The question is not whether the football team will change its name, but when and how

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has canceled the Washington Redskins’ trademark. Federal trademark law does not permit registration of trademarks that "may disparage" individuals or groups. Here's a look at the Redskins' logo and team imagery throughout the years. (Tom LeGro and Natalie Jennings/The Washington Post)
Mike Wise
Columnist June 19

I keep being asked about the “tipping point.” As in, “Is this the fork-in-the-road moment, the tipping point that makes the NFL and Dan Snyder realize they have to change the name?”

The term first came up months ago, and lately it has been coming up more frequently.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

First, after a powerful video made by the National Congress of American Indians against the name of the Washington football team was seen by an estimated 15 million last week at halftime of the NBA Finals.

Then again on Wednesday when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled six registered trademarks of the team, including the R-word, which two of the three judges painstakingly detailed was disparaging toward a “substantial” group of Native Americans.

Beyond a very symbolic legal victory for this country’s most underrepresented and marginalized ethnic minority — no small win considering its rights have been trampled in the courts and the halls of Congress for centuries — it’s important because it could eventually hit Snyder in the wallet.

The California-based Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation plans to air this ad urging the Washington Redskins to change the team's name during the NBA Finals on Tuesday night. (Video courtesy of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation)

After legal appeals are exhausted, this effectively could enable you, me and Robert Griffin III to go into business together on a super store across from FedEx Field, where we would undercut exorbitant NFL prices and make a mint. Worse for the team, patent lawyers say, if sponsors aren’t scared off by the mounting glut of negative publicity against the name, they can get shafted by banks, grocery stores and auto dealerships that aren’t official sponsors of the team yet will be legally allowed to put posters and banners in their windows.

This could take as little as two years and as long as a decade. But sure as training camp starts in July, if Snyder wants to play this out to its ugly end, his bullheaded defiance in the face of growing, sustained opposition eventually is going to cost himself and everyone in the NFL who shares in merchandising profits — including players — millions.

Social pressure has begat economic pressure. Yikes.

“Is this the tipping point?” I was asked again and again Wednesday — by ESPN; CNN; Vinny Cerrato, of all people, on his Baltimore radio show; and my friend, who is a lifelong fan of the team and the name, over breakfast.

No, I keep saying. There is no tipping point for people who can’t be shamed.

But there is a steady drumbeat — not the wrongheaded tomahawk-chopping, caricature drumbeat that builds to a crescendo at Florida State and Atlanta Braves games. But the kind heard during a sun dance at Pine Ridge or the Crow Agency in Montana, the drumbeat mimicking the thump-thump-thump of a heart.

And it’s annoying everyone associated with this franchise. Some are angry that their allegiance to an NFL team’s name equates to them being racially insensitive and uncompassionate to the offended. But still more, I’m sensing recently, are just plain worn down.

“Honestly, I think they should change it for their fans so our memories of future success aren’t ruined,” my change-of-heart friend said over breakfast Wednesday when the news of the federal agency’s decision came over his phone.

“Can you imagine if we happen to end up at that Super Bowl they just awarded to Minnesota and the players, coaches and fan base have to deal with being told they’re racists by thousands of Native Americans ringing the stadium? You know how awkward a parade down Constitution Avenue would feel if you’ve got people on the side yelling at you with signs, protesting your team after we win? I don’t want that. Nobody wants that.”

There is a palpable fatigue over this issue now. Players are tired of being asked about it. Fans are tired of talking about it. Trust me, even the people against the name, some of whom have spent millions to get their point across, would like to move on toward a future in which fewer of their waking hours are devoted to abolishing a dictionary-defined racial slur.

Really, only two questions are pertinent any more:

How long before Roger Goodell realizes he needs an exit strategy that doesn’t include Dan Snyder: two years, five years? And what will that look like?

If you’re trying to delay the inevitable, going through arcane legal strategies is a good process — any decent lawyer will tell you that. In this case, however, as this drags on, the opposition will grow more emboldened and supporters more fatigued.

Apropos, no, that this is the inverse of a strategy that worked to perfection for the team’s past three owners? They kept waiting and waiting offended Native Americans out until it receded into the background enough that it became Jack Kent Cooke’s or Snyder’s problem.

There is no value to the NFL in holding out this time. We live in a time of elevated social consciousness, a time when mutual respect is not just a catchphrase like “tipping point.”

There is no turning back. The longer this drags on, the more drained fans are going to be trying to defend an owner’s callousness.

This fight cannot be won by the owner or the fans or the NFL or even Bruce Allen’s childhood memories, however genuine they are. Even if you can win on legal grounds, you are doomed on moral grounds.

If the NFL commissioner or the owner really, truly believed in the power of unity in this team and its historical ability to bring a fractured community together, then the only option they’re left with is changing the name.

Putting off the inevitable, waiting for a court or a legislative body or your business partners to make the decision for you, is akin to being a stubborn old coot and refusing to integrate your team simply because people are telling you to integrate your team. And who wants to be George Preston Marshall in 2014?

For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

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