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Redskins Bill Might Affect Debate on Other Sports Teams' Monikers

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Faleomavaega has put forth a bill that would ban current and future trademarks that use the term “redskins” to refer to American Indians, stripping the trademark protection from the word. As a result, it could cost the Washington Redskins considerable sums of money related to its marketing. Proponents hope the loss would lead to a name change for the team.

“It’s the right thing to do, it’s the moral thing to do, and they need to do it,” Fudge said of changing the team names. “But I don’t believe you can legislate to a privately owned enterprise what their name should be.”

In a signal that not all Democrats might feel strongly enough to rally around legislation, Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr., D-Ga., said he wasn’t too worried about the message the Atlanta Braves’ name sends.

He also said he wasn’t convinced the term “braves” was truly pejorative. Though the team eschewed its Chief Noc-A-Homa mascot years ago, it still boasts a tomahawk image on much of its official merchandise.

Bill supporters and sponsors say “redskins” represents the worst of the host of derogatory epithets for American Indians.

“They are all offensive, but perhaps we start with the most egregious example first,” said Robert Holden, deputy director of the National Congress of American Indians, adding that legislation dealing with only one team’s trademark will “hopefully help owners, fans and even team members understand better what’s going on here.”

The bill has been introduced at a time when momentum is beginning to build around the campaign to compel the Redskins to shed the moniker: A panel on the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board is currently mulling over arguments that “redskin” should be considered a slur and therefore not qualified to receive trademark protection.

Faleomavaega’s legislation also follows a history over the past half-decade of gains at the state level to combat the names and logos of sports teams using American Indian imagery.

In 2012, the Washington state Board of Education banned schools from using Native American-themed mascots, nicknames and logos.

Two years earlier, Wisconsin passed legislation that allows residents to lodge formal complaints against schools in their districts with sports teams that have a “race-based nickname, logo, mascot, or team name.”

In 2005, the NCAA adopted an official policy that would prohibit teams under its organizational umbrella from “displaying hostile and abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery” at official championship games.

On Capitol Hill, though, there is less of a precedent for legislative efforts to combat racially derived sports team names, which Holden said should be considered a civil rights issue worthy of congressional attention and action.

In 1993, as the Redskins prepared to move out of RFK Stadium into more modern accommodations, Faleomavaega and Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (then a Democrat, later a Republican) introduced companion bills that would have compelled the team to change its name in order to build a new home in the District of Columbia.

Any football stadium built in D.C., the bills stipulated, would be prohibited from using “any person or organization exploiting any racial or ethnic group or using nomenclature that includes a reference to real or alleged physical characters of Native Americans or other groups of human beings.”

Ultimately, the Redskins moved to FedEx Field in Landover, Md., but it likely didn’t have anything to do with the bills, which never received consideration in their respective chambers.

Faleomavaega wasn’t available to comment for this story, but Norton, Holden and others suggested that trying to forecast a legislative victory for the bill was somewhat beside the point.

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