Personal disclosure: I don’t follow professional football. I went to one game with my daughter. We left after 30 minutes of freezing, time-out boredom. One of my sons is even a Dallas Cowboys fan. Oh, the humanity! My game is baseball and channel-surfing. In my youth, I played centerfield and batted .328. Today I have 700 channels. Now…
You don’t have to live in Beltway Land to know that “our” professional football team is named the Redskins. Love it or hate it, that is the legal name. Some people now refer to it as Washington’s Football Team. But the R-word was on the front page of our hometown newspaper yesterday, even though it opposes the name.
And, you don’t have to follow football to know that in recent years the name, which has been around for a long time, has become very controversial. Maybe never more so than this week.
For many years (from the 1920s on), our here-today-gone-tomorrow baseball team was the Washington Senators. Guys like Walter Johnson played for the team. You can look it up. They had, like, three good seasons. And for decades nobody complained about the name. But…
When the team returned to D.C. from its exile (it spent time in Minnesota and then Texas) the name Washington Senators became a problem. Proponents of Statehood- for-DC mounted a successful campaign to block the Senators as the team name. If the District of Columbia couldn’t have two U.S. senators, they argued, our team couldn’t be called the Senators. It seemed like an uphill PC/PR fight. But, they won. So now it is the Washington Nationals. Headline writers love it because you can do a lot with the abbreviation Nats. And they are having a pretty good year, but that is neither here nor there.
Back when Washington, D.C., was competing with Baltimore, New Orleans and Chicago for the title of Murder Capital of the U.S.A., our basketball team — now the Wizards — was known as the, gulp, uh, Washington Bullets! Double yipes!
There have always been people who object to the R-team name. But the campaign to change the name has intensified in the past few years. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of editorials have been written denouncing the name. If anybody has defended it in print, I don’t remember seeing it.
There were two stories yesterday in The Washington Post about the name change. One on the front page explaining the latest blow to the name. The other inside the A-section explaining what may be next in the fight to kill, or retain, the team name. There were also two columnists who blasted the team name and hailed the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for getting into the fight.
For many people the question was: Who is this PTO and what is it doing in a football food fight?
The PTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board issued a 99-page decision that said the team name and logo used on thousands of team products are “disparaging.” The newspaper said the action “dilutes” the team owner’s legal protections to fight against copyright infringement.
The news, for many people, is that there is a small, but very powerful federal agency, the PTO, which has a lot of clout within the private sector.
If you are not familiar with the D.C. sports world, suffice it to say, team owner Dan Snyder is not the most popular guy in town. For lots of reasons. Some stemming from his refusal to rename the team, others for other reasons. But he’s very smart, very successful and could probably buy any 10 of us reading or writing this column.
And whether you love or loathe him, when Snyder bought the team — along with marketing rights for everything from blankets to key rings — it had the same name it does today. And he got the team. Still…
For some people it’s a no-brainer. The name is offensive to Native Americans (some, many, most, all?) and it has to go. For others, it’s an example of people looking for a cause.
The PTO ruling doesn’t change the name. But, it apparently makes it much easier for people who want to make and sell team-name products. Some see it as the handwriting on the wall.
Could it be that after mounting a spirited defense the team will eventually change its name? And then make a fortune selling vintage R-name items while marketing a new team logo. How about The Washington Dollar Signs?