Editorial: Yocha Dehe uses clout to get NFL’s attention. Will league listen?

Published: Saturday, Jun. 21, 2014 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Sunday, Jun. 22, 2014 - 1:26 pm

The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation uses riches from its Cache Creek casino to invest in its future and help improve the lives of its members.

Now, Yocha Dehe is using its wealth in an effort to alleviate a portion of the pain inflicted on all American Indians. It’s paying to air an especially poignant ad for the Change the Mascot campaign calling on the National Football League and its Washington franchise to end the use of the derogatory name Redskins.

The ad, which aired during the National Basketball Association finals, shows images of Indians, and invokes their many names: Blackfoot, Sioux, Miwok, survivor, patriot, Sitting Bull, Jim Thorpe, among them.

“Native Americans call themselves many things,” the ad says. It concludes: “The one thing they don’t,” and pictures the Washington team’s helmet with its logo, and a football.

“The r-word is as derogatory a slur as n-word,” Yocha Dehe chairman Marshall McKay says on a video explaining the tribe’s decision to get involved. His voice breaks when he says the term was used by bounty hunters who would “bring the victims of violence into an office so they could collect a bounty.”

Much has changed since 1967, when the team trademarked its name. Sensibilities are different now. And enough Native Americans have sufficient money that people in power listen to them. They also can afford to purchase air time to raise issues for an entire population.

Whether by coincidence or not, the Change the Mascot campaign gained steam this week when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled trademark protection for the term, Washington Redskins, pointing out that it is derogatory.

The 81-page majority opinion by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board says “there is an overriding public interest in removing from the register marks that are disparaging to a segment of the population beyond the individual petitioners.”

The same board ruled in a 1992 case that the Washington team’s name violated trademark law, though federal courts overturned that decision. This week’s ruling was in keeping with past decisions denying trademarks to products that sought to use disparaging names for African Americans, Jews and Latinos.

Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington team, stubbornly refuses to change the name and intends to appeal the ruling. But the decision is not his alone. His team is a franchise of the NFL.

Since the days of the late Commissioner Pete Rozelle, a public-relations genius, the NFL has excelled at marketing. The league’s leadership must understand that its brand is damaged by the Washington franchise’s use of a name that offends part of its audience.

As of Friday, however, the NFL had not commented on the patent office’s decision. Its website focuses on marketing of the coming NFL season by touting team news and fantasy football.

In this instance, the NFL should follow the lead of the NBA, which forced Donald Sterling to sell the Clippers after he was taped denigrating African Americans. We don’t suggest that Snyder be forced to sell, merely that he stop offending people needlessly.

People who blithely use the name of the Washington football team don’t intend to insult Native Americans. But they do. Everyone ought to understand that now, thanks to Yocha Dehe’s largesse.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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