Quotes of the day

The most controversial name in sports won’t appear again in The Seattle Times’ print edition or on the seattletimes.com home pages as long as I am sports editor.

It’s time to ban the use of “Redskins,” the absurd, offensive and outdated name of the NFL team in Washington, D.C…

We’re banning the name for one reason: It’s offensive. Far from honoring Native Americans, the term colors an entire race. Many Native Americans consider it an outdated label placed on their people…

“I find it as offensive as black people find the N-word,” he said. “They say they’re trying to dignify or honor something with it. It doesn’t dignify us. It doesn’t honor us. It doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves.”


The normally sleepy U.S. Trademark Trial And Appeal Board, an arm of the PTO, made headlines on Wednesday when it canceled six trademarks registered by the team. Only twice on record has the office tried to use its power to strip away a trademark for being offensive to an ethnic group, and both cases involved the Redskins…

“The decision does not legally force the team to change its name, but I think it adds to the pressure,” said Rebecca Tushnet, a professor focusing on intellectual property at Georgetown University’s Law Center. Neither she nor Beebe could think of another case, aside from those involving the Redskins, in which a trademark was canceled for being disparaging

Disparaging trademarks are denied registration pretty regularly, according to Beebe. For example, the office recently denied a push to register the phrase “Stop the Islamization of America,” USA Today reported…

“I’ve never seen a case of this nature that has had to go back in time to cancel a mark that was registered 40 years ago,” Beebe said. “We’re talking about the meaning of the term in the mid-1960s.”


“This is a cultural tide-is-turning moment,” Christian Turner told USA TODAY Sports. He is the group director of naming, brand development at Siegel+Gale, a global strategic branding firm.

“The hits have been piling up, and at what point does that pile get big enough to tip the scales?” Turner said. “I think most people watching this see that this is directional, right? Like this will happen, that there will be a name change at some point, so why not get ahead of it and own that narrative?”…

“I don’t believe they have four years” this time, Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) said. “There are going to be many people all across this country just outraged that Mr. Snyder still hasn’t gotten the message yet that this is an offensive term, it is hateful speech and it has no room in such an important American pastime as NFL football.”…

“The Redskins are trying to make an argument based on logic, history and (polling) data,” public relations expert Daniel G. Hill said. “There comes a time when arguing over data points doesn’t work anymore, especially on issues of race. It has reached the point where, for me, I think it is going to be very hard for the Redskins not to eventually change their name.”


As BuzzFeed’s Joseph Bernstein wrote in a lovely piece about watching the Redskins with his stepfather: “Do Washingtonians want a team they can be proud of in every aspect of its constitution? Should not the name of a team that has been at times a force for racial harmony, a team which today boasts a black quarterback who is the pride of the city, bear a name worthy of its accomplishments? Maybe most importantly, can we make the story of the name change not past versus future, not racist versus progressive, but shame versus pride?”…

Turning the Bullets into the Wizards did not change everything, or turn the franchise around immediately. Not everyone liked the new name, and plenty of people have noted the issues that would accompany a Redskins name change, charging that it was a cynical cash-in to get everyone to buy new gear. And, of course, a name does not make a team excellent.

But the shift did clear the way for fans, be they born Washingtonians or transplants to the area looking to embrace a local franchise, to love the Wizards without embarrassment or reservation. It would be wonderful, and overdue, for the Redskins to remake the team’s image a cause for affirmative pride rather than compromised enthusiasm or outright embarrassment.


This movement is about the dehumanization of Native Americans on every level — not just in sports, but in media and Hollywood, as well. This is about respect and about the mental stability of our children.

Empirical study has proven that Indian mascots harm the mental health of Native American children. They report to have low self-esteem, a limited sense of social worth and do not believe they can accomplish as much as students from other racial and ethnic backgrounds…

I was asked recently why the mascot issue matters more than the epidemic of poverty on reservations. Or why we are bothered more by a word than the high school dropout rate of Native American students, which is the highest in the country.

It’s not that names matter more, it’s that when we talk about death rates, rape and epidemics in Indian country we don’t always get a response. But when we interrupt sports? We always get a response.


The Washington NFL team’s trademark attorney was on The Sports Junkies on WJFK-Radio this morning when he was asked if he would call a Native American a ‘redskin’ to his or her face. Raskopf paused at first…

John-Paul Flaim, one of the show’s hosts, then asked, “So what you’re saying is, there’s a context when it can be used as a slur, but the context of the Redskins organization is not as a slur, but as a term meaning Native American?”

