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Redskins Or The R-Word?

A Washington Redskins helmet is pictured during their game against the Oakland Raiders on September 29, 2013, in Oakland, California. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

A Washington Redskins helmet is pictured during their game against the Oakland Raiders on September 29, 2013, in Oakland, California. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

This week, the U.S. Patent Office repealed six federal trademarks of the Washington Redskins saying the name is “disparaging to Native Americans.”

The team’s attorney Bob Raskopf issued a statement which said: “We’ve seen this story before. And just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo.”

The statement went on to say: “We are confident we will prevail once again, and that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s divided ruling will be overturned on appeal.”

The Redskin’s owner, Dan Snyder, also responded to the Patent Office decision, saying, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple –never — you can use caps.”

But many in the Native American community are hopeful that, this time, things will be different.

Simon Moya-Smith, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota nation and a journalist, speaks with Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson about the recent ruling.

Interview Highlights

On why this time is different from 1999

“This time around, we’re hopeful, because there is a proliferation of voices opposing the name, because people are more aware of what it is. We’re talking about the proliferation of the web. People can access the true history of the name and now people — at least this generation — recognize that it is a pejorative. Maybe back in 1999 it wasn’t, but unfortunately for Dan Snyder, people are becoming more enlightened to the history of the name itself.”

On why changing the name matters

“It’s all systematic of the bigger problem and that’s the dehumanization of native Americans. When we talk about water rights, we don’t always get a response from people. When we talk about high poverty rates on reservations, we don’t always get a response. But when we talk about sports, we get a response … this is just one fight among many fights.”

On the portrayal of Native Americans in culture

“It’s American culture to play Indian. Think of Columbus Day, Thanksgiving. Think of Halloween, go to Bonnaroo … Unfortunately, [people] can’t recognize the racism directed at Native Americans. I mean, painting your face in red face and going to a Cleveland Indians game is offensive. But people think, ‘This is just our sports tradition. It’s something we’ve always done!’ So we’re stepping on their privilege and that’s where this fight gets very contentious and caustic because we ask and demand for respect. They demand their privilege. They want to wear their headdress and dehumanize Native Americans and belittle what the headdress means without a Native American coming in and calling foul.”

On the use of Native Americans as mascots

“I’m against all Indian mascotry. Now, the Redskins is paramount because it is a racial epithet, it is a racial slur. It dehumanizes the Native American in this nation’s capitol, which really sends a strong message … People like to bring up the Fighting Irish … the Irish do have the right to rage against the Fighting Irish … but this is Native American land. You are dehumanizing and belittling the Native American in our own country … The Irish were persecuted here in the United States, but this isn’t Dublin. This is Native American land.”

On the “r-word”

“The chorus of opposition grows … [and] we’re not going to stop until people will say ‘r-word’ just like ‘n-word.’ That matters to us … We want people to shudder when they hear that word.”


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  • anne sweeney

    Simon Moya-Smith, You know, this is really funny. Here we have many representatives from the many Indian Nations across America, chime in on how terrible and offensive this name is and it is, I agree, BUT,
    We cannot find one American Indian to comment on a future Presidential Candidate, Elizabeth Warren who’s claim to fame, is by using her Indian Heritage in getting accepted into Harvard, then recieving a job as an adjunct professor by Harvard, Harvard listed her as a Native American Minority, became a full professor at Harvard, later became a US Senator based upon the same claim, being a Native American Indian. Now the possibility in running for president as the first Native American Women to be elected President.
    There is not one piece of evidence to Prove that Elizabeth Warren has any, Indian blood in her what so ever. In fact many Radio Talk Show Hosts offered to pay her and for the DNA testing to see if her claim is valid, Elizabeth Warren Declined ? Elizabeth Warrens false claim of her Indian Heritage is a great afront to Native American Indians that whether I call my team, “The Sachems” or the “Fighting Eagles” or “Tsu-mani-tutanka-awachi”
    “Dances with Wolves”. No one criticized Kevin Costner, when he took on the identity of an Indian in the Movies, or no one criticized Johnny Depp when he was “Tonto” a very bad one at that. Do you think “Tonto” depicts Indians in a Positive Light ? I think not ‘Kemosabe’” the name referring to his “Great White Boss”. Maybe we should re-think and the Main Stream Establishment press before Shooting Arrows into the backside of Daniel Snyder or sneaking up on him like an “Indian”. Oh no, did I say that ? Maybe Elizabeth Warren should be called out? Or her real name should remain, “LiaWatha” forever more.

    • J__o__h__n

      Elizabeth Warren did not attend Harvard. The people who hired her claimed that her heritage was not a factor. She didn’t run for senator campaigning as a Native American.

      • Cacimo

        The problem is the facts do not match the claims.

