So here’s your warning – today I’m writing on a controversial topic – the Washington Redskins. I’m not going to comment on whether I think the name is offensive or not – it doesn’t matter if I think it is offensive – there are people who do feel that it is and there are people who do not and anything I say here won’t change one person’s mind and that’s not my intent anyway.
Instead, today I want to comment on the US Patent Office’s decision to cancel the trademarks belonging to the Washington Redskins. I find this decision to be a bit of scapegoating.
Let’s start with the definition of scapegoat. I found two good ones that sum it up pretty well. 1. A person or group made to bear the blame for others or to suffer in their place. 2. Chiefly Biblical. a goat let loose in the wilderness on Yom Kippur after the high priest symbolically laid the sins of the people on its head. Lev. 16:8,10,26. Both of these definitions comes from dictionary.com.
This decision seems similar to the NBA decision to outlaw the Clippers owner Silver over what was deemed racist comments. Now I have no idea if the comments were racist – I didn’t hear or see the comments. I did see and hear the response though. Regardless of whether Silver was guilty of racism or not, the response was to scapegoat the man – heap the sins of culture, namely racism, on one man and drive him out of the community. The result of doing this is to make the people “clean” of their sins. The problem with this is that the sins “come back.” It has to be done again and again and again. Why, because people can’t clean themselves – people are imperfect and fallen. We have a broken relationship with God, with others, with the rest of creation and with ourselves. As we Lutherans say – we are incapable of fixing this. We rely on God’s grace. It’s all God’s action, none of ours. God is the only one who can cleanse us.
The US Patent Office’s decision smacks of scapegoating also. The office decided to heap the sins of the culture onto a football team/owner. All that is left is to drive out the scapegoat. Then we can all feel better about ourselves and tell ourselves that we aren’t racists because we find the name of a professional football team offensive and we got rid of it.
There are several problems with this. Actually, they are questions I have. First, by repealing the trademark protection, doesn’t that allow anyone to use the trademark? Doesn’t that mean more people will be able to use the trademark? Isn’t that exactly opposite what the intention is?
Will the Redskins trademark become a symbol for something much like the confederate flag has become for some people? I don’t know. I hope not.
And let’s just pretend that enough pressure is put on Dan Snyder to make him change his mind and change the logo and name of the football team. I’m sure there will be lots of cheering and lots of moaning as well. People will be overjoyed and pissed off. We’ll see a range of emotions and reactions. My question is this – in what way will life improve for Native Americans as a result of changing the name and logo of a professional sports team? Will any Native American’s life be better as a result? Or will the discussion just end with the thought that “we did something” by those who find the name offensive. Will there be a belief that our culture is now cured of any remaining racism because a team name was changed? Will anybody care two weeks later when the news is onto another story like who’s ahead for the 2016 presidential race or some other nonsense?
I don’t have the answers to these questions and I don’t know that the answers necessarily matter that much. I do know this much – scapegoating doesn’t work, it’s been tried for centuries and longer and it fails every time. Yet we try it again and again – that’s the definition of insanity. There is always the need for another scapegoat, again and again. The only question will be who will be scapegoated next?