Yesterday, I had two friends — one conservative and one liberal — opine on Facebook that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office possibly overstepped its bounds in rescinding trademark protection for the Washington Redskins. Neither friend is keen on the name, but they are concerned (for different reasons) over the idea of a government agency making what amounts to a moral decision.
This led me to reconsider my initial approval of the patent office's decision. But ultimately, it didn't change my mind.
I don't think patent officials should be reckless with the "disparaging" label; after all, a John Ashcroft type at the helm could really run with that in a bad way. But this particular case deals with what, to me at least, is one of the most cut-and-dry grounds for revocation there is: racism.
Often, the question is asked: What constitutes a protected class? The most solid indicator is anything that a person cannot help, and which causes others to discriminate against them. This includes gender, sexual orientation and, of course, race. The targets of such discrimination are made to feel like lesser citizens in society, which by definition is a suppression of rights. To that end, laws should disallow every tangible form of discrimination possible. The state must avoid anything implying that it endorses such discrimination. That's why I agree that Redskins shouldn't be a trademarked term.
As I've said before, Redskins is a particularly acute slur because "skin" is right there in the name. You might debate the merits of the "Indians" moniker or whether or not "Braves" is derogatory, but "Redskins" is straight-up crude. The only reason this is the name of a professional football team is because it has been the name of a professional football team for a long time. No one would accept this name for a new expansion team, any more than people today say "redskins" in everyday conversation. Sentimentality is a tough nut to crack. Owner Dan Snyder has played that card every chance he's gotten. And why not? It works. Not much else does.
Government should stay out of the touchy morals game, but fending off racism and bigotry is a stark exception. This is low-hanging fruit. No one should be able to trademark racial slurs.
Change the name.