For sports teams, there is life after dropping offensive mascots

06/19/2014 8:25 PM

06/21/2014 10:26 PM

Daniel M. Snyder, the beleaguered owner of Washington's National Football League franchise, had a setback this week when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office deemed the team's name trademark "disparaging" and therefore unworthy of protection.

Ever defensive, Snyder can be counted on to appeal and possibly hold up the decision for years in litigation. It's pointless. The name will change, and Snyder ought to take the slender opportunity he has left to change it with grace.

I express this view from the Great Plains of this nation, where the Kickapoo, the Osage, the Shawnee, the Sauk and Fox and many other tribes flourished, or sought refuge when chased by soldiers and settlers. Chiefs country. As in Kansas City Chiefs.

Years ago, our NFL franchise made the decision to stop offending the dignity of those native people, past, present and future. The Kansas City Chiefs chose to quit using cartoonish depictions of native people. The team's management dropped the pretense that it was "honoring" cultures it knew little about with hokey mascots, skits and "Indian" themed paraphernalia.

The changes in K.C. don't mean that all the Chiefs' fans have gotten the memo. Show up at the stadium on any game day and you'll see a few drunken fools with painted faces and ersatz Plains Indian war bonnets, whooping sounds they believe to be "native." But the Chiefs organization stopped encouraging them.

A horse no longer gallops around the stadium mounted by a guy dressed in Indian regalia. He's been replaced by a cheerleader, sans indigenous garb. A major advertiser quit promoting a chant that was accompanied by chopping "tomahawk" motion and war whoops. The band stopping playing the music behind the chant; the cheerleaders stopped participating. A department store quit selling the foam tomahawks for fans to brandish. Our new mascot, K.C. Wolf, is inoffensively hokey.

See? It can be done.

But it wasn't exactly done willingly. The Chiefs changed only reluctantly after protests by native people started convincing others. The organization apparently decided its business was football, not historical pantomime, and ditched the offending imagery. Then, as now, howls were heard bemoaning political correctness run amok.

Like the Chiefs, any number of college teams have changed their names, logos and slogans. None went bankrupt or lost loyal fans. Change didn't prompt winning or losing streaks. The teams simply adapted, admitting that times change.

Admittedly, the Kansas City team was never asked to make as drastic a change as Snyder is being asked to do, change the team's name. Chief, like Brave and Warrior, is far more generic than the offensive slur used byWashington's football team.

The Kansas City team name is actually from H. Roe Bartle, a former mayor who was instrumental in convincing Lamar Hunt to bring the team to Kansas Cityfrom Texas. Bartle was a strong promoter of the Boy Scouts and that organization's use of native symbolism -- which has also rightly been scrutinized and altered in recent years. Bartle's nickname was "Chief."

Washington's mascot was chosen in 1933 (when the team was based in Boston) supposedly to honor William "Lone Star" Dietz, a coach who claimed native lineage. That fact hardly sidesteps the history of the epithet. It is part of the language of white supremacy, a blunt expression of contempt for a racial other, recalling the time when bounties were given for scalps and the only good Indian was a dead Indian.

That's what makes Snyder's intransigence so repugnant. His property is not in jeopardy, but rather his prerogative to offend. And yet he treats those as the same thing. His glory and ego must stand atop the denigration of others. That's not sportsmanship; that's the behavior of a bully, an entitled man-child.

If Snyder can't see reason, it's time for his fellow NFL owners, and the fans and journalists who support his enterprise, to make it clear that racial epithets, and the sentiments behind them, have no place in professional sports.

To reach Mary Sanchez call 816-234-4752 or email msanchez@kcstar.com or Twitter@msanchezcolumn.

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