Racism Sports

Beginning of the End?


The United States Patent and Trademark Office has canceled trademarks for the Washington professional football team.

“The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board agreed with our clients that the team’s name and trademarks disparage Native Americans. The Board ruled that the Trademark Office should never have registered these trademarks in the first place,” Jesse Witten, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, said in a press release. “We presented a wide variety of evidence – including dictionary definitions and other reference works, newspaper clippings, movie clips, scholarly articles, expert linguist testimony, and evidence of the historic opposition by Native American groups – to demonstrate that the word ‘redskin’ is an ethnic slur.”

The patent office cannot force the Washington Redskins to change their name, however losing their trademarks could cost the team money in the form of lost sales to counterfeit merchandise.

Dan Snyder and company intend to go about their lives as if nothing has changed while they appeal the ruling, but I think it’s clear that things have changed.

Unfortunately, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell does not have the stones of NBA commissioner Adam Silver who recently forced Donald Sterling out of the league.

The lawsuit filed with the patent office was filed four years ago, so I think it’s safe to say this has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton’s book tour. But, then again, some people believe the president’s birth certificate was cleverly planted in a Hawaiian newspaper 50 years ago.

  • joseph2004

    JMAshby, a member of the Cesca Thinskins.

  • GrafZeppelin127

    Note that this has happened before; the USPTO cancelled the Redskins trademark in 1999 only to see the cancellation overturned by the courts. See Pro-Football, Inc. v. Harjo, 284 F. Supp. 2d 96 (D.D.C. 2003).

    As I’ve said before, the Washington NFL franchise will change its name if, when, and only if and only when, not changing it starts to affect the team’s, and the NFL’s, bottom line. The Redskins aren’t going anywhere yet.

  • Ellen Kuhlmann

    While the name Redskins is offensive, the visuals of the team are positive and respectful. In contrast, the Cleveland Indians have Chief Wahoo–a terrible caricature of a Native American, and the Atlanta Braves continue to do their tomahawk chop chant. Both are way more offensive IMO than the Redskins name, but all the focus seems to be on the football team, not on changing those other mascots. Why?

    • JMAshby

      Nothing is stopping you or anyone else from asking other teams to change their mascots. Next strawman please.

    • D_C_Wilson

      I’m fine with making both the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves change their names and mascots.

      Also, I have no idea how to anything can make calling a team the Redskins visually positive and respectful. That’s exactly like calling a team the N*ggers but claiming you’re doing it in a respectful way.

      • Ellen Kuhlmann

        I meant the image on the helmet, which is an image of a Native American chief in profile, a benign image compared to Chief Wahoo.

        • D_C_Wilson

          I know what you meant and no, it doesn’t make the name less racist. And “we’re not as racist as Chief Wahoo,” doesn’t help your case either.

        • nathkatun7

          I doubt that the Native Americans consider it “a benign image….”

          • Ellen Kuhlmann

            how do you know that? Are you now suggesting all images of Native Americas be removed from all teams, products etc? Who gets to decide what is proper. You might say the Native Americans themselves, but do they have a unified voice on this? I don’t think so.

    • timmysmalls

      “Indian” and “Brave” have never been slurs before. “Redskin” has, that’s why it’s different. Although one should note my argument above that “Redskins” in its current context is actually no longer a slur.
      I can see Chief Wahoo being offensive, because it is a caricature, though that in and of itself doesn’t make it offensive. The tomahawk chant is pretty cool and respectful. It’s a subtle acknowledgement that Indians were bad ass!

    • GrafZeppelin127

      The issue of whether American Indian names, images, themes and motifs are appropriate for sports franchises generally, is a separate issue from whether the word “Redskins” is an appropriate name for a sports franchise.

      I agree that Chief Wahoo is an offensive caricature, and it is being slowly, gradually — and quietly — phased out by the Cleveland ballclub. The “tomahawk chop” is something Braves fans do, that Florida State fans were doing long before, not something that’s part of the Atlanta ballclub’s brand. Note that the Braves no longer use their “Chief Noc-A-Homa” caricature and hastily abandoned a revival thereof last year when images of their planned batting-practice cap were leaked.

      Words convey meaning differently than do images and gestures. The objection vis-à-vis Redskins is to that particular word, not to a category of words, images, gestures, themes or motifs.

