BUFFALO, N.Y. – Some years back, shortly after starting at
the University at Buffalo, School of Social Work Professor Hilary
N. Weaver attended a regional conference in Western New York to
address substance abuse in the Native American community, and the
hotel where the conference was held also hosted a certain NFL
visiting football team.
“Welcome Redskins,” read a huge banner in the hotel
Years later – three years ago, actually – Weaver
took her two children, who she has raised with a strong sense of
Native American identity, to a Family Fun Day at Coca Cola Field.
There were bounce houses, a climbing wall, appearances by
Sabretooth and other children’s activities. Her family had a
great time until after the game started: The Bisons were playing
Fans surrounding her family kept making anti-Indian comments
until her 9-year-old son spoke out loud declaring – as much
to himself as anyone – that “Indians” were
“We were booed and had to suffer through their on-going
profanity because of my son's simple statement and the pride that I
encouraged him to have in his heritage,” said Weaver,
professor and associate dean for academic affairs.
The hotel lobby sign left Weaver so embarrassed that she wanted
to shrink under a conference table. The insults and blatant
discrimination tainting what should have been a carefree afternoon
at the ballpark afternoon left a deep hurt inside.
Both incidents are clear reasons why the recent U.S. Patent
Office decision to cancel the Washington Redskins trademarks
addresses inequities that go far beyond what too many people still
see as harmless sports mascots, she says.
Weaver teaches and writes how stereotyping perpetuated by
mascots and teams with “Indian” nicknames is an
underlying factor in many social and health disparities between
Native Americans and other segments of American society.
“The trademark decision is a step in the right direction
and reflects slow momentum of recognition that team names and
mascots based on Native Americans are considered offensive and
degrading to many Native Americans, as well as others,” says
Weaver, whose research work centers on issues of Native Americans
and other indigenous populations.
Weaver praised other schools and universities for dropping their
native mascots. “Some have done this quite
reluctantly,” she said.
The trademark decision does come with significant limitations,
according to Weaver.
“It does not reflect anyone with the team recognizing a
problem with the name,” she says. “Quite the contrary,
the people associated with the team plan to appeal the ruling and
expect to win as they have before.”
A three-judge panel at the Patent & Trademark Office ruled
2-1 that the name wasn't worthy of federal trademark protection.
Legal analysts think this decision could escalate the campaign
against a brand that the NFL and team owner Daniel M. Snyder have
The judges said the nickname is an insult to Native Americans,
threatening millions of dollars the team and the National Football
League make from merchandise and sponsorships.
The decision does reflect a larger societal context in which
names that are considered disparaging are increasingly
unacceptable, Weaver says.
“This, however, is a very slow process,” Weaver
says, “and disparaging names like Redskins have remained long
after names and characters disparaging to other groups have largely
fallen by the wayside.”
To request an interview with Weaver, contact Charles Anzalone in
the UB Office of Communications at 716-645-4600 or at email@example.com or write
directly to Weaver at firstname.lastname@example.org.