Government overreach in Redskins trademark case?

A player carries a Redskins helmet with a football in it. Washington bureaucrats are making subjective judgements about offensiveness, writes the Federalist's Robert Tracinski

Related Stories

On Wednesday the US Patent and Trademark Office cancelled six of the trademarks belonging to the Washington Redskins National Football League team, finding the team name offensive to Native Americans.

The ruling shouldn't be particularly shocking - the Patent Office had issued a similar decision in 1998 before being reversed on appeal - but the political environment surrounding the name has shifted considerably in the last 16 years. Proponents of a name change are heralding the latest decision as a possible turning point that will force team owner Daniel Snyder's hand.

"It's hard to view the new ruling as anything other than the beginning of the end of the name," writes Damon Darlin of the New York Times. "It has now been assailed not just by Native American groups but by the president of the United States and half the Senate, which ultimately controls the various tax and legal advantages the NFL enjoys. Players in football and many other sports are now routinely asked their view of the name, and their evident discomfort with it is rising."

That discomfort is reflected in the media as well, as the Seattle Times on Wednesday announced that it would no long print the team's nickname, which sports editor Don Shelton called "absurd, offensive and outdated".

The Times joins a growing list of media outlets that have made a similar decision, including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Orange County Register, the Oregonian and the Washington City Paper.

The Federalist's Robert Tracinski says that no matter how uncomfortable people may be with the Redskins name, the Patent Office shouldn't have become involved. The action, he writes, sets a terrifying precedent.

"The ruling was based on a dubious argument that 'redskins' is a slur against Native Americans," he writes. By that logic, he says, we should probably rename the state of Oklahoma (derived from the Choctaw Indian word for "red people") and the US Army Apache helicopter, named for a tribe the US military defeated.

Daniel Snyder at a press conference on 9 January, 2014. Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder plans to appeal the Patent Office decision

What is and isn't offensive is subjective, he writes, which is why the government should have stayed away from the controversy and let market pressures sort it out.

Because the opponents of the name were failing in the court of public opinion, he says, they turned to one of their "favourite fallbacks": government bureaucracy.

"Bureaucrats in Washington are now empowered to make subjective decrees about what is offensive and what will be tolerated, based on pressure from a small clique of Washington insiders," he writes. "Anyone who runs afoul of these decrees, anyone branded as regressive and politically incorrect, is declared outside the protection of the federal government."

Start Quote

The lesson here is that guilty-feeling white liberals are a threat to freedom”

End Quote Erick Erickson RedState blog

The Wall Street Journal's editors say this is all just another case of government employees following "liberal orders".

"The Obama Democrats now think government should dictate team mascots," they write.

For RedState blog's Erick Erickson, it's just another case of white guilt.

"The lesson here is that guilty-feeling white liberals are a threat to freedom and, in Barack Obama's America, the key to survive is to not appear on the radar of in Washington DC," he writes. "Once Washington's elite know of your existence and you do not behave like them, they will turn the power of government in your direction."

Tracinski's fellow Federalist writer Rachel Lu says the same logic applied to the Redskins could be used to do away with teams with other ethnic mascots, such as the University of Notre Dame "Fighting Irish", which she says invokes "ugly stereotypes about Irish alcoholism and a propensity for brawling".

To those who say the Irish people have embraced the name, she replies:

What percentage of Irish people have been consulted about the Notre Dame mascot? And even if they did approve, shall we permit the oppressed to approve their own degradation? Do not our own consciences tingle every time use "tradition" as an excuse for participating in such obvious and unapologetic bigotry?

The difference with Notre Dame, and other Irish-inspired mascots, writes Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall, is that they are teams "historically associated" with the Irish-American community.

"Clearly context matters," he says. "History matters. Indians or Native Americans aren't just any group in American history. Their role is singular in something like the way African-Americans are."

While the Patent Office's decision may be symbolically important, it will have little real-world impact for now. Mr Synder's legal team has already announced it will appeal, so the ruling is on hold until then. And even the team eventually loses, it can still sue people or companies using the Redskins name for civil damages due to "trademark confusion".

