What’s in a name? Part Two

A new Associated Press-GfK national survey finds that 79 percent of the public believe the Washington Redskins name should not be changed. Only 11 percent think it should be changed.

Some Redskins fans have criticized the Washington Post — which has championed a name-change — for delaying its posting of this result on its website, and then putting up a story that seems to bury the poll results. However, the print edition has a full, fair story on page 3 of the sports section.

In a free society, the opinion that matters should be that of the team owner, tempered to the extent he deems appropriate by the views of his customers. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has made it clear he doesn’t intend to change the name. That is his right, just as it is the right of those who don’t like it to refer to the team without mentioning “Redskins” (as a few media outlets do) or to boycott the product.

In our litigation-overrun society, there is another option — the lawsuit. Five Native Americans have petitioned that the Redskins’ team name shouldn’t have federal trademark protection. If successful, the suit might coerce Snyder into changing the team name to protect his revenue stream. Clark Griffith writes about the issue here.

Meanwhile, the activist who is bringing the trademark action, Susan Shown Harjo, says that public opinion is irrelevant. She states, “It’s not up to the offended class to say what offends the offended.”

That’s true in a sense, of course. But if carried to the extreme of allowing people to dictate what can be said about them, Harjo’s view is an assault on free speech.

Moreover, the evidence suggests that in this case, “the offended class” isn’t particularly offended by the Washington football team’s name. A 2004 Annenberg poll found that 90 percent of Indians weren’t offended by the name of the Washington Redskins. But, to borrow the favorite phrase of a former Redskins coach, maybe the activists will be able to “coach up” the Indians on the subject.

In the meantime, as I suggested in an earlier post, the assault on the Redskins’ name seems more like a power play by activists than a matter of genuine concern to almost anyone.


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