By the 1930’s, professional football was all the rage. Wanting to get in on the action, a businessman in Boston named George Marshall founded a new team called the Boston Braves, which he creatively named after a baseball team with the same name which shared the same stadium. The baseball Boston Braves were named in honor of Tammany Hall, a political organization that dominated New York City politics, which in turn was named after a Native American chief named Tamanend who had been pretty chill towards the white guys who founded Philadelphia. Confused yet? Good. Anyways, Marshall needed a logo for his team. Being a lazy bastard, he just copied the picture on the nickels of the time, which had a random Native American head on one side and a buffalo on the other. You can probably guess which side of the coin Marshall picked. Unfortunately for Marshall, nobody seemed to give a shit about his new football team. Convinced that sharing a name with a baseball team was just too confusing, because people often get baseball and football confused, he decided to change the name. The name he chose was the Redskins, mostly because he could save a bunch of money if he didn’t have to change the logo. The change in names did little to help the team, which was soon after moved to the nation’s capital where they became the Washington Redskins.
Now during this time things were not all that rosy for actual Native Americans. The tribes were all living on reservations and it was common practice to take native children from their parents to be educated at boarding schools where they would learn to be more white. So yeah, just a bit fucked up. However, mixing together children from a myriad of tribes did have the positive affect of giving a sense of Native Americans being a group rather than just a bunch of tribes. This eventually led to the creation of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in the 1940’s. The NCAI mostly concentrated on some pretty big issues unrelated to this story, but they also fought against the use of negative Native American caricatures. Such as calling your team the Redskins and promoting it via a myriad of terrible stereotypes. Unfortunately, nobody gave a shit, at least until the 1960’s when the Civil Rights movement made an increasingly large number of white people aware that maybe treating entire groups of people like shit wasn’t all that awesome.
The use of negative caricatures became a bit of a big deal, so much so that the Redskins decided that it might just be best to sidestep the issue. In 1965 they changed their logo to a spear, and then later a big letter R with some feathers on it. However, they didn’t change their name. This lasted until about 1971, when deciding they missed their old logo, the Redskins went to the NCAI and asked for permission to start using it again. Amazingly enough, rather than telling the Redskins to fuck off, the NCAI instead decided to give their approval, apparently being happy with the whole thing as long as it was done in a respectful manner. It was a controversial move, especially within the Native American community, but overall it mollified the angry white people who mostly moved on to be outraged over whatever the new thing to be outraged over was.
It’s probably worth stopping real quick here to ask where the hell the term redskin came from given that Native Americans most definitely are not red. Well, originally a tribe in what is now known as the southeastern U.S. called itself the red people, a name derived from the tribe’s creation myth. The Europeans of the time, who were all about simplistic color coordinated differentiation, just kind of took this and made it a common term for all Native Americans, which made no sense whatsoever. Whether or not the term is racist has been debated ever since, but it has been widely used by racist people, which is really not a point in its favor. However, such debates were largely ignored in relation to the Washington Redskins until the 1990’s when a group of Native Americans sued to have the team’s trademark removed under a law that said people couldn’t trademark racist terms. The natives originally won in 1999, but the decision was overturned in 2005 under a technicality that basically centered around the fact that all of the plaintiffs had been adults in 1971, meaning that if they had a problem they should’ve brought it up then. To get around this, a younger group of Native Americans sued in 2014, and again the trademark was removed.
It was at this time that The Slants entered the picture. The Slants were an Asian-American band who wanted to trademark their name. However, the government denied them the right to do so stating that the term was totally racist and that The Slants were bad people for wanting to have such a trademark. This didn’t sit well with The Slants, who appealed the decision all the way to the Supreme Court, which found in an unanimous decision in 2017 that trademarks are free speech protected under the First Amendment. The basis of the argument was that it was not the government’s place to decide what speech was offensive and what was not. As a result of this decision, the Washington Redskins got their trademark back, though of course it is still controversial as fuck.