The National Football League's Washington Redskins team owner Dan Snyder wants full control over his team’s controversial name—even though many American Indians say he never should have owned it in the first place since it’s blatantly racist.
Snyder has for years defended his ownership of the team’s name against Native claims in court, and now he’s taking the offensive against the Washington Post, which has long incorporated the team’s name within a football blog title on its website, as have other media outlets that cover the team.
Paul Farhi, a media reporter for the Washington Post, revealed in a March 14 article that officials representing Dan Snyder’s Washington Redskins recently asked the newspaper to change the name of its “Redskins Insider” blog, claiming that because the team owns the branding rights to the team’s name, the newspaper doesn’t have the right to use it. “We have to protect our name and our brand,” Tony Wyllie, the spokesman for the team and for Snyder, told Farhi. “People associate value with the connection to the Redskins name. It’s our job to make sure that it’s used properly.”
Native Americans, meanwhile, want the name removed altogether not only from a blog, but also from the team itself, and the rationale that it’s a name of “value” is widely disparaged in Indian country. For now at least, they will have to settle for the smaller victory. Farhi explained that Washington Post leaders decided to heed Snyder’s request, recently changing the blog’s title to, “Football Insider.” He reported that courts have tended to give professional organizations such as the Redskins “deference when the news media’s free-speech rights come into conflict with the teams’ contracts and copyrights.”
Snyder’s desire to hold a tight grip on the name mirror his efforts against Indians who have been arguing in court for decades that the trademark of the name should be revoked. The overarching argument is that because the name is racist (it is believed to be derived from the historical scalping of Indians), its trademark should be revoked.
Some Washington Post columnists have strongly sided with Indians in their plight, which has left some wondering if Snyder’s action against the newspaper’s blog title might be related—a retaliation of sorts. City columnist Courtland Milloy fired the latest bold words against Snyder’s defense of the name in early February after Snyder filed a lawsuit against the Washington City Paper claiming in part that the publication had treated him in an anti-Semitic manner by publishing a picture doctored to look like he had horns and a beard. The newspaper’s staffers have noted that religion wasn’t mentioned in the article, and wrote in a blog post that “many staffers” who edited the story were Jewish. They’ve said the aim was to portray Snyder as a devil and nothing more. The editor and publisher of the publication have also said they have been more than willing to run corrections or a response, but Snyder offered a lawsuit instead.
“Time out,” Milloy wrote on the matter. “I know history matters. But we’re talking about devil doodle, Dan, like the scribbling on newspapers made by people biding time in a toilet stall. Forget about it. Now, start loosening up your throwing arm. On the next play, hurl that offensive ‘Redskins’ name out of bounds the way a quarterback would to keep from being sacked. Bench the faux Indian mascot, while you’re at it. That's how you attack the use of disparaging images. Don’t complain about your ox being gored when there’s money to be made, then keep silent about wrongs done to others if money might be lost. Putting profit before principle—that’ll grow horns on anybody, Dan.”
Snyder weighed in on the issue later in February, telling another Washington Post columnist, sports writer Mike Wise, “The name [Redskins] is not meant to be offensive whatsoever. To compare that [to the illustration] is silly.” Wise has said he disagrees with the name in the past.
Snyder’s defense got Milloy riled, retorting, “Dan, every major Native American organization in the country supports the lawsuits that have been filed against your team seeking revocation of that racist trademark. Thousands of public schools and colleges throughout the country have stopped using Native American images as sports mascots.” Plus, the Native American Journalists Association has found that dozens of newspapers nationwide have long stopped using the name in reference to Washington's football team, because they agree it is wrong.
Milloy next quoted Ken Stern, director of anti-Semitism and extremism for the American Jewish Committee: “Say, instead of Washington Redskins, we had a football team called the New York Jews that had a logo with an image of an Orthodox Jew and used paraphernalia that trivialized Jewish religious symbols. I’m sure many would find that totally unacceptable.”
And then, the kicker: Milloy shared that Suzan Shown Harjo, the Muscogee and Cheyenne activist who has led the battle against the team name all these years recently told him that she had thought Snyder would have been much less ignorant. “We were happy when Snyder became the team owner in part because he was young and Jewish,” Harjo told Milloy. “We thought he would get the connection between the historic oppression of Jews and Native Americans and understand the role that stereotypes and caricatures played in it. We were stunned to learn that he had zero understanding.”
Just a few weeks after Milloy’s column appeared, the Washington Post was forced to change its blog’s name. Many Natives are happy to see it gone, but the reasons behind the change seem to indicate that they will continue to face quite the nemesis in Snyder.