Trademark registration offers additional legal protections, but losing it won't give counterfeiters free rein to start printing knockoff Redskins merchandise, for instance.

In other words, whether or not you agree that the Patent Office decision is a bad precedent, Tracinski is right about this: a Redskins name change likely will come down to public opinion and market forces.


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Political correctness gone wrong - again. Back in the summer I asked a couple of members of the Yavapai Apache Tribe what they thought and they could care less!

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Something to ponder: would Native Americans be as offended by the name Redskins if the team made the playoffs more often?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    For the government to withdraw a legal copyright because someone claims to be offended is disturbing. Next it will be book titles vetted by bureaucrats for political correctness and from there its an easy step to vetting the books themselves and next movies and then art and music. Political correctness is the thought police!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I'm weary of political correctness,trust me, but unlike "Cracker" which has more than 1 meaning, "Redskin" is thought to be only used as a slur. True, folks can take a term meant to demean them &"own" it, thereby taking away the sting, but I don't see an Indian team owner here.Correct me if I'm wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    This case is nothing more than a few people who have been brought up to view themselves as victims, latching on to a word that THEY, and pretty much only they, deem offensive, and bringing about a suit so that they can exact revenge on a rich white guy.

    An Annanburg study a few years ago found the 90% of American Indians don't thik of the word ad disparging. Several reservation schools use it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    It seems that the problem here is one of forgetfulness. Those who disagree with the name also have rights, and one of those rights is free speech.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    We should note that the football team of Carlisle Indian Industrial School, which was coached by "Pop" Warner and once starred Jim Thorpe, was named the Indians. So, use of the name seemed appropriate to Indians at one time.

    Use of the Redskins name by DC has improved the image of Indians, rather than slurred them. However, what would people think if the team was named Rednecks, or Whiteys?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Red Mesa High School in Arizona is one Indian American school who uses Redskins name

    Another big story is the IRS e-mail probe

    It doesn't make any sense why all e-mails related to IRS investigation cannot be found

    Why isn't Congress asking NSA to retrieve IRS e-mails?

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    This isn't about racism, its about destroying business and traditions. Washington NFL franchise would change the name themselves if the people would put pressure on them to do it. Boycott games and merchandise, money makes everyone move in business! What's next? Keebler taking the word "cracker" off their saltines? Comedians barring the use of the offensive word "Red Neck." They are just words!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    There are actually 62 high schools in USA currently using Redskins name including several majority Indian American ones

    If the Redskins name is racist then why are some majority Indian American schools using this name?

    If a word is racist, that means its racist when an racial groups uses it

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    By attempting to voice a middle ground, Echo Chambers continues to give a voice to political winds that otherwise would be treated as what they are: a bunch of hot air. A beleaguered minority asked it's government to address a trademark they find offensive. How horrible that the government actually acted in their interest for once!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    This is a relatively minor issue but is symbolic of much greater problems caused by silly liberal white guilt. For example, it's now racist to expect the government to enforce our immigration laws or for students to perform at previously expected standards (that's colonialism).

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    In Middle school our mascot here is a Brave, in High school our mascot is a Warrior and in our most popular University in the state the mascot is Fighting Illini (although Chief Illiniwek is now no more)

    In fact our state itself was named Illinois for the French word for the Illini Tribe (who actually left our state due to another warring tribe)

    Our hockey team named the Blackhawks

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    This "'remove the Redskins" crusade establishes yet another precedent. As someone of part Nordic heritage I resent the use of the nickname "Vikings" by Minnesota's pro U.S. football team since it denigrates all Nordics by reducing us to head and helmet crashing weekend performers. As a former sheepherder I resent the St. Louis Rams' nickname - team should be renamed perhaps the SL Golden Arches,

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Multiple groups are now saying they are going to target the state of Indiana and its capital Indianapolis next
    as both were named after Indians

    I think this kind of witch hunt will never stop until all references and pictures to Indians are removed as if they never existed

    It is pretty obvious that the Redskins lost their trademark only because of Obama


Page 4 of 4

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.