Imagine being in a sold-out stadium for your favorite sports team in a crucial game and your team is down late with little time left, just when everyone thinks all hope is lost the crowd slowly starts to get louder and louder. You look around to see what all the commotion is about and you lock eyes on your home team’s mascot, the mascot is trying so hard to get the crowd amped up one more time to bring some life back into the game. All of a sudden you realize the stadium is shaking and thousands of people are on their feet cheering, this does just enough to have the momentum swing in favor of the home team and they score to take the lead. This all happened because of the mascot getting the crowd hyped up and it eventually had an impact on the game, people tend to call this home-field advantage. However, what if that can’t be an experience for you or a team, what if people take offense to the team name which essentially resembles the mascot because of ethnic or religious belief reasons. This seems to be an argument with teams across the nation that represent or have some correlation with Native American Indians. So, should the Redskins change their name?
Mascots play a big role in the sports world, a mascot is usually a person dressed up in a costume or a person decorated with accessories to represent its appropriate team. Mascots tend to only show up at home games for the team and are supposed to bring good luck to them, they also are there to hype up the crowd and get them going to cheer for their team. The mascots play also play a big role for the team because it is a good marketing strategy, almost every team has merchandise available to purchase with their respective mascot on their apparel or whatever it may be that they are selling to the public. Native American mascots are pretty popular for pro or collegiate and even sometimes high school teams. These mascots or logos tend to have either someone that the color red, feathers hanging off of them, or even a tomahawk to showcase something about Native Americans. The most popular Native American based teams in the country are the National Football League’s (NFL) Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins, National Collegiate Athletic Associations (NCAA) division one Florida State Seminoles, Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Cleveland Indians, and Atlanta Braves, and National Hockey League’s (NHL) Chicago Blackhawks. The first-ever mascots were Mr. Met for MLB’s New York Mets and Brutus Buckeye for NCAA’s Ohio State Buckeyes, both of them made their debut in 1964 and set the line for mascots for generations to come.
There was a big concern throughout the nation as to whether or not having a sports team based on Native Americans should be allowed, it is very easy however to understand both sides of the argument. The Native American people see it as they are being made fun of and having a falsely-based reputation and stereotype while the people that think it is not a problem believe they are doing good by it because they are spreading the culture and awareness to everyone all around the world. Protests began against the use of derogatory names around 1960 when the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) expressed distaste. A significant case in the early 2000s was Pro Football Inc vs. Harjo, the District of Columbia district court overturned a decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) that the NFL’s Washington Redskins trademarks were disparaging to Native Americans. Major wanted to cancel six pro football teams’ trademark registrations from the Lanham Act section 2a which bans registration of remarks which could disparage beliefs, people living or dead, or national symbols. The TTAB decided to cancel the trademark registrations for Harjo, the pro football wanted judicial review based on the decision. The district court reversed it because they found that Harjo didn’t present sturdy evidence that the phrase was disparaging to Native Americans. Distinctively, there was little evidence that in the respective period, a ‘substantial composite” from the Native American group found the term ‘redskins’ to be disparaging. As well as, the court found the case was barred by laches. Laches is an accessible defense in an action to terminate a trademark as potentially disparaging under the satisfaction of three conditions: one being substantial delay by the plaintiff before filing the lawsuit; two being the plaintiff’s awareness of the mark during the delay, and finally, the reliance interest resulting from the defendant’s continued development of good-will during this time of delay. In this case, the court found that the unexcused delay of twenty-five years in bringing suit brought prejudice to the mark holder (Supp). As the Redskins and Harjo battled in court, a 2004 poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center seemed to back up the team’s argument by showcasing that 9 in 10 Indians did not find the name offensive (Washington Post). NFL’s commissioner Roger Goodell claimed in 2014 after another controversy arose about the Redskins, ”I think what we have to do though is we have to listen,”; ‘If one person is offended, we have to listen”.
NFL’s Washington Redskins have been going back and forth with the public about possible team names and rebranding, this controversy has been going on for about 25 years. In 2017, five Native Americans fighting the NFL team over its trademark registrations called it quits in federal appeals court. The Native Americans and the Justice Department didn’t have a choice, on June 19, 2017, in another case involving an Asian rock band, Supreme Court members declared that a key section of a federal law banning trademarks that “may disparage” people was a violation of the First Amendment. It was this section of the 1946 Lanham Act that the Native Americans relied upon to argue that the Redskins should be stripped of the trademark registrations. Once the Supreme Court ruled that the disparagement clause was unconstitutional, the Justice Department and the Native Americans, led by Amanda Blackhorse who is a Navajo from Arizona, had barely any legal standing to continue. Even former President Barack Obama was urging Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder to change the name (Washington Post). After all of this tension with not wanting to have the Redskins name stick around on the other side of things the NCAA is allowing Florida State to stay as the Seminoles with what seems to be no issues. There was no argument about how the Seminole Tribe of Florida impacted Florida State University’s nickname. The tribe helped the university create the costume for Chief Osceola’s mascot, approving the face paint and the flaming spear. In 2005, the NCAA agreed with the 3,000-plus member tribe and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, which had endorsed the nickname and had removed Florida State from the list of universities banned from using what is called ‘hostile and abusive’ mascots and nicknames during play. “The executive committee continues to believe the stereotyping of Native Americans is wrong,’ Bernard Franklin, the association’s senior vice president for governance and membership, stated. ‘However, in its review of the particular circumstances regarding Florida State, the staff review committee noted the unique relationship between the university and the Seminole Tribe of Florida as a significant factor.” Then the NCAA issued a ban to prohibit uniforms, logos, mascots, and other such things. The Florida governor at the time and the president of FSU both had strong opinions about that, finally, the NCAA decided that they would consider appeals on a case-by-case basis (Powell). Since 2005, there has been a ban on Native American mascots in postseason events. But they can still use the nicknames for any non-championship games. There is a similar battle going on with MLB’s Cleveland Indians. In January the front office decided that they will no longer have the mascot, Chief Wahoo, appear on their uniforms. As early as the 1970’s activists opposed this mascot, some fans thought this was long overdue while some were upset because it wasn’t a racist symbol it reflected their community (Young).
Finally, should the Redskins change their name? There has been an ongoing dispute as to if having a Native American-based sports team is unethical or racist. It is very understandable to see both sides of it because the people that are named after them are spreading their culture to everyone while the Native Americans think they’re being made fun of. Whether you’re against it or not you can’t argue that Native Americans didn’t play a massive role in the United States and they paved a path for everything that we have today.