John Kent Cooke was once deposed about the Redskins name, at incredible length


(Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

When Native American plaintiffs again sought cancellation of the Redskins trademark starting in 2012 — a process whose latest step was Wednesday’s at least momentary success – their lawyers cited the 1996 deposition of then-Redskins executive John Kent Cooke, the son of then-owner Jack Kent Cooke.

The deposition went on and on, over multiple days, with lots of objections and arguments and asides. But man, was it a wild thing to read. Because I found it interesting, here are some of the highlights. Don’t ask me how this is relevant to your life, or this week’s news, or the price of seltzer water in Bethesda. It’s just interesting.

[Note: The transcript contains references to numerous ethnic slurs; they are published in full here to provide the full context of the exchange.]

Q: Sir, what does the word Redskin mean to you?

Cooke: It means the Washington Redskins football club.

Q: Does the word Redskin mean anything else to you?

Cooke: No.

Q: Have you ever looked up the word Redskin in any dictionary?

Cooke: No.

Q: Has anyone ever told you any dictionary meanings of the word Redskin?

Cooke: No …

Q: Have you ever called an American Indian a Redskin?

Cooke: No.

Q: Is there a reason why you have never called an American Indian a Redskin?

Cooke: Yes.

Q: What is that reason?

Cooke: I don’t think I’ve ever talked to an Indian.

Q: You have never spoken with an American Indian in your life?

Cooke: Not that I can recall …

Q: Sir, do you consider the word nigger disparaging?

Cooke: It is to some people …

Q: To what people, sir, is the word nigger disparaging?

Cooke: I don’t know, I would suppose it would be to blacks, particularly, also to — if you’re describing blacks, it’s disparaging to them. If you take the other part of my definition of being insulting [made previously], it would be insulting also to me.

Q: Why is it insulting to you?

Cooke: Because I believe it is a disparaging epithet to describe black Americans …

Q: Have you ever heard the word wetback before?

Cooke: Yes.

Q: What is your understanding of what the word denotes?

Cooke: My understanding is that that would apply to people who come into the country illegally, principally from the Central American countries.

Q: Do you believe the word wetback is a disparaging word?

Cooke: I don’t know.

Q: Do you believe the word wetback is a scandalous word?

Cooke: I don’t know.

Q: Have you ever heard anyone else use the word wetback?

Cooke: Not that I can recall.

Q: Have you ever heard the word gook?

Cooke: I’ve heard the word, yes.

Q: What is your understanding of what the word denotes?

Cooke: I don’t know.

Q: Have you ever heard the word slant eye?

Cooke: No.

Q: Or slanty-eyed?

Cooke: No.

Q: Sir, have you ever heard the word Jap before?

Cooke: Yes.

Q: Have you, yourself, ever used the word Jap?

Cooke: Not that I can recall.

Q: Do you have an understanding of what the word Jap denotes?

Cooke: Someone from a Japanese descent.

Q: Do you consider the word Jap disparaging?

Cooke: I don’t know.

Q: Sir, have you ever heard the word kike?

[Etc.]

Q: Have you ever used the word Heb?

[Etc.]

Q: Sir, do you draw any distinction in your mind between the word Redskins in the plural and Redskin in the singular?

Cooke: Not really.

Q: Is it your view that the use of Redskins in the plural simply means more than one of Redskin in the singular? …

Cooke: I look upon that name, the Redskin or Redskins, as a football club. And we use it singular and plural, that’s with or without the ‘S,’ in our publications and our press releases, etc., just grammatically. It is solely pertaining to the Washington football club, as you call it.

Q: Sir, do you believe that it is appropriate for a Caucasian to refer to a member of another race by referring to that person’s skin color?

Cooke: I don’t think anybody should — if you’re going to talk to somebody, you talk to them by their name or you use sir or Ms. or madam. I don’t think that you address someone by their color, their size, their appearance, their dress.

Q: Why not?

Cooke: Because I think that that’s the proper way to address people.

Q: I understand that you believe that saying Ms. or sir is the proper way to address people. Why do you believe that it is not proper to refer to people by the color of their skin?…

Cooke: I think that it shows a lack of manners. I think that when I address someone, I do not say black or white or yellow or anything else.

Q: When you say it shows a lack of manners, what do you mean?

Cooke: I mean that we should be civil to one another, get along with one another and I think that shows manner.

Q: Do you believe that referring to someone to his or her face by his skin color might offend that person?

Cooke: I think it’s totally inappropriate, sir, in as much as a person is fat or ugly or anything else, blue eyes or brown eyes. It is just simply — should not be done.

Q: And is that because the person being addressed might feel hurt?

Cooke: It’s because it’s uncivil….

Q: Are there any types of language that you wish players or other team representatives to avoid?

Cooke: Yes.

Q: What types of language are those?

Cooke: We don’t want them to swear publicly. We don’t want them to be boastful, taunting to other players.

Q: Any other types of language that you do not wish them to use?

Cooke: Not that I can think of. We certainly like them to be well-spoken.

Q: Do you wish them to avoid using racial epithets?

Cooke: Yes.

Q: When you say that you wish them to avoid racial epithets, can you please give me examples of the types of language you have in mind?

Cooke: I don’t think it would be appropriate if they would call the other team players or themselves niggers, as you used the word earlier in this deposition, or any of the other words that you used in this deposition, or any other obscene words.

Q: Do you wish them to avoid calling native Americans on any other teams Redskins?

Cooke: I object to them calling the names that I gave you before. I don’t know if that — if that can be construed as a derogatory word. That’s up to the players …

Q: Sir, does the name Washington Redskins mean anything about native Americans?

Cooke: The Washington Redskins are named after or are associated with native Americans.

Q: Sir, do you believe that the Washington football team intends to honor native Americans?

Cooke: I believe that the Washington Redskins are to play football in the National Football League and represent the Nation’s Capitol. In so doing, they, because of their name, reflect the positive attributes of native Americans….

Q: Sir, if a dictionary states that the word Redskin is often offensive, do you have any reason to disagree with that?

Cooke: I have no knowledge on the subject of what dictionary knows about what Indians believe in and if, in fact, that all Indians believe what the Webster or Oxford dictionary or any other dictionary states. I have no knowledge to that effect.

Q: If a linguist testifies in this matter that the word Redskin is an offensive usage, do you have any reason to disagree with that?

Cooke: I’m not a linguist. … All I know is how I refer to native Americans and how I have referred to native Americans. I don’ t know what any linguist is going to do. I do not know what the Indians are going to do. All I know is what I have done….

Q: Do you yourself, view the word Redskin insofar as it refers to native Americans as an offensive usage?

Cooke: Do I view it as offensive, is that the question?

Q: Yes, sir.

Cooke: The word Redskin?

Q: As used to refer to native Americans.

Cooke: I don’t know.

Q: When you say ‘I don’t know,’ are you telling me, sir, that you hold no belief as to whether the word Redskin, when used to refer to native Americans, is offensive?

Cooke: I don’t know if it is offensive to native Americans. I just simply don’t know, sir.

Q: Now, sir, setting aside whether the word Redskin as used to refer to native Americans is offensive to one or more American Indians, is the word Redskin, as used to refer to native Americans, offensive to you personally?

Cooke: To me the word Redskin would be a member of a football club and the Redskins is the club itself, the football club. That’s the sole use of that word, as far as I’m concerned.

And so on and so on and so on and so on and so on. And so on.

It’s incredibly lengthy, with an incredible trove of information, virtually none of it relevant to the current debate. But what a read.

Dan Steinberg writes about all things DC sports at the DC Sports Bog.
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