David Elfin is wrong about Redskins name change

Washington Redskins logo
David Elfin, a much respected Washington Redskins sportswriter, posted a story yesterday on Washington.cbslocal.com Redskins Name Change Would Benefit Snyder’s Wallet the Most.

Props to Elfin for pointing out the only thing that should persuade Daniel Snyder to change his brand, a good business case for doing so. That is the only point of agreement. Elfin argues that the team name is a slur and should be changed.

Hog Heaven offered a rebuttal in the comments early Monday morning. It disappeared from the web page by Monday afternoon. Perhaps it was a technical glitch, or maybe it was censored out.  I’m posting the rebuttal here. It is as close as I can recall of what I wrote on cbslocal.com Monday.

Elfin began with a brief history of the controversy and the politically correct voices tsk-tsking for a change. But then, Elfin called troubling the comments of Virginia-based Native American leaders who did not find Redskins to be offensive. He wrote that he is bothered by “the name’s obviously racist  connotation….”

Um, doesn’t the fact that Native American leaders in the immediate vicinity of Redskins headquarters are not offended undercut the argument that the brand is racist?

Why yes. Yes it does.

Elfin believes that a name change is a golden opportunity for Snyder to make money by selling a new set of merchandise to fans like me who owns six Redskins jerseys and an assortment of other souvenirs.

You could not prove that by me. Would I buy a new set of everything because of a team name change?

Why no. No I would not.

If it doesn’t say Redskins, I’m not a buyer. I doubt I am the only one who feels that way. A generation of fans, now aged 10, may grow up without emotional ties to “Redskins” and all that goes with it. It is flip of Elfin and anyone else to suggest that a name change would be painless.

Here are two presentations of the word.

redskin

Redskins

Redskins script R
One of those words looks funny. Redskins is a brand with an identity recognized by the capital R, plural in the stylized script that goes with it. Everybody recognizes its reference to Washington's football team and to the NFL.

The other word looks strange because it is never or very rarely seen. (My spellchecker insists on changing “redskin” to “Redskins.”)

Redskins® is a brand with an economic value that defines football entertainment while the common noun redskin is disputably a slur. Got that?

These words are not interchangeable. Writers like Elfin and About.com’s Tim McDonald are on thin ice when they present the brand (capital R, plural) as an alleged slur. There is a legal risk to them and their publishers if sloppy writing diminishes the value of an established brand. They could be held liable for very big bucks for that.

Even the District Court in its ruling reversing the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) was careful to present the word "redskin(s)" when discussing the trademark issues. That should be a guide to all writers.

Incidentally, the Court also ruled that the word as disparagement "is not supported by substantial evidence." You can look it up for yourself

Daniel Snyder owns the trademark right to define how the brand Redskins may be used as surely as Coca-Cola controls how Coke® may be used.

That’s the motive of Suzann Harjo’s petitions to the Patent and Trademark Office. If brand protection can be invalidated, the word can be defined, or redefined, as Harjo wishes instead of what is universally accepted as a sports team. 

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Anthony Brown

About Anthony Brown

Lifelong Redskins fan and blogger about football and life since 2004. Joined MVN's Hog Heaven blog in 2005 and then moved Redskins Hog Heaven to Bolguin Network. Believes that the course of a season is pre-ordained by management decisions made during the offseason. Can occasionally be found on the This Given Sunday blog and he does guest posts.

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