Seeing both sides of the Redskins coin

When I saw the news about the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s decision to cancel the Washington Redskins’ patent, I thought it was ridiculous.

It turns out I am not alone.

A quick Google search of the terms “Washington Redskins patent” turned up results like, “The patent office goes out of bounds in Redskins trademark case,” from The Washington Post and another similar headline from the Indianapolis Star.

I did see an article quoting a statement from a New Mexico senator in favor of the ruling, but I still couldn’t see what all of the fuss was about.

Though I don’t purposely try to offend or condone putting anyone down, I am of the mind the government should probably stay far away from sports and worry about the mountain of more important things going on in this day and time.

Apparently the patent office ruled the name “disparaging to Native Americans,” according to the Post article.

I decided to ask Richard Saunders, a local resident who said he is affiliated with the Apache tribe, if he knew of the controversy surrounding the Redskins’ name.

Not surprisingly, he did.

“I’ve been watching it for a while now, well actually for several years,” Saunders said. “I understand, but I think we’re getting a little bit too far in political correctness.”

This was exactly the sentiment I shared.

I have read stories on the Internet chronicling the controversy before, including the story of Red Mesa High School in Red Mesa, Arizona. Its website states it is a public school located on a Navajo reservation, and its student body is almost 100 percent Navajo.

Its mascot? The Redskins.

I asked Saunders whether he thought “Redskins” is racist.

“The way it is portrayed it is, because of the artwork that goes with it,” he said. “In a way it is. In a way, sometimes, we get a little bit overzealous in our political correctness. I can see both sides of the coin. I’m not really for or against. I just wish if they have a problem let’s go ahead and correct it.”

I see both sides of the coin in some instances as well.

I can honestly see how someone could deem some teams’ logos offensive. I just thought the Cleveland Indians’ “Chief Wahoo” logo — which, to me, resembles a red clown in headdress —  looked like it could be more offensive than the Native American profile on Washington’s helmets. Cleveland did, as it turns out, lessen the artwork’s use.

Saunders said he looks at a different thing entirely.

The logo includes feathers as a part of the profile, and Saunders believes fans sometimes don’t understand the significance of donning them and other Native American garments.

“When we get up our regalia and we go out to a dance or gatherings and (things) like that, it’s a ceremony. It’s not a spectator sport,” he said. “When you look at the game and you see all of these people dressed up like the mascot, but at the same time they have no idea what the different colors, feathers and all of that mean to a Native American. That part is demeaning.”

The Redskins have been so named since 1937.

“I think the original intent…back then, I could see where they were probably trying to pay homage,” Saunders said. “Over the years it’s gone the other direction. To me it gets frustrating because people want to stay in the past rather than go into the future or stay in the present. If it were my name I would be upset, but that’s only because it would be poking at me. Redskins can mean, probably, different things to different people in the world.”

One article I read from the team’s website quoted an American Inuit chief saying redskin is a “term of endearment” and his tribe is “quite honored” by the team’s name, but Saunders said in other parts of the country it is equivalent to the racial slurs used against other people groups.

“It all depends on how they’re using it. I saw something the the other day referring to the snack called Cracker Jack (being) demeaning to white people. Where does that come from?” he said with a laugh. “It’s kind of like we go way too far one way, then we come back to the middle line and everybody’s nice and happy with each other, then we go too far the other direction and everybody gets grouchy with everybody. That’s why I say the political correctness of terminology is going way too far. There for a few years there was no problem. Now, all of the sudden, that’s all we see.”

When he travels to take part in powwows Saunders said he has had harsh words aimed in his direction, but he’s figured out his way to take the high road.

“I’ve been called names, and I just ignore it because that’s coming out of ignorance, to me,” he said. They don’t understand the terminology because one, either they were brought up that way or two, they just don’t know what they’re saying because somebody else said it.”

I asked Saunders how we could curb the ignorance. His answer was simply education.

“We need to educate the public on being a little more sensitive,” Saunders said. “It’s kind of like bullying, I guess, because you’re poking at a person or a race to a point where you’re trying to cower them down.”

Saunders sees both sides of the coin in the Washington Redskins saga, but when it comes to the team name he doesn’t believe there will be a happy medium.

“Today they’re going to have to change (the name),” he said. “With the way everything is today, everybody’s just too touchy about racial things.”

Washington appealed the patent office’s decision, and a decision on the name could take years to make.

In the meantime, Saunders has a piece of sound advice for those on both sides of the controversy.

“Why can’t we just get along?,” he said. “That’s what I want to do.”

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