One of the few simple joys I have in life, shared with Camille Paglia, is listening to sports radio. She describes it as one of the few arenas still safe for an old-fashioned sort of masculinity – I think of it more as a respite from reading and thinking about politics and policy, second only to leaning back in an easy chair with a good simple future-noir detective story about hunting Chinese Martians or a word that could end the world. There is a simple rhythm and cadence to good sports talk radio which allows for an undercurrent of wit and humor juxtaposed with statistical argumentation, hitting the high and the low.
Of course, in the ESPN age, the realm of sports is often invaded by politics. This is typically in the form of mild irritants, and the more sports-minded hosts will back away slowly from guests who suddenly feel the need to expound on their deeply held and often clumsily constructed theories about politics to troll their listeners. Some guests are serial offenders in this regard: Kevin Blackistone, for instance, has decried the playing of the national anthem at ballgames as jingoistic warmongering, and said the U.S. should boycott the Olympic Games over Israel’s actions toward the Gaza Flotilla. So you learn to avoid those segments and head over to the ones talking about whether the Vernon Davis holdout is justified and what roster moves need to be made if LeBron is going to stay in Miami.
So it is with great irritation that I have experienced the invasion of sports radio over the past few months by a voice I am more familiar with for its meandering conspiracy-theorizing over the rampant influences of the Brothers Koch: Harry Reid, whose funereal nagging about the name of the Washington Redskins has elevated this battle over political correctness from a low simmer to a hot summer topic. No one particularly cared about this fight when the Redskins were horrid (which has been pretty much every year since I was ten), but since they looked like they were getting good again a year ago, the fight is back in a big way, with all Democratic Senators (save Virginia’s Mark Warner and Tim Kaine) endorsing a name change.
Mostly, this is a sideline issue, as Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has reiterated that the team’s name will never change as long as he owns them, and as the franchise is one of the NFL’s most valuable and a gigantic money-printing machine, there seems to be no possibility of a financial incentive from advertisers or the NFL to make a change. What’s more, the poll data on Native Americans across the country shows overwhelming support for the name. There has never been a poll showing even a plurality of Native Americans in favor of a name change. Were it 90-10 in the other direction, I think the NFL would be more interested in the issue.
As a legal matter, this all changed yesterday with the ThinkProgress report that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board decision to cancel six federal trademark registrations of the franchise, under the reasoning that they were derogatory at the time of their registration in the 1960s. Now that the lawyers have explained what this means, it actually looks like the answer is: not a lot.
ESPN.com Sports Business reporter Darren Rovell wrote, “[w]ithout protection, any fan can produce and sell Washington Redskins gear without having to pay the league or the team for royalties and wouldn’t be in violation of any law for doing so.” That is simply not true. The decision by the TTAB does not require the Washington D.C.-based NFL team to change its name, stop using the “Redskins” marks and it does not mean that the organization loses all legal rights in the marks. There are benefits to having a federal registration attached to an owned trademark, including but not limited to a legal presumption of ownership of the mark and the ability to bring an infringement action in federal court seeking statutory damages. Importantly, a lack of a federal registration in place does not equate to anarchy where any individual can create merchandise bearing “Redskins” marks and sell same in commerce.
So there is no open-season on Redskins merchandizing – and even if there were, it would serve to undercut only a small portion of the team’s revenue. The Redskins intend to appeal, as they have done before, and successfully. For the time being at least, the issue is no closer to a name change.
That being said, the trendlines of politics are such that I expect a name change to be inevitable in my lifetime because of where the team is located and the pressure exerted by our ruling elite. One of the big lessons of life in the Obama era is that it’s important to avoid the attention of the ruling class – lest you be audited, harassed, or generally become a hot topic of media conversation as a proxy for some other battle. There’s a reason this is happening to the Washington Redskins and not the Cleveland Indians or the Chicago Blackhawks or the Florida State Seminoles. If you live within the consciousness of a critical mass of people in power for whom all life is politicized, you will be made to bend to their will, by whatever means necessary. The last thing in the world you ought to want is for President Obama to be asked his opinion about your enterprise, and then have those around him work to make that opinion a reality.
That’s why it’s important to learn how not to be seen. We are a country now where perceptive people develop skills to go unnoticed by the imperial center. Survival now means avoiding having DC and its cohorts notice you at all costs. In this town, they understand that freedom of speech sounds like a good idea, after all, right up until the point where someone’s feelings are hurt. So in retrospect, if the Redskins wanted to remain the Redskins, they should have just left town. The Richmond Redskins would have done just fine. Either that or draft Michael Sam.
Honest opponents of the name would concede that it wasn’t a historical epithet; concede that the polling shows overwhelmingly Native Americans don’t think it’s an epithet today; concede that it’s not the same as the N-word and no one thinks it is lest everyone with an R shirt be a giant racist. They would concede they’re just opposed to it because it’s the 15 minute PC hate. What Bob Costas, Keith Olbermann, Mike Wise understand, as people who have personally experienced the hardships of abiding racism in their lives, is that the only way you can demonstrate you’re not a racist in the post-Obama era is to find new racists to attack. I don’t really mind it that much that these white liberal elitists want to demonstrate that they’re down with the struggle, but I really wish they didn’t have to ruin sports radio to do it.