I am one who believes that Baseball is America's great game and pastime. Some believe that it is now Football. Football, according to many statistics is clearly the more popular. So, it is fitting to look at the Washington Redskins on this long 4th of July weekend as we celebrate the nation's birth. The Washington Redskins, after all, has called the nation's capital its home. The 4th of July is the day America celebrates its declaration of independence from the British Crown. That declaration contained some of the most dramatic and iconic words that history ever recorded. The Washington Redskins need to drop (or liberate) the term "redskin" from their team logo and their franchise name.
Recently, 10 members of the United States Congress, including its co-chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus, Republican Representative Tom Cole and Democrat Representative Betty McCollum, wrote the Washington Redskins' owner, the NFL Commission and the Chairman and CEO of FedEx (the team's home field is FedEx Field); "to urge" them "to change the name of your NFL franchise." The May 13, 2013 letter went on to explain how for many years Native American leaders and organizations have advocated "an end to the use of 'redskin' as your organization's 'brand' because it is derogatory, demeaning, and offensive." It further noted that Native Americans consider the term "redskin" to be a racial epithet on par with the "N" word as it relates to African-Americans and the "W" word as it relates to Latinos. The letter noted that the congressional signatories had introduced H.R. 1278, the "Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons or Peoples in Trademark Registrations Act of 2013." The bill, as stated in the letter, "would cancel federal registrations of trademarks using the word "redskin" in reference to Native Americans."
We all know that not much in the way of legislation will get through this current House of Representatives in this very partisan environment. Congress will begin to tackle the immigration reform bill recently passed by the U.S. Senate. It will be fascinating to watch how that develops. Nevertheless, if our goal as a nation is to continually find ways to make us a more united people, struggling to ensure equality and equal access to all benefits of being an American, then surely we should be fighting to ensure the passage of H.R. 1278. So many of us take up our Sundays throughout the fall and early winter watching with great passion the NFL football season. There is no moral or business justification to continue the disparagement of Native Americans rather than bring change that will bring further diversity and appreciation to the ranks of NFL fans. This is not just a "P.C." issue. We as a nation would never tolerate using the "N-word" or "W-word" as the brand name of some professional team. We should not continue to allow it to be used by the Washington franchise.
Many of us as we celebrate the nation's birthday think back to so many struggles that have come to define us as a nation. I often think back to Frederick Douglass's critique of the 4th of July celebrations as viewed by a former slave and abolitionist in 19th century America. It was Douglass who in July of 1852 asked "What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim." Douglass may not have been surprised by the fact that America would go on to elect an African-American president of the United States. He would be disappointed in the manner that this nation continues to treat its Native American population. Douglass is quoted as having said that "I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong." We should unite with those who seek passage of H.R. 1278 and force the NFL, if necessary, to bring dignity to the sport and all of its franchises. That is the right thing to do.
Michael A. Hardy, Esq. is General Counsel and Executive Vice-President to National Action Network (NAN). He has been involved in many of this nation's highest profiled cases involving violations of civil or human rights. He continues to supervise National Action Network's crisis unit and hosts a monthly free legal clinic at NAN New York City's House of Justice.