A Washington Redskins helmet

An appeal board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has cancelled the trademark registrations for the NFL’s Washington Redskins, saying the team’s name disparages Native Americans. The Redskins plan to appeal. Though the ruling wouldn’t force the team to change its name, the Redskins have already come under heat for cultural insensitivity, with President Obama among those criticizing the moniker. But Redskins owner Dan Snyder has sworn he will never change it, and argues that it honors Native Americans. What does the decision mean for the Redskins, and for other sports teams like the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Blackhawks?

Geoffrey Nunberg, author, adjunct professor in UC Berkeley's School of Information, commentator for NPR's "Fresh Air" and former chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Are there other examples where the courts or the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has cancelled the trademark registrations for a business before?

    What role does the 1st Amendment play? One may dislike the term ‘Redskin’, but there are many examples of businesses or individuals supporting insensitive, racist etc views which have not been ruled illegal.

    • thucy

      “but there are many examples of businesses or individuals supporting insensitive, racist etc views which have not been ruled illegal.”

      Words matter, Beth, and so do relevant facts. Has the Patent Office actually deemed it “illegal”? Or has it merely cancelled the trademark registrations?

      As for your inference that the Redskins matter has been treated unusually or differently, I refer you to The NY Times article, which I think you should read:

      “Jane Shay Wald, chairwoman of the trademark practice group of the law firm Irell & Manella in Los Angeles, said that about a half-dozen trademark registrations were denied or canceled annually because, as in the Redskins case, they were found to be disparaging or otherwise objectionable.”

  • thucy

    Our country’s willful ethnic cleansing of native tribes, including massacres and relegation to miserable “reservations”, will not be magically erased by this decision by the Patent Office.
    And yet, I have to thank God someone made a thoughtful, strong decision against this idiotic name. Thank you, whoever it was at the Patent Office who finally told the jerks who own this team: “BASTA! And GANUG!”
    Yes, “Basta-Ganug”: I’d lay even money that it was a little old Italian or Jewish American lady who grew up hearing “wop” or “Shylock” just a few too many times, and, because she had a reasonable level of human empathy, thereby understood how stupid the “Redskins” football “tradition” was. Or maybe she was Chinese, or Anglo, and just CARED about the English language and its proper usage. Whoever it was, whatever their gender or ethnic background, thank you for being a decent, thoughtful person.

    • John

      I did not listen to the broadcast. I did not read the comments. I am not a sports fan. So I am the Man From Mars: I don’t know about you earthlings.
      So. If someone chooses a mascot name, it is because they would rather be the mascot than themselves. As in, “I think Redskins are better than a bunch of football players from DC.” “I am a REDSKIN, I am proud of it, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ too it.” It is logically and inherently an expression of admiration, affection, kindness and appreciation and identity. It is not in any way derogatory, hateful or negative. I want to identify with you, Warrior, Indian, Brave, Chief, or Redskin, because you are a great competitor. My opponents should know me and fear me in a contest. This is competition. Not because there ANYTHING negative about the expression.
      A mascot is inherently positive. I would not use that name if I did not admire who the mascot represents. It is NOT a negative name. It is a positive name. I do not believe I have heard this obvious argument anywhere. Why? I love Native Americans and their culture. They are great warriors. It is great for sports teams to identify with great warriors. I would love to hear a counter argument.

  • Guest

    While surely the majority of Native Americans who died off did so because of diseases brought by Spanish, French, British and other migrants as well as forced labor i.e. Africans, the causal racism of past centuries that was practiced by all parties i.e. migrants and natives, surely accelerated the devastation wrought upon the indigenous culture. Such racism has no place in the modern era, be it practiced by whites, blacks, asians or natives, any more than does religious magical thinking or homophobia.

    • thucy

      “rather than waste time blaming one another for our ancestors’ bad behavior.”

