Being offended, keeping a chip on their shoulder through the decades, has become an end unto itself. If there are not enough of their own grievances to bear, they branch out and adopt those of others.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should NCAA Athletes Be Paid?]

But this is not the same. The people to whom "Redskins" refers are not offended. Four in five Americans see nothing wrong with this. Norton thinks they need to be educated – forcefully.

Nothing that truly is wrong can last. Slavery seemed implacable. It is gone. Then Jim Crow. Now also gone. If this is wrong, it will not last. We do not need to amend the trademark law. We do not need to offer a new stadium in D.C. as an incentive to change the name.

If Norton and her allies are right and only education is needed to address this, then pursue that. Call for a boycott. Don't attend games, buy jerseys, pay to park, watch on TV, fly those car flags or sport the bumper stickers. If the crowd follows, you win. If it doesn't, admit you don't have the best gauge on what offends people and move on to some real problems.

God knows we have enough of those.

  • Read Susan Milligan: Guns, Ricin and a Bad Example by Law Enforcement
  • Read Pat Garofalo: How to Change the Washington Redskins' Racist Name
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