  • timmysmalls

    You can’t compare this to the Donald Sterling thing. That was a layup… forcing the name change of a storied franchise like the Redskins is completely different. The % of NBA players and fans who are black far exceeds the % of NFL players and fans who are Native American. If 75% of the players were American Indian and found the Redskins name offensive, you bet your ass that name would change.
    Side note: I’m 1/16 Iroquois and I do not find this offensive at all. The team song is “Hail to the Redskins!” I just think that context matters and this context is positive. No one found this offensive until it started gaining PR steam. I’m not a Redskins fan and I think Dan Snyder is a douche, so I might even want the name to change just to spite him, but I think it’s really an overblown debate.

    • JMAshby

      Yes I can and will compare the two. Donald Sterling said something racist during a phone call. The Washington team name is an entire franchise built on a slur. In that context, the latter seems worse.

      No one found it offensive before? That must be why lawsuits have been filed against the team going back to the 1990s and before. Are you claiming people are just hopping on some bandwagon?

      You can fuck off with that. I’m part Cherokee (technically I’m just as Cherokee as the current chief 1/32) but I think that’s hardly worth mentioning because it doesn’t fucking matter what I am or what you are. It’s still a slur.

      • timmysmalls

        Ashby, as one of Bob’s regular (and probably most frequent) blogger, you would do well not to tell loyal readers like myself to “fuck off”. I’ve been reading and enjoying the GDAB since 2007 and regularly donate in Bob’s annual fundraising drives. I don’t think my comment was inflammatory and certainly did not deserve your response.

        Comparing Sterling to the Redskins really is completely different because of the context you put it in. You said “Unfortunately, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell does not have the stones of NBA commissioner Adam Silver who recently forced Donald Sterling out of the league.” I bet Goodell would’ve made the same call as Silver with regard to Sterling. That really was an easy call for any Commissioner.

        I understand that many have found the Redskins moniker offensive for some period of time, but to argue that the issue hasn’t picked up PR steam and become significantly more contentious in the last 12 months is erroneous.

        My points are twofold:

        1) Whether or not “Redskins” is a slur or not depends on context. Initially, it wasn’t offensive (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/02/AR2005100201139.html). Later, it certainly became a demeaning term. However, I would argue that it has reverted back to having a positive connotation, at least before circa 2013, when everyone decided it was bad again (wondering what kicked off the current momentum?).
        2) Whether something is offensive or not is not so binary. It might be so for one person. But we’re talking about an entire society of people. So who decides whether this is offensive? Majority of Americans? Majority of Native Americans? The fact that there have been lawsuits against the Redskins for this over the years only means at least one person was offended. What’s the quorum? And yes, right now I’m claiming that many people are hopping on the bandwagon. There wasn’t this much fervor in 2005, or 1995, or any other year prior to 2013 for that matter. I love Harry Reid, but he’s a pretty good example of one who is being opportunistic here. Dude’s been a Senator since 1987 and just now he’s pushing this? Was it not offensive enough in 1992? Of course, this is how things work, so I’m not going to be naïve about there being a tipping point for things.
        Anyway, like I said before, I really don’t care. I kind of like the argument though, because I’m generally leery of overreach on offensive language (I think it detracts from language, primarily African-American dog whistle language, that actually IS highly offensive). But growing up, I always saw the Native American teams, including the Redskins, as a source of pride. Knowing I have Indian blood in me only enhanced that. And it never occurred to me that “Redskin” was bad, because it was always used in a positive context.

        • JMAshby

          If you don’t want me to tell you to fuck off, don’t imply that those who are offended are faking it or that I am somehow only paying attention to it because it’s popular. And in case you didn’t notice, there hasn’t been a fundraiser in years and even if there was one ongoing right now I would tell you fuck off. In fact, fuck you double for thinking making a donation a couple years ago (which I probably didn’t see anything from) entitles you.

          Anyway, like I said before, I really don’t care.

          You don’t really care but here you are throwing out every strawman in the book to run interference?

          The last time you commented on any story on this entire blog prior to today was 2 years ago. I’d say you care a great deal about concern trolling for the Redskins.

    • D_C_Wilson

      If it’s offensive, it’s offensive. It shouldn’t matter whether Native Americans are a significant percentage of NFL players or not. Also, I remember people campaigning against the name 25+ years ago, so it isn’t just something that only recently got “PR steam.”

      • timmysmalls

        It shouldn’t, but it does. That’s why the Sterling fiasco was an easy call. The players would have boycotted with any less of a punishment! Total slam dunk (pun intended).

        • D_C_Wilson

          That just means it’s harder, not that it shouldn’t be done,