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Washington name controversy keeps picking up steam


A day after the out-of-the-blue ruling that the name of the Washington NFL team no longer enjoys the protection of federal trademark law, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should look in the mirror and execute his best Lorne Malvo impersonation.

Is this what you want?

Goodell needs to keep asking himself that question. Continuously and repeatedly until Goodell finds a way to persuade, cajole, and/or force owner Daniel Snyder to give up the name.

It had seemed that Goodell hoped to wait for a lull in the debate to find a way out of the maze, creating the impression that the league and the team are making the change because they want to, not because the NFL has yielded to any official or unofficial external uthority.

In that sense, The Shield really is a shield. The powers-that-be are hiding behind a warped sense of tradition and old-fashioned hard-headedness in refusing to do now what the trend clearly suggests inevitably will happen. The facts are irrelevant; the position flows from the belief that the NFL is too big to be told what to do by anyone who doesn’t own a team or occupy a prominent corner office at 345 Park Avenue.

A change inevitable will happen, because regardless of where anyone and everyone stands on the issue, the debate will continue. Through the same passage of time that transformed the term to unacceptable, more and more people will become uncomfortable with the word. Eventually, supporters who don’t feel strongly about the name will become weary of the controversy.

Until then, Goodell needs to keep coming back to Malvo’s mantra.

Is this what you want?

Does the NFL want ongoing major mainstream media coverage of the controversy? Does it want A1 placement in the Washington papers of the issue? Does it want countless radio shows and interviews throughout the country to feature ongoing discussion of this issue in lieu of commentary about, you know, football?

Does Goodell want his long-term legacy to be that he lacked the foresight or the ability to do what history will scream should have been done?

More and more publications decline to use the term. The Seattle Times has abandoned the word in an editorial posted last night. Others have simply stopped using it without commentary or fanfare -- despite the taunts and insults and not-so-subtle threats from those who strongly oppose a name change.

On that point, one of the primary arguments the supporters of the name advance flows from the perception that concerns about the name have arisen only recently. Where was the outrage, they’ll ask, over the last 70 years?

As noted on Wednesday by Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post, the issue has lingered for more than 40 years. Should the media and the politicians have concluded far sooner that the name needs to go? Absolutely. Does ignoring the matter in the past compel that it continue to be ignored? Absolutely not.

Regardless of whether Wednesday’s ruling survives an appeal, the decision from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office represents validation of an effort that has gotten far more organized, far better funded, and far more motivated in the last year -- thanks in large part to the team’s misguided decision to engage the issue. And so the debate will continue, indefinitely.

Through it all, Goodell needs to keep asking himself the key question.

Is this what you want?