What exactly is in a name?
One of the qualities I’ve always found the most endearing about children is the perspective they have on the world. Where the rest of the us after a certain age begin observing the world through the lens of which ever worldview we identify with–be it liberal, or capitalist, or druid–and so maintain a predilection towards various outcomes, children on the whole haven’t yet looked at the world through such lenses.
We peer through ours, and see a world that either comports nicely with our preferences, or one that doesn’t, and react in kind. Children, having no such bias either way, see things exactly the way they are. The world is the way it is, nothing more or less. It may yet be the purest form of freedom there is.
Which is why it would be an illuminating experiment given today’s news to make inquiry of a kid with any exposure to pro sports what the first word is that comes to mind when he or she hears “Redskins”. If my hypothesis holds–that kids in general don’t perceive bias one way or another–then I would entirely expect the answer to be simply: “football”. And why not? Being unencumbered by ideology, the shortest distance between asking what they think of “Redskins” and a pithy answer of “football” is a straight line for a kid. Bless their little hearts.
Some of us adults, however, being the cerebral sophisticates that we are, are determined to derive deeper meaning out of an eight-letter word, and so don’t land immediately on “football”, least ways without meandering through the likes of “denigrating”, “racist” or “offensive” first. Our lines are quite undulated in the space between “Redskins” and “football”. So what exactly is in a name? Depends who you ask.
Ask one of the 45 senators who didn’t sign a letter to the NFL urging a name change for the nearly century-old Washington Redskins–incidentally, all Republicans–and they’d answer we have other issues to attend to than bandy about with the name of a pro football team with private ownership. Ask the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office, and you get a name that’s “denigrating to Native Americans”.
Which is why today, the USTPO surfaced out of the bowels of government’s expansive alphabet soup to lift six federal trademark registrations owned by Redskin’s owner Dan Snyder. The 2-1 decision comes on the heels of a year-long push by various groups, including the President and Democrat members of Congress, to change the name, though Snyder and the team maintain trademark rights pending appeal:
The team retains its federal trademark rights during appeal. And even if appeals courts affirm the board’s ruling, the team can attempt to enforce its trademarks under state statues and common law.
Which takes time and money. Considering the sclerotic nature of the US court system–a previous appeals decision involving the team took 4 years to drop–only means more allowance for an issue to percolate that took 82 years of the team’s existence to become urgent enough for the President to pause from$35K per plate fundraisers to comment on it.
Which ever way the appeals court decides–there is reason to believe they’ll rule the same as before–is but only one of the elements in this debate, and not even the most interesting one at that. Free speech is always under attack, and this is merely another battle in the long slog of that war.
Of deeper concern is that there were only ever two ways for the speech commissars seeking to change the Redskin’s name to effect their desired outcome: through the marketplace, or by bureaucratic fiat. For better or worse, its down to the voter, or in this case the interested parties, to decide the brand of governance they wish to proceed under. And in an era when greater tracts of American life are subject to bureaucratic intrusion, more people are content to eschew the influence of a self-governing marketplace in favor of government intervention as the preferred antidote to real or perceived societal ills.
The American economy is defined by a dynamic marketplace, one in which participants, like pro football teams, are constantly exposed to both positive and negative perturbations as a result of consumer interaction, and respond in kind. Such a market is the hallmark of any citizenry who ostensibly prides itself in the principle of self-governance, as it allows two private entities to flesh out disputes among themselves, and involves government not at all.
As it relates to the Redskins kerfuffle, a healthy society seeking change would appeal to the machinations of the free market, and so hit Snyder where it counts: his wallet. If enough people were “offended” by the sort of “denigration” of Native Americans that such a name supposedly engenders, they would cease patronizing the Redskins brand. Team stores would never push a single jersey, hat, flag or tea cozy ever again. Then the message would be loud and clear: your customer isn’t pleased any longer. Act now.
But this hasn’t been the case, and the Redskin’s financials bear that out. Between 2004 and 2013, Redskins team revenue has gone up every year but one, increasing 56% over that period. Team valuation (ranked third in the NFL) has similarly increased as well under present ownership. They still maintain major corporate sponsors and have signed big name college draftees. If a significant portion of the fan base–who, as the consumer, are all that matter as far as anyone should be concerned–is disillusioned by the team name, they aren’t exactly demonstrating it.
Which leaves that cudgel shaped just like the federal bureaucracy. If the team won’t act–and why would they, if market forces aren’t compelling them to–then government will fix their wagon for them. Which is what gives Harry “half-way-to-a-lithium-prescription” Reid the temerity to state that:
“Daniel Snyder may be the last person in the world to realize this, but it’s just a matter of time until he is forced to do the right thing and change the name.
The writing is on the wall. It’s on the wall in neon, blinking lights. The name will change.”
The “right thing”? The right thing according to Snyder’s team valuations is to carry on, pausing only long enough to suggest Majority Leader Reid give himself a high colonic and take a ten mile hike. Though perhaps that wouldn’t be wise. Step out against our current Senate regime and you’ll soon find IRS-shaped boots on your throat. Later, they’ll even “lose” the emails implicating them, they’re so thorough.
Government has, insidiously, been described as that which “we all do together”. If a small but vocal populace arming themselves to the gills with federal influence or senatorial coercion is what they meant by that, let me off at the next station. I’ll go find a kid who just wants to talk football while the rest decide how best to make a team owner cry “uncle”.