There’s an argument to be made that the Washington Redskins’ name is disparaging to American Indians.
That it is the 80-year-old brand of third most-valuable NFL franchise does not make it less disparaging.
Neither does the fact it was created to honor team coach William “Lone Star” Dietz, who claimed Sioux heritage. Nor does the fact that an Associate Press-GfK poll earlier this year showed 83 percent of Americans have no qualms with the name.
It is a name that probably should be changed.
But not at the barrel of a bureaucrat’s gun, which is exactly what this week’s trademark ruling by United States Patent and Trademark Office was – an overreaching use of federal resources to enforce a cause célèbre most Americans didn’t agree with or even knew existed.
The ruling revokes federal protection of the Redskins name, which would allow bootleggers to make money off a brand protected by trademark since 1967. The decision was, of course, meant to hit the Redskins organization in the pocketbook, but it ironically could also have the effect of making the maligned Redskins name more pervasive than it is now – since it would be unprotected by trademark.
Liberal special-interest groups have pressured the privately owned Redskins organization to change its name for years, first under President Clinton’s administration, now under President Obama’s. The federal bureaucracy under the Bush administration, apparently, believed there were more meaningful national and international concerns to contend with.
This week’s Patent Office ruling is essentially a replay of 1999, when the office canceled the Redskins’ trademark on the grounds it “may disparage” individuals or groups. That decision was overruled by a federal court on appeal. The Redskins say they will appeal this ruling as well.
“We are confident we will prevail once again, and that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s divided ruling will be overturned on appeal,” the team said in a statement.
Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder is adamant about keeping the team’s name, telling USA Today last year that he’ll “never change the name. It’s that simple.”
Though most Americans and an overwhelming majority of Redskins fans want to retain the name, the team faces stiff opposition from the ruling elite. The president himself suggested in October the team should “think about changing” its name, and in May, 50 U.S. senators signed a letter asking for a name change.
Why the nation’s leaders are more interested in the name of a sports team than of high poverty and death rates on American Indian reservations is a topic worthy of further exploration.
Regardless, it may be years before the anti-Redskins forces – including the Washington Post columnist who tweeted “Hail to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Hail Victory!” – get to spike the ball in the end zone.
For one, nothing stops the team from using its name or selling its merchandise, even if the Patent Office’s ruling were upheld on appeal. And the Redskins logo still has copyright protection even if the team loses the fight for its name.
The looming threat, of course, is that the trademark ruling was just an opening salvo. What’s next? A Federal Communications Commission ruling that “Redskins” is a derogatory term? Fines levied each time a Redskins games is broadcast? Hate-crime prosecution by the Justice Department?
This government under direction of the Obama administration has found a way to politicize health insurance and your child’s school lunches. What makes you think your Sunday afternoon leisure time is sacred?
None of this is to deny that the Redskins’ name offends certain segments of the American Indian population. Exactly how much we are unsure; a poll of American Indians by the Annenberg Public Policy Center 10 years ago showed 90 percent were not bothered by the name.
But as we previously stated, it’s a name that probably should change.
How and when should be up to the team’s owners, and it should be driven by the same free-market forces that allowed it to exist in the first place.
If a plurality of Americans, including the fans that support the team through ticket and merchandise sales, believed the Redskins name stood for racism, insensitivity and offensiveness, the market would have forced a change long ago.
We can only assume more Americans agree with the late Jack Kent Cooke, the team’s former owner, who said the Redskins’ name stood for “bravery, courage and a stalwart spirit.”
If the brand created in the 1930s and trademarked in the 1960s is no longer tasteful in 2014, the onus to correct it falls upon the people and corporations who support it, not agenda-driven bureaucrats acting on behalf of a handful of aggrieved malcontents.