The week after a federal trademark board ruled the Washington Redskins nickname is “disparaging of Native Americans” and that the team's trademark protections should be canceled, three Northern Virginia state lawmakers today launched the Redskins Pride Caucus in Virginia's General Assembly.
Republican state Dels. David Ramadan and Jackson Miller, of Loudoun and Manassas, respectively, and Democratic state Sen. Chap Petersen, of Fairfax City, said in their announcement the Redskins Pride Caucus is founded on four principles: “providing a voice for Redskins fans and season tickets holders;” supporting the Redskins franchise, a Virginia-based business headquartered in the Loudoun community of Ashburn; “opposing the inappropriate involvement of Congress in issues surrounding” the Redskins; and “supporting commercial freedom” in Virginia and “the rights of businesses to their own brands and intellectual property.”
The decades-long debate on whether the term “Redskin” is a derogatory slur and the team should change its name has intensified over the past year, with members of Congress, including Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, labeling the term racist, offensive and urging the team's management to choose another mascot.
President Barack Obama even weighed in last year, telling the Associated Press, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”
The National Congress of American Indians, the oldest and largest American Indian and Alaska Native organization, calls “the ‘Redskins’ trademark disparaging to Native Americans” and claims it “perpetuates a centuries-old stereotype of Native Americans as ‘blood-thirsty savages,’ ‘noble warriors’ and an ethnic group ‘frozen in history.’”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary also notes the word is an “usually offensive” term for “American Indians.”
Del. Ramadan said to him the term represents a “great football team” and is “not disparaging to Native Americans.” An immigrant himself, Ramadan said he's sensitive to concerns of minorities and race.
"There are some tribes that don't consider it offensive. Some say it represents a great history,” Ramadan said. The local lawmaker added that he became a fan of the Washington football team in 1987, before coming to America.
When asked what the difference is between his weighing in on the team's name and the comments from Sen. Reid that he scorned, in terms of free speech, Ramadan said: “The difference is this a Virginia franchise, and we are Virginians. We are season-ticket holders. We are creating a voice that are going to defend our team and a Virginia business.”
Last week's trademark ruling was the second time the patent board issued an opinion on the case. A similar ruling from 1999 was overturned in 2003. If the recent ruling stands – the football team's management has said it will appeal – the loss of trademark protection could, by some estimates, cost the football franchise millions of dollars a year in revenue.