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Friday, June 20, 2014

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This week, the U.S. Patent Office repealed six federal trademarks of the Washington Redskins saying the name is “disparaging to Native Americans.”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

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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