In Our View: Correct Call on Team Name

Redskins rightfully lose trademark protection on indefensible nickname



It’s not a question of political correctness; it’s a matter of political incorrectness. Of political impropriety. Of political wrong-headedness. Someday, be it 20 or 30 or 40 years from now, our descendents are going to look askance and wonder, “They had a team named the Washington Redskins? Really? You’re kidding, right?”

Such is the absurdity of a National Football League team — one based in the nation’s capital, no less — employing a nickname that frequently has been used over the centuries to disparage this country’s native population. Of using a nickname that focuses on skin color rather than some noble attribute. Of using a nickname that highlights the differences between people, rather than our shared humanity.

The use of the nickname Redskins is, in short, indefensible, and arguments about tradition and heritage should go the same way as when those arguments were used to defend slavery.

So it is that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office landed on the right side of history last week when it canceled the Redskins’ trademark protection on the nickname, saying the word is disparaging. Realistically, the impact of the 2-1 ruling will be rather minor, as the team still can use the nickname. But, while team officials said they will appeal the ruling, the decision places further pressure on the franchise to change its offensive monicker.

“You want to ignore millions of Native Americans?” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said on the floor of the Senate. “Well, it’s pretty hard to say the federal government doesn’t know what they’re talking about when they say it’s disparaging.”

The Patent and Trademark Office board ruled that while the franchise has a legitimate business interest in keeping the name, “It is difficult to justify a balancing of equities where a registrant’s financial interest is weighed against human dignity.” That is well-stated, as the issue comes down to one of dignity and respect and a conscious regard for the sensibilities of others. The board has denied several non-football-related trademarks in recent years seeking to use the name “Redskins” because they are derogatory.

“It is a great victory for Native Americans and for all Americans,” said Amanda Blackhorse, one of five people who brought the suit before the trademark board. “I hope this ruling brings us a step closer to that inevitable day when the name of the Washington football team will be changed.”

The key point in that statement? The one that highlights the impact of the ruling? It came when Blackhorse said it was a great victory for “all Americans” — because she is correct. The decision isn’t solely a victory for Native Americans — and, to be fair, some Native Americans consider the nickname a source of pride — it is a victory for all Americans who feel that treating others with respect lifts all of us. It is a victory for all Americans who think that pejoratives directed toward one race of people are an affront to us all.

Not that team owner Daniel Snyder is buying it. Snyder once famously said that he would “NEVER — you can use caps” change the name of the team. But the loss of trademark protection will allow for an influx of unlicensed merchandise featuring the Redskins name to enter the country, and that could put a dent in the franchise’s merchandise revenue and the revenue of other teams in the shared-revenue world of the NFL.

In the end, however, the issue isn’t about money; it’s about being respectful of different cultures. Political correctness? Nah, it’s simply correctness.