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As Congress sparred over budget blueprints and stopgap spending measures last week, 10 lawmakers introduced legislation that would address a very different issue — the name of the Washington Redskins football team. And the legislation has the potential to affect the debate on other pro sports teams across the country with names referencing American Indians.
Del. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, a Democrat representing American Samoa, has put forth the Non-Disparagement of American Indians in Trademarks Registrations Act of 2013. It would ban current and future trademarks that use the term “redskins” to refer to American Indians. Stripping the trademark protection from the word would cost the National Football League’s Redskins considerable sums of money related to its marketing and, the thinking goes, compel a name change.
“I’ve long loved the Redskins, but I can’t say the same for their name,” Democratic D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the bill’s original co-sponsor, told CQ Roll Call. “It disparages a group of Americans who happen to be only 2 percent of the population. It really gives the impression of doing perhaps what could not be done if a larger and more prominent group of Americans felt similarly disparaged.”
The Washington Redskins are not the only national sports team to evoke American Indian imagery that many people find offensive; supporters of existing team names say they aren’t meant to insult and, if anything, are meant to evoke the bravery and dignity of Native Americans.
Not every member thinks it’s something Congress should be involved in.
Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, whose state is home to the Cleveland Indians and their mascot, Chief Wahoo, was incredulous on learning that a bill had been introduced to ban the Redskins’ trademark — perhaps a harbinger of sentiments shared by other members of his party who control the House.
“I think we have, what is it? A $16 trillion debt? The unemployment rate, people out of work?” Tiberi said. “I’m not really worried about what the Washington Redskins’ name is or the Cleveland Indians’ name is, or any other sports team.”
Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, an Ohio Democrat whose district includes Cleveland, said she has always supported changing the name of her home team and endorses scrapping the Washington Redskins name. She said she doesn’t think the legislative route is an appropriate one, though.