Delegate Eni Faleomavaega, who represents American Samoa in Congress, took the floor of the House of Representatives Tuesday to argue that the name of the Washington Redskins was an insensitive ethnic slur undeserving of the federal trademarks it receives. The Redskins, Faleomavaega said, have six protective trademarks even though a 1946 federal law prevents the government from registering names and images that are offensive or racist. A lawsuit from Native Americans is currently challenging those protections in federal trademark court.
Faleomavaega specifically challenged the logic of radio host Rush Limbaugh, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and others who defend the name as broadly popular among both Americans and Redskins fans.
“Mr. Speaker, I submit this is not a popularity contest,” he said. “It is not even about sports. This is a moral issue that reaches far back to the time when Native Americans are not only considered outcasts but deemed enemies by the colonial government. The only sporting was hunting and killing Indians like animals for money.”
Watch his full remarks:
The Native Americans challenging the Redskins trademark seem to have a strong case. The same court ruled that the name could not be trademarked in 1999, but the case was overturned on appeal because of a technicality that said the plaintiffs’ claims did not fit into the statute of limitations. The case now has new plaintiffs who should prevent that problem. Losing the trademark would not force the Redskins to change their name, but it would remove all protections from it, thereby limiting its financial value for the franchise by allowing anyone to profit from its use or merchandise that includes it.
Faleomavaega is one of 10 members of Congress who wrote Snyder and Goodell asking them to consider a name change earlier this year. Goodell responded in June, saying the name “stands for strength, courage, pride, and respect,” and offering a defense of its continued use that was largely ignored history and cited flawed public opinion polls purporting to show support among Native Americans. Others, including Limbaugh, have responded saying that the name of a football team is no place for the federal government to intervene. Faleomavaega also took issue with that argument.
“It was the work of a federal agency that ignored the law and its duty to shield our native peoples from degrading trademark registration,” Faleomavaega said. “Mr. Limbaugh asks, ‘Why does the federal government have to get involved?’ With all due respect, Mr. Speaker, the federal government is part of the problem.”