“That’s right,” Raskopf said. “It may or may not be used disparagingly, just like many other terms can. So we don’t really think there’s much to that claim, and once you cross the tiny little line that needs to be crossed and realize that we, the Washington Redskins, have made something honorable and successful and imbued that into this brand, there’s no way that anyone can say that we use that mark disparagingly. It’s a mark. What trademark law’s all about.”


What the decision means, in practical terms: the Redskins aren’t required to change their name, but will no longer have the presumption of ownership of it under trademark law. That would seem to deal a blow to the club’s efforts going forward to prevent third parties from utilizing its name and logo to make money without forging agreements with the Redskins to compensate them.

Experts, though, are quick to point out that business ramifications could be minimal. Even without trademark protection, the club can make a strong argument for presumptive ownership through common law based on their longtime use of the name, which dates back to 1933. “They didn’t surrender their common law trademark rights,” says Mark Sommers, a trademark attorney with Finnegan in Washington, D.C. Think of a common law marriage, where long term couples are still subject to alimony and other legalities even if they never legally married. With product names and logos, common law is largely rooted in consumer protection, the idea being that “you don’t want the public to be confused as to the origin of the name,” says Sommers, who believes the Redskins would have a strong common law case…

The underlying reality is that these things are subjective. Polls have consistently shown that Native Americans are divided on the issue of the Redskins and other Indian-related names of sports teams (no, Native Americans don’t all think alike, they are individuals with varying opinions and political leanings, the same as the broader population). Teams like the Redskins, Braves, Chiefs and others have always maintained that their nicknames derive from respect, and why wouldn’t a team want a moniker that people associate with honor and toughness? Some Native Americans agree, and like the names. Others take offense and want the names changed. Disparaging? It depends on who you ask. That the U.S. government is now in charge of deciding what’s offensive is a slippery slope, to say the least. When it comes to “disparaging” people, why stop at race?


[L]et’s be frank: It is kind of an odd term. We wouldn’t be OK with “the Washington Blackskins” or the “DC Yellowskins,” so isn’t any color just the same? The first name of the Washington Redskins when it was founded was the Washington Braves (there were four American Indians on the team), so couldn’t Mr. Snyder just return to that name?

Maybe. But the PC police, and hard core liberals like Mr. Reid, would crow. They’ll see any name change as a victory, and worse — let’s be just as frank — move on to the next thing they find offensive. You know how thin-skinned and easily offended the members of the Tolerance Party can be.

But in the end, doesn’t America have more to worry about than the name of an NFL football team? And if 83 percent of Americans — and 90 percent of American Indians — don’t find the word offensive, shouldn’t that rule the day?


We’re agnostic in the Indian symbol debate, though we’ve never understood why the critics think fans and athletes want their team names to represent something other than strength, courage or pride. If names were meant to convey dislike—of, say, Vikings, Yankees or the Irish—then Redskins owner Dan Snyder would have converted to the Washington Harry Reids years ago…

President Obama couldn’t resist chiming in either, as he never can. “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team, even if it had a storied history, that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it,” he declaimed in October.

In this Administration that was a political signal to act, and all the President’s patent officers apparently knew to add the Redskins to the target list—at least judging by the majority’s legal reasoning. The ruling is nearly word-for-word identical to a 1990s trademark decision that was later overturned by a federal appeals court. This panel, with new plaintiffs, dusted off the same logic and procedural abuses of the narrow rules of patent evidence to please Washington’s party in power and the perpetually aggrieved. We trust the Redskins will prevail again on appeal…

So there you have it: The Obama Democrats now think government should dictate team mascots.


How far does this go, and is this a slippery slope? What if supporters of traditional marriage were to trademark the name “Natural Marriage Team” or similar word choice? Homosexuals have increasingly objected to the term “natural marriage” for heterosexual marriages.

Also whether a term concerns something “immoral” or “brings [someone] into contempt” can change over time. Consider actual national groups like Queers for Economic Justice, or local groups like the Queer Alliance Resource Center, which is an organization at the University of California at Berkeley.

Could they get a trademark? Was “queer” disparaging 20 years ago or alleging immorality, but not today?…

Reasonable people can disagree on where to draw the line on such things, or whether government should draw such lines at all. In a free society that treasures freedom of opinion and speech, there is always a danger that government will draw lines that promote a political agenda under the guise of enforcing civility.