Federal Judge Refuses To Mention Washington Redskins By Name

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 30, 2014

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The ongoing debate surrounding the Washington Redskins escalated earlier this month when a federal judge in Maryland refused to refer to the team by name in a 21-page ruling stemming from a lawsuit related to former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ alleged bounty program. Judge Peter Messitte had previously banned lawyers in the case from using the team’s name in his courtroom.

“The Washington Team”

footballThe controversy over the Redskins’ team name has reached a fever pitch in recent months, with everyone from Attorney General Eric Holder to Hillary Clinton to the editorial board of the Washington Post weighing in, with much of the mainstream media in favor of changing the 81-year-old name. However, an Associated Press – GfK poll conducted in April of this year showed that nearly four out of five Native Americans weren’t in favor of a name change, and 79 percent of those polled favored keeping the name.

Judge Messitte included a footnote on the first page of the ruling stating “Pro Football’s team is popularly known as the Washington ‘Redskins,’ but the Court will refrain from using the team name unless reference is made to a direct quote where the name appears.” The preferred nomenclature throughout the balance of the ruling was “the Washington team.” Messitte, a D.C. native, refused to comment on the footnote telling the Washington Post it “is what it is.”

Varying Viewpoints on Redskins Name

The Redskins are one of two teams in the National Football League with a Native American mascot, along with the Kansas City Chiefs. In Major League Baseball, the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians both utilize Native American imagery, as do the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks. While not escaping controversy, these other teams haven’t felt a fraction of the media and perceived public pressure the Washington Redskins have faced over the last several months. On the other side of the coin, several major universities including Stanford, the University of North Dakota and Marquette University discarded their Native American nicknames in favor of less controversial monikers.

Native American groups have decried the Redskins’ nickname as a racial slur that evokes years of hate and violence. Those opposing the name believe it marginalizes Native Americans and reinforces stereotypes that have haunted North American’s indigenous peoples. And yet so many fans—in Washington and throughout the rest of the country—view the name as a respectful nod to Native Americans, absent any malicious intent or negative connotation.

Redskins Will Start Season Off With Identity Intact

As NFL teams start training camp this week, the clamor for change and owner Daniel Snyder’s continued refusal to even entertain a dialogue on the issue will loom large in the headlines. While it is almost assured that the Redskins will start the season with their identity intact, it will be interesting to see if the mainstream sports media—so dependent upon NFL revenues—will follow Judge Messitte’s lead and refrain from using the 81-year-old name.

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