It’s getting close to a quarter-century now since I first dipped my toes into the Redskins nickname debate. I was a junior high student, my best friend was a Native American, and the high school we were slated to attend in a couple of years — Grand Forks (N.D.) Central — was the Redskins.
Under no prompting aside from our own sense of justice, we created a petition to ban the nickname, arguing it was an insensitive and racist term describing a Native American. And the two of us, 12 or 13 at the time, went door to door asking people to sign it. It was quite the mixed reaction, from doors shut quickly (and sometimes angrily) to sympathizers eager to add their names.
Our exercise never went much further than collecting names; perhaps our only mission aside from strengthening our own belief system was conducting a social experiment.
Regardless, the issue was percolating. During my high school years, the Redskins nickname was abolished. GFC is now the Knights, and if I go back for my 20-year reunion in August, that is what will correctly adorn the school’s hallways.
The passionate argument then is similar to the one that played out with the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname, but the most direct parallel is with that of the NFL’s Washington Redskins. There are those defiant because they believe the name honors Native Americans, preserves history, or both. And there are those who want to preserve the history of the institution but not the ugliness they believe the nickname brings with it.
Washington has faced mounting pressure to change the nickname in recent years, with Wednesday’s news that the United States Patent and Trademark Office canceled the Redskins trademark registration turning the heat up again.
Daniel Snyder, Washington’s owner, has been as enthusiastic about supporting the name as he is about firing coaches. He has said the team never will change the nickname; on Wednesday, a statement was issued through the organization’s trademark attorney: “Today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo.”
From a legal perspective, he sure could be right. Washington will appeal the ruling, and even if it loses that doesn’t mean the team can’t use the name. Whether it should use the name is another matter.
I made my decision 25 years ago, and my high school figured it out more than two decades ago.