Daniel Snyder’s dilemma continues. The U.S Patent Office recently canceled the team’s federal trademark, citing the Washington Redskins name as “disparaging of Native Americans.”
Half of the United States Senate has signed a letter requesting the NFL for a name change. Even President Obama has chimed in on the issue, saying if he were the owner of the team he would “think about changing the name.”
Yet Snyder seems to be standing firm. We'll never change the name," Snyder told USA Today last year. "It's that simple. NEVER — you can use caps."
The momentum is building, though, as Snyder faces a continuous pressure to make the Redskins name more politically correct. Snyder says the Redskins name is an honor, not a slur and has even created a foundation to provide help for tribal communities. A heartfelt gesture or a good PR move?
But now, the controversy could be hitting Snyder where it counts--in his wallet. The patent office’s ruling means the team can continue to use the Redskins name, but will have a difficult time protecting its trademarks. This effect will trickle down to the rest of the league, as 31 teams split the revenue from team merchandise sales and licensing (note: the Dallas Cowboys have their own separate licensing deal). Money talks in the NFL and suddenly this is no longer just about the Redskins’ name.
The Redskins franchise has had its share of controversy, though, long before Snyder took over the team. George Preston Marshall owned the team from 1932-1969 and was known for his opposition to African Americans on his roster. Marshall was the last NFL owner to have an African American player on his team and did so only after pressure from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in 1962. Kennedy threatened to revoke the Redskins stadium lease which was paid for by government money.
Marshall also gave birth to one of the oldest fight songs in professional football, “Hail to the Redskins”. With lines such as “scalp ‘em, swamp ‘um” and “we want heap more”, the original lyrics have since been reworked to be less offensive in modern culture.
Bottom line, the Redskins name controversy is not going to just fade away into the night. Is the name a racial slur? Many would argue that it is. Unlike other sports teams with names like Indians, Braves, Blackhawks and Chiefs, it uses skin color as its main description. Others say that it honors the storied tradition of Native Americans.
Snyder runs a very profitable business with a franchise that has a storied 82-year history. Will this become a distraction for Snyder and the team? Should the league or even the U.S. government step in and force a name change, essentially causing Snyder the financial burden of rebranding the team?
"I spent the last year talking to many of the leaders of the Native American community," Commissioner Goodell said recently. "We are listening and we are trying to make sure we understand the issues”.