      Fletcher (I think you usually post as Frank?):

      The issue isn’t merely what HAS been done to native tribes (and for that matter African-Americans) by our (your) ancestors, but what CONTINUES to be done to native tribes, and for that matter, to African-Americans.

      One need only look at the mass incarceration of black males for non-violent drug offenses and the lack of plumbing and other very basic amenities on existing “Indian” reservations to understand that this isn’t some long-ago problem, but an ONGOING issue of ethnic cleansing.

      • ES Trader

        Blacks get too much media attention, enough of Black oppression, there are other minority groups

        • thucy

          Indeed, there are other minority groups, however, the mass incarceration of black males has been vastly under-reported in this country, and has approached if not reached the point of ethnic cleansing.
          It is also a massive misallocation of taxpayer resources. We have now invested more taxpayer monies on prisons and police than on education.
          It’s time to recognize that prosecuting blacks but not whites and Asians for non-violent drug offenses is not only unuust, but a vast waste of taxpayer money.

          • ES Trader

            I agree with you regarding the disproportionate incarceration of blacks and Hispanics but that s just a case for legalizing drugs and the formation of the DEA from the Nixon administration.
            The point is that we now have MLK day, a slap in the face to Washington and Lincoln, Black History month, The Black Congressional Caucus, Black Student Union etc.
            In the mean time Mexican s are being shot by Border Patrol on the Mexican side of the border, police fatal shootings occur weekly without enough media coverage


        • Celeste Coit

          Rather than a decrease focus on the oppression of African Americans, let’s shine a light on bigotry, inequality, and ignorance wherever it lurks.

          • ES Trader

            Its high time to focus on other groups and issues. I don’t see Jesse Jackson or the militant Harry Edwards making statements on this or any other issue that doesn’t involve Blacks.

            What if a SW team were named “Wetbacks” or a Southern team were called “N ers”, you can bet the ranch that they would be marching and hollering relentlessly.

            I’m more sympathetic to non-Black issues like the 50 year old elephant that was poached this week for its tusks, driven by the demand for ivory by Chinese & Vietnamese, the saving of the Red Wolf, the polluting of the oceans and the rising acid levels etc.

            Let the hypocrisy of Blacks resolve itself, by itself.

  • ES Trader

    Its long over due for Washington to adopt a new mascot name as Stanford did years ago, as the NBA Washington did.There is no question regarding the racist name of Washington and representing the nation’s capitol makes it that much worse.

    Why can’t the NFL expel Dan Snyder like the NBA is doing with Sterling, for what I consider a less infraction.

    Cleveland Indians should be next.

  • thucy

    Given what happened to a highly valued NPS Ranger who served as a whistleblower against “Redskins” team owner Dan Snyder, I have to admire the US Patent Office decision even more:


  • Zachary Cleland

    I agree that the term is offensive. However, I find it interesting that you say the word “redskins” through out your broadcast but you compared it to other disparaging terms that you could not say on the radio such as the N-word and the K-word. Why is the word not banned by the FCC?

    • thucy

      That’s a very interesting question, and one that Geoff Numberg would have answered well.

    • ES Trader

      U are absolutely correct regarding on-air use of ethnic slurs. Media will never utter the “N” word but will casually use others, including NPR, which just a few weeks ago used Jap on air in a story by a Black reporter.( Michelle Norris ?) twice ! Double standards should not exist.

      Why is “Black Srudent Union”. or “Black Congressional Caucus” permitted when other people of color, including whites wpu;d be labeled racist ?

  • Guest

    Don”t Call Me White

  • awetempest

    Don’t Call Me White

  • MattCA12

    Had they been virtuous civic thought leaders, the owners would have changed the name years ago to some other Native American name that would have enabled them to keep all their logos and trademarks, e.g. “Redhawks”, “Warriors”, etc. Now it just looks like they are being forced to swallow the will of the Obama Administration. I fully understand that often times you have to slap people in the face to get them to see the errors of their ways, it’s just sad because it was all so unnecessary.

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