        • Carole Thompson

          What facts? She listed herself as part-Cherokee in a private publication, not associated with Harvard. Harvard promoted her as NA long after she was hired, because they were under fire, not her.

    • HippieUnrepentant

      You keep posting this same message all over the internet. Since Senator Warren is attempting to rein in the Too Big To Fail Wall Street banks, it make one wonder who you’re working for. Let me guess. The Third Way? The Koch Brothers? Some other GOP group? Do tell….

      • Karl Hungus

        Koch Brothers!!!!!!!!!! Bogeymen!!!!!!!

      • Carole Thompson

        One of the so-called Cherokee protestors in the whole Elizabeth Warren issue, named Travis N Taylor, is a long-time operative in the Republican Party, who includes his artistic work (graphics) for this group of “protestors” of E Warren, on his resume (on his web page). In other words, he admits he was paid for the graphics he produced for this group. It is also believed that Cherokee protestors, Twila Barnes and David Cornsilk, were being paid for their fake protest against Warren, by people with connections to the Tea Party

    • methos1999

      I know it’s a long movie, but go back and watch “Dances with Wolves” again – Kevin Costner did NOT take on the identity of an Indian. Kevin Costner played a disillusioned Union Officer during the Civil War (ie a white man). He eventually made friends with the Indians and became part of the tribe, thus getting the name “Dances with Wolves”, but he never portrayed an Indian.

    • JW
    • Carole Thompson

      One of the so-called Cherokee protestors in the whole Elizabeth Warren issue, named Travis N Taylor, is a long-time operative in the Republican Party, who includes his artistic work (graphics) for this group of “protestors” of E Warren, on his resume (on his web page). In other words, he admits he was paid for the graphics he produced for this group. It is also believed that Cherokee protestors, Twila Barnes and David Cornsilk, were being paid for their fake protest against Warren, by people with connections to the Tea Party.

      • Kiyoshi

        the issue us the NFL and the Washington team, which by the way represents our nations Capitol and for many years played in R.F.K. stadium, not Warren or Dances w/ Wolves

    • Kiyoshi

      U cant be serious? What if a team is SW U.S were called “Wet Backs”. or team called “Wops” or “N” ers? Would that be ok too?

  • J__o__h__n

    I though the R word was an insult to the mentally impaired. The team should change its racist name, but I’m tired of the language police constantly adding an alphabet of the _ words.

    • alsviews

      Your point? All you are saying is that YOU are tired. How about the people who ARE offended? They should simply bend themselves to your will?


  • Chris

    The team stinks and is a long way from the heady days of RFK, the Hogs, John Riggins, etc. Throw in an unpopular owner and it’s no wonder this is coming to a head now.

  • alsviews

    Perhaps Mr. Snyder might want to take a page from his own background and rename the team “The Washington Sheenies”… oh, wait! That would be bigoted. Hymies? Wrong again.

  • larrycal

    Y’all are crazy I’m Indian and I live in Oklahoma this is not racist y’all just have nothing better to do with your time. Oklahoma means red people are y’all going to ban that also? Get a life people there are bigger issues going on in this country, well maybe not if your a liberal you just sit around worrying about spotted owls, gays getting married and bad names of football teams because someone may get their feelings hurt, freaking cry baby’s .

  • richarddorrough

    “I mean, painting your face in red face and going to a Cleveland Indians game is offensive”.. While I am sympathetic to the stereotypes and the Hollywood portrayal of Native or Indigenous Americans I am curious. What about the Native Americans who painted themselves in Red Face as part of their culture and are the origin of the Redskin or Red Indians term the Beothuk. Have any Beothuk filed any court actions or complaints..What about the many native groups who regularly used Red Ochre to decorate themselves. Have any of them complained. Do you think it was offensive for them to paint themselves in Red Face and go to say ..well anywhere. Is this about no Red Face or Red Skin at all or is it just bad when other races do it..

    • Veronica Parker

      It is said history is written by the victors. Many whom were influenced by their prejudices. Who knows the exact interpretation of words that the natives used. Many words had no interpretation in the native language. Maybe not knowing the true meaning of redskin, it may have been used by some natives, It doesn’t mean its okay. I’m sure blacks,and you hear it today, said it about themselves and to each other, at least until they as a whole race became enlightened to the derogatory and racist term it is. Now, it is the N word and you wouldn’t dare use it for fear of being considered a racist! I mean doesn’t someone have to sell their team for being considered a racist.

