The Minnesota Vikings find themselves wedged in the middle of a controversy not of their own doing. On one hand it’s a refreshing change that the Vikes aren’t the ones causing a hullabaloo. On the other hand, it seems they’re a magnet for controversy even when, as is the case here, they’re taking on collateral damage. The controversy in question: the ongoing push by the University of Minnesota to prevent Washington’s NFL football team from using their “Redskins” moniker when they visit TCF Bank Stadium to play the Vikings Nov. 2.
As you know, TCF Bank Stadium is on lease to the Vikings for the next two seasons while the new stadium is being built. As you may also know, the University wants no part of the Redskins. They don’t want the name used or the familiar logo on the helmet. They’ve asked that the team wear their old helmets that just have the fancy “R” on the side. In a statement, the University called the term “Redskins” offensive and inappropriate.
Obviously, the Washington organization agrees to disagree. On Thursday they filed an appeal of the earlier U.S. Patent Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruling that ordered the cancellation of the Redskins' trademark registration. So they’re not giving up the fight. Yet.
My point here is not to debate whether the R-word is, in fact, racist. It is, and you’ll not convince me otherwise. Instead, I’m predicting this particular controversy might very well be the next key step in forcing team owner Daniel Snyder to finally change the name. If the U.S. Patent office doesn’t hit Snyder’s wallet hard enough to force a change, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell might have to wield his power and make it happen. Goodell can’t afford to let this situation pit owner against owner.
A substantial segment of the public thinks the R-word is racist and is calling for a change. That hasn’t been enough. But if other more powerful outside forces come into play and create a schism between one NFL team and another, things could escalate.
To this point, the Vikings have had to walk a fine line in addressing the matter.
“Not only do we have a significant Native American population in Minnesota, but the Vikings have strong relationships with several tribes in the state,” team spokesman Lester Bagley told the Minneapolis Star Tribune last week. “At the same time, the Vikings are one of 32 NFL teams, and NFL policies obligate us to operate and market the game as we would any other game against any other NFL opponent.”
“The Vikings are one of 32 NFL teams, and NFL policies obligate us…” Translation: “Our hands are basically tied. If Daniel Snyder doesn’t want to change his team name and if commissioner Goodell won’t make him change his team name, then we (have no choice but to) stand arm-in-arm with them. Protect the (NFL) shield. Present a unified front.”
Ultimately the team from Washington will be forced to change its name. It’s not a matter of if, only when. Eventually, the cacophony of protest will drown out the feeble attempts by the tone deaf in the Washington organization to uphold the name as something honorable. Maybe someday those in their fan base that can’t distinguish between loyalty to a brand and common decency will also see the light.
At some point soon Zygi Wilf might have to call up commissioner Goodell and say, “Look, I’m all for unity amongst NFL teams and protecting the shield and all that jazz, but enough is enough.”
What will push Wilf to that point?
Will it take increased pressure from the University of Minnesota? Will it take more legislators in St. Paul – you know, the ones who helped him get his new stadium built – asking Zygi to take a stand? What if hundreds or even thousands of the state’s Native American population protest more and protest louder? When the Redskins played at Mall of America Field last Nov. 7, the R-word was loudly protested before kickoff in a demonstration outside the Metrodome. You can bet those same folks – and many, many more – will return for this year’s game. In fact, plans are already underway according to the Star Tribune, and organizers hope to draw several thousand activists this time.
Between the U.S. Patent office and pressure from the U of M, Goodell might have to compel Snyder before November to announce a change. It’s one thing when all the ire is aimed at the team in question. It’s another when a second team (in this case the Vikings) is sucked into the mess and thrown under the bus for not taking a stand.
Something has to give and the protest over this game might be just the fulcrum for change.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell