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In My Opinion

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It’s time for Washington NFL team to change its name

Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for more than 20 years and has been at the paper for more than 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.
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The U.S. Patent office has ruled the Redskins name as disparaging and pressure is growing for a change.

NFL owners are told to travel with at least one security guard. Dan Snyder, who owns the Washington Redskins, walked through the press box at Bank of America Stadium one season with a platoon of them.

One group of bodyguards walked on Snyder’s left and one group walked on Snyder’s right. They all wore the same outfit, dark suit and white shirt. They looked like bad guys from “The Matrix.”

Snyder might like attention and might even enjoy the negative publicity his team’s nickname attracts. Accustomed to winning (off the field), Snyder says he will not give up Redskins, and he has money to hire lawyers to help him retain the name.

But this one will be tough for him to win. If there were one large dominant Native American tribe, I suspect Snyder would have been forced to jettison Redskins a decade ago. The pressure seems to increase monthly. In May, 50 senators signed a letter asking Snyder to drop the name.

On Wednesday the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled that Redskins “is disparaging of Native Americans” and, by a 2-1 vote, said the team should forfeit its trademark protection.

At most, the split-decision ruling could mean that if somebody wanted to manufacture knockoff Redskins gear, the team and league could struggle to stop them.

To some, the Redskins are Darrell Green and John Riggins, Art Monk and Larry Brown, Sam Huff and Sonny Jurgensen. It’s just a nickname and perhaps an honor and no big deal.

But to others, Redskins is condescending and disparaging and woefully outdated. We treated Native Americans as if they were trespassing, and as a consolation prize we give them a nickname and attach it to a football team.

At my previous newspaper, I spent time on and around a reservation in Minnesota. The land that once belonged to the tribe had been condensed and annexed, sliced and diced, until little remained for the natives.

The contempt from the nearby town for the inhabitants of the reservation, and the contempt of the inhabitants of the reservation for the nearby town, was palpable. I didn’t ask if they were Redskins fans.

Ultimately, neither letter-writing senators nor the patent and trademark office will compel Snyder to let go. Redskins fans won’t, either. They are among the league’s most loyal.

It’s going to have to be the other 31 NFL owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Goodell did yeoman’s work when he convinced players to stop leading with their heads. Vilified by players conditioned to helmet-first tackles and fans that contend he was ruining the game, Goodell pushed through rules that are to the NFL what soft walls are to NASCAR.

If Goodell can change a tough, head-first culture, he ought to be able to convince Snyder to change his mind – provided he can get past the bodyguards.

Sorensen: 704-358-5129; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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