The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s contribution to the Washington Redskins debate is pettifogging absurdity in the service of rank politically correct bullying.
A panel of the office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled in favor of plaintiffs claiming that the Redskins name “may disparage persons or bring them into contempt, or disrepute,” and therefore stripped the team of six trademarks. In theory, the ruling will hurt the team’s bottom line by making it impossible for it to stop others from selling its merchandise.
The decision has been celebrated by people who can’t tell the difference between Redskins team owner Dan Snyder and Andrew Jackson as a sharp blow for social justice in team nicknames. Exercising his constitutional power as arbiter of tastefulness in sports, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rallied almost all of his Democratic colleagues a few months ago to implore the NFL to change the offending name, and hailed the patent ruling as the beginning of the end of the profound historical injustice perpetrated by the football franchise that dare not speak its name.
The patent board ruled this way once before. In response to a complaint in the 1990s, the board made its decision, as it noted this time around, “after seven years of litigation, involving multiple discovery and pre-trial motions.” Then, the ruling was reversed in court — after about another 10 years. The dispute over the Redskins is the Jarndyce v. Jarndyce of the NFL, or in patent lingo, “football exhibitions rendered in stadia.”
Certainly, opinions differ about the appropriateness of “Redskins” as a nickname. But some perspective: There is no time in American history when Native Americans have been held in higher regard. Their nobility is celebrated in our popular culture, and their unjust treatment recounted in our schools. The existence of a professional football franchise with the same name that it has had for the past 80 years — no matter how anachronistic — has self-evidently not caused Native Americans to be held in contempt and disrepute.
The piéce de résistance of the patent ruling is the cancellation of the trademark for the Redskinettes for “entertainment services, namely, cheerleaders who perform dance routines at professional football games and exhibitions and other personal appearances.” Was there ever a time when female Native Americans were called Redskinettes, disparagingly or otherwise? Are we supposed to believe that the self-esteem of proud Native American tribes that have existed here for centuries depends on the fate of the Redskinettes trademark?
The Washington Post called the patent decision “a victory for tolerance.” A bureaucratic body seeking to harm a sports team because some people don’t like its nickname is a strange exercise in tolerance. The paper went on to note that the tide is running against the Redskins since so many people have spoken out against them, “including the president of the United States and half of the United States Senate, which controls the tax breaks enjoyed by the NFL.” Get it? It would be too bad if something happened to your nice football league. How tolerant.
In a section establishing the standing of the anti-Redskins petitioners, the patent panel made it clear they have no direct interest except that they are offended. Fine. Don’t be Redskins fans. Root for the Cowboys or the Giants, the team’s NFC East rivals. Never go to FedExField. Don’t buy Redskins paraphernalia. If you must support a Washington sports team, make it one with a nickname so thoroughly anodyne that even the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approves — the Major League Soccer team, D.C. United.
But in the 21st century, this isn’t the American way. If something offends you, it must be crusaded against and crushed underfoot, using whatever instrument of power is available. That the franchise is holding firm against this assault is reason to say a hearty “Hail to the Redskins!” — while we still can.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.