White man truly speak with forked tongue. In a ruling as slippery as Bill Clinton’s famous definition of what the meaning of the word “is” is, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office decided Wednesday to cancel the Washington Redskins’ trademarks. President Obama suggested in October that the football team should “think about changing” its name, and here we are in June, and the administration is trying to force it to comply. Funny how that works.
Federal trademark law doesn’t allow registration of a trademark that “may disparage” individuals or groups or “bring them into contempt or disrepute.” That little helper verb “may” is the thin reed seized on by a small gaggle of aggrieved opportunists who insist the name disparages Indians. They insist the government must force the team’s owner, Dan Snyder, to change it.
The Redskins will appeal the decision in federal court, just as it did after the Patent Office under Mr. Clinton tried to do the same thing years earlier. The 1999 Patent Office ruling was overturned by a federal judge after a pointless legal battle dragged on for four years.
“We’ve seen this story before,” said Bob Raskopf, trademark lawyer for the team. “And just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of, and right to use, the Redskins name and logo.” The trademark board’s ruling is on hold while on appeal, so the only thing certain to happen in the months ahead is that the lawyers will rack up billable hours at the expense of the fans. Everything is passed along. Washington will continue to cheer for its beloved ‘Skins.
Wednesday’s ruling would deprive Mr. Snyder and the Redskins of valuable private-property rights. The team has not won a Super Bowl in two decades, but it’s the third most valuable franchise in the league, according to a Forbes magazine valuation of NFL teams. The Redskins are worth $1.7 billion, behind only the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots, and $145 million of that worth comes from “branding,” selling things with the Redskins name on it.
Were the ruling to stand, bootleggers could pump out cheap jerseys, jackets and other trinkets bearing the team’s logo and name without the team collecting licensing fees. It could even make the Redskins name and logo even more pervasive than it is now.
Despite a well-orchestrated public relations pressure campaign that has been joined by the usual cadre of liberal special-interest groups, polls have consistently found that there’s never been more than a tiny minority of the public at large and, more importantly, of American Indians themselves, who think the name is offensive. Ninety percent of the American Indians told pollsters for the Annenberg Public Policy Center in 2004 that the name didn’t bother them.
George Preston Marshall, the founding owner of the club, chose “Redskins” in 1933 to honor Lone Star Dietz, the coach and an American Indian. “I admire the Redskins name,” the late Jack Kent Cooke, whose family sold the team to Dan Snyder in 1999, once said. “I think it stands for bravery, courage and a stalwart spirit, and I see no reason why we shouldn’t continue to use it.”
Neither do we, and we think the patent board’s ruling should be sent to an unhappy hunting ground. The shame is that a few malcontents and opportunists are trying to scuttle the image of the brave, courageous and stalwart brave and replace it with the image of weaklings and whiners. Say it ain’t so, Geronimo.