  • greg

    All this headline would be perfect if it ended with “but that’s retarded”

    I’m just happy I don’t have any “culture” that I hold that would force me to be offended by anything anyone ever said about me, my family, my past, my ancestors, whatever

    Redskin is no more offensive than the term white people, but then again we’re dealing with people who have basically made the word Mexican into a derogatory term

  • Mike Fleming

    Over 500 years ago some people showed up to this land and began the process of stealing this land from the native people that were here. Let’s start by saying they named the place America which means that Native American or American Indian does not apply since this land was not America before the explorers showed up.(by the way they were looking for India so Indian doesn’t apply here either) Over the course of the five hundred years natives were pushed onto reservations and the land was raped of its natural sources coal, oil, trees, etc. By my way of thinking anyone in this land that does not have native ancestry in there blood should be made to pack up and leave. Further more be forced to pay for all the natural resources that have been extracted from the land, therefore making the native country that remains the richest nation in the world. That to me would be the true justice for the native people of this land, but we all know that is as ridiculous as a true racist suggesting we send all the African Americans back to Africa. So with social ills such as crime, alcoholism, drug problems and poverty double on the reservation than the national average, does anybody really believe, in this context, that changing the name of a sports team is going to make a difference?

    • RobynL

      It’s a start. You don’t end discrimination without also ending the use of names that represent it. That’s the first step in showing respect to any other fellow human being.

  • Courtney44

    Placed in historical context, the term “redskins” was descriptive, not ethnic or racist in nature. Eighteenth century records attest to the use of the color terms “red” and “white” by Native Americans as racial designations, and the adoption of these terms by Europeans in eastern North America. The first use of “red” in this manner was in 1725 by a Taensa chief talking to a French priest in Mobile. The use of “red” was soon adopted in both French and English and was conventional by the 1750s. Although Europeans sometimes used such expressions among themselves, however, they remained aware of the fact that this was originally and particularly a Native American usage. See the European Review of Native American Studies 19:2 2005, entitled “I AM A RED-SKIN”: The Adoption of a Native American Expression (1769–1826) by Ives Goddard.

    In 1769 three chiefs of a Miami-speaking people then living on the lower Wabash River, sent to Lt. Col. John Wilkins four talks, written out for them in French, which were forwarded to London with translations and explanations in August of that year. The French texts were described as “an Exact Copy” of what the chiefs’ French
    interpreter had written, translated as “if any redskins” in one place and translated as “all the redskins” in another. Therefore, the first appearances of “redskin” in English are as literal translations of standard French, which is itself a translation from a dialect of the Miami-Illinois language. In other words, the first recorded use of the term “redskins” as an identifier of Native American tribes or Indians was by the Native Americans themselves to distinguish themselves from Europeans (“white”) and Africans (“black”).

    There was no intent by Native Americans to bring into contempt or disrepute, or disparage their people when they coined the term “redskins” to describe themselves in the 1725-1769 era. Now in 1946, it may be that the use of the term was negative in fictional black and white movie Westerns for a decade, but why should that trump 221 years of accepted usage? When the name was adopted in Boston the
    owners explained their desire to honor Native Americans by reflecting their
    strength, resolve and courage in the team’s football players. There was no intent to disparage.

    • Kiyoshi

      Blacks became African Americans so why cant redskin today be disparaging?

    • RobynL

      The original intent of a word is interesting, but not a reasonable argument to continue disparaging another human being. Word meanings evolve, i,e b*t*h or negro, wouldn’t you agree?

      I’m not sure which point in the overall history of attempted genocide is the intent being lauded here, but I can tell you that there was never 221 years of accepted usage by anyone other than the settlers who came onto N.A. territory.

      The Native American population is made of many nations. There was no empirical use of the words red people or redskins to self-describe. This point overlooks Native American’s own records of history. However, in the case you point out, just as one area of the U.S. may refer to themselves as rednecks, there is no overall proud acceptance of that name by all U.S. citizens.

      The horrific genocidal history began long before 1946 and the advent of
      movies. What is enlightening is the idea that for so many people, the mascot is more sacred than the people it represents. That is the point of
      contention. That is where the real work begins.

  • Paul Barth

    Many states and cities use Native American names including my home state of Indiana. Will all of them have to change in response to public pressure? Notre Dame Un. uses to show the Fighting Irish a cartoon caricature from the 19th century that was originally intended to be insulting and demeaning to us Irish-Americans. I respect people of all different ethnic backgrounds and sexual persuasions but sometimes I think we are getting too sensitive. We need to consider how a word is used today and stop being so picky. The important thing is to love everyone as God so commands.

  • Kiyoshi

    Dan Snyder’s attitude is far worse than Donald Sullivans one time rant regarding Blacks.

    The NFL should force Snyder to relinquish control and or sell the team as the NBA is doing with Sullivan.

    This is an on-going racial slur against Native Americans that has no place today.

    Do what Stanford and even the NBA Wizards did, change racist and inflammatory mascots to one that exemplifies courage, leadership and fight instead.

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