Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Red(skins) Herring

There are so many ways to spew rage about what Obama & Co. the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office did to the Washingston Redskins this week. Or to sing praises about it, if your view is different than mine. But I refuse to take what I believe to be bait; i.e., I refuse to slog chest-deep into a rhetorical swamp by quarreling about whether or not the word "redskin" is offensive.

Pretty much every word in the English language, with the exception of conjunctions like "and" and "but," is offensive to somebody, and I have no doubt that "redskin" has been used pejoratively by some people over the course of this nation's history. But it has not been used that way for generations, and it does not pass the laugh test to claim that the owner of a team/business would name it something his contemporary society found belittling or worthy of mocking. You always name your team something that will make fans puff out their chests with pride.

And I might add that many Native American high schools in this country use "Redskins" as the nickname for their sports teams.

I might also quote an AP article from last October, which said: "In the only recent poll to ask native people about the subject, 90 percent of respondents did not consider the term offensive..."

Or I might mention the fact that when the citizens of North Dakota voted in 2012 to make the University of North Dakota drop its long-time Fighting Sioux nickname, they did so against the wishes of the Spirit Lake Tribe, which had voted to keep the name two years before. (In case you're wondering, Spirit Lake Tribe is the name currently used by the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Bands. Most of the tribe members live on the Spirit Lake Reservation, which stretches southward from 90,000-acre Devil's Lake in the northern part of the state.)

And I might...wait a minute. Damn it! I did what I said I wouldn't. I took the bait. So let me get back to what I intended to talk about, which is this: The creatures who inhabit the executive branch of the United States government couldn't care less if people are offended by the nickname of a privately owned NFL franchise based in the nation's capital. Protecting people from hurt feelings is not their goal -- it is their excuse for doing something that might achieve another goal.

All they care about is controlling the people of this country (people they think of not as citizens, but as subjects) and the whole purpose of them unleashing their power on a high profile target is to show everyone that they call the shots and from now on we had better think about what they want us to do before we act upon what we want to do.

The fact that the nickname "Redskins" has been accused of being bigoted (though only when used by an NFL franchise) by some people (almost all of whom are white folks who've never traveled within whiffing distance of a reservation) provided cover by giving the feds an opportunity to portray themselves as the guardians of tolerance and brotherhood. So they took that opportunity and used it to smash their cudgel into the skull of America's most popular sports league, which makes me think of the words of Louis Brandeis: "Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent."

Make no mistake: The stripping of the Redskins' trademarks did not merely target the Redskins, it also targeted the NFL. After all, the NFL is a revenue-sharing league, and if the Redskins lose revenue because non-licensed merchants are able to sell merchandise without paying the Redskins for using their logo, then the NFL will lose money because it will not be able to get its cut. So the question becomes, will Roger Goodell step in and make Daniel Snyder cave to the wishes of the feds? Which makes me think of the words of Thomas Paine: "The rich are in general slaves to fear, and submit to courtly power with the trembling duplicity of a spaniel."

The problem for the rest of us is this: If the Redskins/NFL do not fight the government on principle because they don't want the PR hassle and don't want to fork out the legal fees, then a precedent will be set by which the government can dictate what you name your own business. And if they can do that to you, what can't they do to you?

Once a precedent is set, anyone who seeks to undo it faces an extremely arduous road and extremely long odds. Most people who have the resources to fight the precedent will probably decide it's not worth the time, stress, expense, etc. So our kids will be left with a future that is less free than that of their forebears.

Can someone please explain to me why so many  people are less upset about that possibility than they are about a private business continuing to use the same name it has used since FDR's first year in office?

Although I disagree with those who think the nickname of DC's football team should be changed, I do understand them. If the team's name was to be changed as a result of society precipitating that decision through open debate, through non-hectoring debate, through citizens pulling the levers of the free market to make their wishes clear -- I would be okay with it.

You might say that causing movement through such means is unworkable. I would respond by saying that causing movement through such means has a long record of success throughout not only America's history, but throughout the histories of other free nations.

In contrast, movement forced by central planners has a long history of failure, and of placing a chill on liberty and sometimes leaving civil disorder in its wake.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has tried this power play against the Redskins once before, in 1999, and it failed when their efforts got struck down in court. Let us hope that happens again. Even those who want the name to be changed shouldn't want this to be the means by which to achieve their end.

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