Five Ethics Observations On The Redskins Trademark Decision


1. Several commenters predicted that the ruling of the U.S. Patent Office cancelling the registered trademark of the Washington Redskins would warrant a “Kaboom!” here, the Ethics Alarms designation reserved for occurrences or statements so outrageous that they make my head explode. Please. Even pre-weakened by previous cranial fireworks, my head isn’t that unstable. The decision was neither a major surprise, nor was it as momentous as the ignoramuses in the media, social media, and Harry Reid pronounced it to be.  (More on the decision here.) The Redskins retain their federal trademark registrations until all appeals have been exhausted, and that process could take years. The registrations will be canceled only if the team loses all appeals, and if I were owner Dan Snyder, I would appeal up to the Supreme Court if I had to. This should be done not to preserve the Redskins name, which is archaic and at this point more trouble than its worth, but to beat back the forces of government censorship of thought and words, of which the anti-Redskins campaign is a significant, if relatively trivial, part.

2. Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins, not a fan of the name, beat me to a column about what is really troubling about the decision, as she wrote…

Now that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has struck a governmental blow against commodified ethnic insults, I’m nervous, because I may have “disparaged” somebody this morning when I buttered my toast. After I put away the Land O Lakes butter with that Indian maiden logo on the box, I bit off a chew of Red Man tobacco and climbed into a Jeep Cherokee.

The Washington football club ought to ditch its slur of a trademark, voluntarily. It ought to do so on the grounds of basic decency and good taste, and, you’d hope, with an intelligent sense of history, context and place. If they won’t do it willingly, then the rest of us and their colleagues in the NFL ought to embarrass, jeer and cajole them into it. But the method currently being employed, the mobilization of the U.S. government in favor of a correct sensibility, is wrong…

Nobody would like to see a name change more than me, and no one has made more fun of owner Daniel Snyder on this subject. But the USPTO decision came in a political climate that is queasy-making. It came after months of various Feds leaning on the team in ways that make it hard to feel a sense of victory. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) has threatened to examine the NFL’s tax-exempt status. The Federal Communications Commission has threatened to bring a criminal charge against the club for “indecency.”

The trademark case is indirectly about policing speech. Denial of a trademark registration is not the same as banning the use of a word, no. But it came in concert with several other forms of government pressure…

3. Kudos also to Jenkins for reminding readers of the fact that the ACLU opposes, as it should and by charter is obligated to do, government action that infringes on Dan Snyder’s right to call his team what he wants, and accept the consequences. Yes, I know that the Obama Administration and Harry Reid’s Senate regard the U.S. Constitution as an arcane annoyance and an impediment to their Leftist, nanny sate, politically correct-or-else Nirvana. Still, when progressives find themselves on the wrong side of the ACLU, they might want to consider whether they made a wrong turn somewhere.

4. I.R.S. This is how this administration operates: it makes it very clear, though public statements, how it wants its supposedly non-political, objective agencies to rule, always based on pleasing a pro-Democrat demographic. It is a blatant strategy to rig the system and distort fairness, due process and justice for political gain. As we can see in the examples of the I.R.S. scandal and here, and, less successfully, in Obama’s inept efforts to convict the military’s sexual harassers before they stood trial, it is SOP, happily ignored by most journalists (except for rare truth-tellers like Jenkins) because they are too corrupt, biased or dim to realize that just because they dislike the targets of this governmental abuse now, the damage it does to our national ideals and values is devastating.

5. I repeat, because I have had to endure the insults of the political correctness bullies implying otherwise, I don’t like the Redskins name, I actively dislike Dan Snyder, and if the D.C. football team disbanded tomorrow, I wouldn’t shed a tear. But as in the case of Donald Sterling, this campaign is, as Jenkins says, about policing speech. If the fact that the government is trying to use its power to do that doesn’t alarm, anger and frighten you—if you don’t find that a great deal more offensive than the name of a city’s pro football team—your priorities are warped, I question your commitment to American values, and I regard you as a menace to my liberty and my rights as a citizen.


Sources: Washington Post 1, 2


21 thoughts on “Five Ethics Observations On The Redskins Trademark Decision

  1. Not too far from here we have a crossroads of a town called “Yeehaw Junction”. (Pop. 240)
    (Yeehaw is a Seminole word, btw, and it means “wolf”.)

    Yeehaw Junction is the PC name.
    It used to be called “Jackass Crossing”.
    I like the old name better.

  2. I actually agree with Jack on this one — but his tunnel vision again is saying that this is being applauded by progressives. Not so universally.

    • I heard this on NPR this week — they had a long story on this town. The community was created around date farming — and no one had farmed dates in the US ever. The original name was intended as a compliment of sorts, and yearly pageants were held with genies, elephants, etc. The goal was to get Americans behind the idea of moving to an exotic Arabian town to farm dates and work in the supporting industries. One of the elderly female farmers acknowledged though that it was probably time for the high school to change its name.

      • I kinda hope they don’t. The story is charming, and, frankly, I don’t see how being called an Arab, especially if you are one, could be offensive.

  3. There must be hundreds of Braves, Warriors, Chiefs, Indians, Blackhawks, Winterhawks, Redhawks, Tomahawks, Mohawks etc. serving as mascots for teams from community little league to professional sports. How can this be denigrating? People don’t name their teams after wimpy, unpleasant, stupid groups. They name them after groups they respect.

    • Granny, I used to live on the Navajo reservation, near Chinle, and some of the folks there objected to being called Indians (with some justification. Arizona id NOT India), preferring to be called Native Americans. They stuttered a bit when I pointed out that, being born in America made me a Native American, as well. When I suggested we call them Siberian-Americans, I thought I was going to get shot.

    • You WOULD bring that up, P.M.! I would mention that in the Houston school district, the board passed (9-0) a resolution that forced Lamar H.S. to change its Redskins motif after about seven decades of use. Westbury H.S., which has been called the Rebels since 1960, was also deemed politically incorrect and abolished. Likewise were the names of two middle schools, one of them (anciently) referred to as the Indians. Let’s not forget the NCAA, which outlawed any American Indigene mascot, forcing at least one Texan college (the McMurray Indians) into bureaucratic limbo. They haven’t gone after Illinois or Florida State (among many other colleges) as yet. But if they succeed with Washington and the NFL, no school, large or small, will be safe. For that reason alone, I hope the Redskins stand tough.

  4. I wonder how much this little foray into political correctedness is going to cost the taxpayers. It would be one thing if the team were applying for the trademark and were denied. But it already owns the trademark, meaning that it is a property right. And since the Constitution says that the governmnet can’t take property witthout just compensation, how much is the government going to pay to Dan Snyder for taking his pporperty?

    • John, check the Volokh link. Even if this holds up, which I doubt, the ruling didn’t do much of substance, except create a scary precedent for government speech oppression. The claims from anti-Redskins fanatics that they could now manufacture and sell competing Redskins merchandise are ridiculous—they say the name is racist, and yet they are going to compete with the Redskins to sell “racist” stuff? And Snyder would still have legal recourse based on the common law trademark.

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