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Fighting Racist Stereotypes in Sports, One Poll at a Time, Part II

The first part of this story covered the AP-GfK “nationwide” poll that sampled 1,004 persons about keeping or changing the racist name of the Washington, D.C., football franchise. A majority of respondents were white, conservative to moderate, pro football fans, and one-quarter were Tea Party supporters. The sampling included those in states that were ethnically cleansed of most Indian landowners. The predictable poll result was that most said don’t change the name.

That and similar polls are irrelevant, of course, when it comes to the case that three judges are now deciding for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. For purposes of Section 2 of the Lanham Act of the trademark law, the relevant persons are those who may be disparaged or brought into contempt or disrepute—in other words, Native American people.

The NFL franchise’s racist name has been litigated in two cases for 21 years. During all that time, no Native leaders, groups or persons have appeared in court on the side of Pro Football, Inc., while the major national Native American organizations have supported the Native plaintiffs formally as amici curiae.

Legislation introduced in March in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 1278, also would withdraw federal protection for the disparaging name. The Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons or Peoples in Trademark Registration Act of 2013 is supported by the National Congress of American Indians, which is the oldest and largest intertribal organization, and other groups representing Native and tribal leaders, educators, lawyers, treaty and housing specialists, finance officers and activists, as well as institutional investors, journalists for diversity and intellectual property and religion professors.

In much the same way as children cover their ears and make loud noise to block out what they don’t want to hear, the Washington football club owners and boosters ignore the solid evidence that Native Peoples want an end to racist stereotypes in sports. Claims that most Indians are honored by the offensive name are both laughable and insupportable. Pro Football, Inc. and fans rely on 2002 and 2004 polls that purportedly represent what Native American people think about the name, but the pollsters have yet to prove that any respondents were, in fact, Native.

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A third suspect poll came to my attention in a most unpleasant manner. After the TTAB’s hearing in March, other folks were ducking calls from the Laura Ingraham Show and referring them to me. Going against my better instincts, I decided that I didn’t know enough about the radio program to boycott it and that Ingraham probably would be professional and conduct a decent telephone interview. It was not an interview—it was an ambush.

Ingraham started with “Hail to the R*d*k*ns” and suddenly I was a “guest” on Mean Girls. My only function was as backdrop for Ingraham’s stream of consciousness performance about efforts to revive the “Indian” at Dartmouth College (and now they have the dumb name “Big Green”), when she was 19 and worked with Gallup, Inc., to poll all the tribal chiefs in the country and 82.4 percent of the Indian chiefs wanted to restore the name. (She left out that she worked for the conservative paper, Dartmouth Review, which leads the attempts to bring back the “Indian,” and which hired Gallup.)

She abruptly asked why I was offended by the Washington team name and I went back to Dartmouth and said that, importantly, the Native Americans at Dartmouth were offended. (I also informed her that Dartmouth started as “Green,” as did all the schools start with colors, rather than with animals and Indians.) She cut me off and demanded to know why I was offended, and I tried to tell her and she cut me off and asked what nation—I can say nation—that’s not offensive to you, too? She made half a point about once practicing or studying Indian law and said, then you know that nation, tribe, pueblo are okay.

Taking another sharp turn, she said, “What percentage of Indian are you?” I told her I had one Cheyenne parent and one Muscogee parent—and I’m a Cheyenne citizen of the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma. She inserted a quote by Pro Football, Inc.’s Bruce Allen, saying it’s ludicrous to think we’re trying to offend anyone. I responded that we’ve never said they’re trying to offend—just that they’re making money off a name that offends.

And she shifted back to Dartmouth: Whaddya think of the poll I did with all the chiefs? I asked her how they knew who was on the other end of the line, which exasperated her. They had to fill out a paper beforehand, like a ballot, she went on—it was Gallup, the best and most respected of all polling companies. (I may have tried to ask more about polling “Indian chiefs” or maybe I said something about Gallup’s miscalculations in the 2012 elections.) The sound of the dead line could not have been more welcome.

Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee, is an award-winning columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network and president of the Morning Star Institute.