Thursday, June 19, 2014

On the controversy over the “Redskins” name

clip_image001As you are probably fully aware, the controversy over the use of the term “Redskins” for the Washington NFL franchise has reignited with greater fury than perhaps ever before. A group of Native Americans filed litigation with the US Patent and Trademark Office to have owner Dan Snyder’s trademark on the name and logo associated with the franchise revoked.

USTPO sided with the plaintiffs, ordering that the trademark be squished like a bug, reasoning that the name and logo was disparaging to a significant enough degree that it violated the Trademark Act.

The Redskins organization will no doubt appeal the decision, just as it did in 1999 when the USTPO tried to void the trademark.

This is an irresistible topic for me, because it melds two things I am passionate about: Sports and politics.

Predictably, many on the politically correct left are hailing the decision as a decisive victory for civil rights. Also predictably, many on the right (and probably a vast majority of ‘Skins fans) are deriding it as an unnecessary intrusion into an NFL owner’s right to conduct business as he sees fit.

In my opinion, I think’s AllahPundit has the correct take on this issue. The money quote from his post yesterday:

The weird thing about “Redskins” is that it’s so closely associated with football and the team in the public’s mind, I think, that over time the sports meaning has completely overtaken the racially derogatory meaning. If someone walked up to you today and said “What do you think of the Redskins?”, you’d assume without a second thought that he was asking you about the NFC East, not casually slurring Native Americans. Hard to argue that the word’s “disparaging” in that context. On the other hand, if you let the mark stand for that reason, then theoretically “Washington Blackskins” would and should also stand as long as it’s been in use for a long enough time that the underlying racial meaning has basically melted away.

Essentially, the argument comes down to how one would answer this question: Was there an intent to disparage Native Americans in adopting this name, or is it the intent of certain segments of the population to feel disparaged and demand action? Put another way: Was the franchise determined to disparage, or are those who claim disparagement determined to be disparaged?

AllahPundit’s angle on the question is also valid and raises another important question: Has the sports context of the name overtaken the potentially derogatory meaning, or is the derogatory meaning so overarching that it trumps the long evolution of the sports context?

If the USTPO decision is upheld during the federal appeals process (the mark remains enforceable throughout the appeals process), then Snyder will have no good business choice than to change the name of the team. Otherwise, he stands to lose precious sums of money from the inability to protect the trademark. Plus, his well-known obstinance means that he’s probably taking this all the way. He ain’t gonna quit.

It will be years yet before this matter is finally settled but my exit question is simply this:If there is no intent to offend, why can’t we as a society simply choose not to be offended?


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