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Ben Smith

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Associated Press photos
The U.S. Patent Office ruled Wednesday that the Washington Redskins nickname is “disparaging of Native Americans.”

An easy decision: Change nickname

Actor Matthew McConaughey, right, stands with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder during a recent practice at Redskins Park.

This is not string theory, when you get down to the bare wood of it. It is no “Good Will Hunting” algorithm, nor some great sweeping concept that would require summoning Einstein from the grave to decipher.

To wit: The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has canceled the Washington Redskins’ trademarks on the basis that the name is “disparaging to Native Americans.”

Well, duh.

Listen, people, and for the last time: “Redskins” is a racial slur. Period. To argue otherwise is to argue the inevitability of the sun rising in the east, or to claim that the Dark Ages scholars had it right when they declared the Earth to be flat.

Team owner Daniel Snyder can talk until he’s blue in the face that it’s a term of “respect” (and you may cue the laugh track here). A handful of right-wing shouters can count the angels on the head of the pin by saying, well, not all Native Americans think of it as a slur. Various other deep-thinkers – some of them in Congress, regrettably – can howl about the tyranny of Big Brother imposing political correctness on upstanding American business owners.

Nonsense. We already conquered the Native Americans, tried to eradicate their culture and then, for decades, essentially left them to rot. But it’s tyranny because a government agency has said you really shouldn’t be calling them names on top of it?

Especially when it involves a franchise that, lest we forget, was founded by a virulent racist (George Preston Marshall) who refused to allow black players on his team until the 1960s?

Look, the Patent Office approves, rejects and cancels patents all the time. It’s the function of the office. And this particular ruling isn’t even new; it ruled much the same thing 15 years ago and had the ruling overturned on a technicality four years later. The same thing could well happen here, which is why attorneys for the Redskins weren’t all that exercised about it the other day.

The skinny is, there will be appeals, they’ll drag on forever, and in the meantime Daniel Snyder is free to continue “respecting” Native Americans. He’s not doing this because he’s a bigot. He’s doing it because he’s a businessman who sees a hell of a lot of lost merchandise revenue if the Redskins are forced to become something else.

And they will, eventually. Because eventually, common decency will win out here.

I know this because, a month or so ago, the Redskins launched a Twitter campaign aimed at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The idea was to get fans to inundate Reid’s Twitter account with tweets supporting the team’s nickname.

It did not work out quite as planned.

Instead of chiding Reid and Congress for hounding the Redskins, fans lined up to blast the Redskins instead. Even Reid’s office was flabbergasted, though it shouldn’t have been.

Because, really, this is all as simple as a Sunday school lesson: It’s not nice to call people names.


Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.