The Irony Of The Redskins Trademark Case

About two week ago, the U.S. District Court upheld the previous court's cancellation of the Redskins trademark after ruling in favor of a lawsuit brought forth by a group of Native Americans.

Although the Redskins have already stated that they plan to appeal again and believe that they will be successful in that appeal, this is still a fairly significant ruling and a victory for those advocating for the team to change its name.

The movement may have just picked up some momentum as the Obama administration had just a few days before said that they would not support or allow the Redskins to build a new stadium on federal land without them first changing their team name.

So while those on board with the Skins changing their name start to celebrate, let me leave them, and you, with this: the recent ruling by the federal court may end up doing more harm than good to the Native Americans, at least in the short-run.

Just take a second to realize what the ruling does. What it means is that now anyone can sell merchandise or use the Redskins name and logo as it is no longer protected by trademark law.

Daniel Snyder has already made it clear that he does not intend on changing the name. I doubt that he will ever have an epiphany and begin to think that using the name Redskins is wrong and needs to be stopped. The only way that he will change the name is if the league forces him to do it or if his pocketbook does.


There are only two ways this thing plays out. The less likely one is that after the ruling nothing really changes: no one starts selling Redskins merchandise, which would otherwise cut into Snyder's profits. Two, and the more likely scenario, is that they do. At that point Snyder would need to make a business decision on whether the loss of sales is enough to make him re-brand the team to secure a new trademark.

And that is what is terribly ironic about the whole ruling. The only way that the Redskins change their name is if more people start to profit off it. Cheaper memorabilia would be available for purchase with the increased competition from firms that can now use the logo, which would lead to an increase in total Redskins merchandise sales. And for those that think the name is harmful to Native Americans, this certainly puts them in a tough spot with more of the hateful merchandise out on the market.

Those that support the name-change will thus need to advocate for an act that will cause more short-term harm than good. This seems hypocritical, and a consequence that many may not consider when supporting the court's decision to pull the Redskins' trademark. Basically, this ruling is a no-win situation for both sides. Both sides should be upset by what could be to come in the future.

This name-change situation has been very heavily media driven and very scapegoat-ey (for lack of an actual word). Other teams with questionable names or logos, like the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo, have more or less been left alone, and America has turned their attention towards the Skins.


Many are quick to jump down the throats of Skins fans that don't want the name changed and are quick to call them bigoted. That's probably not a fair assessment to make of Skins fans. Personally, I can say that I never even thought of the racial undertones of the Redskins' name until it became a big deal about three years ago, and that probably holds true for most Skins fans as well.

But none of this really matters. Frankly I don't think mainstream America's opinion matters in this case. I think the only thing that matters is what Native Americans think. I don't think it's anyone's job to tell Native Americans whether they should be offended or not.

In an often-cited 2004 survey, 90% of Native Americans did not mind the name. Now the methodology of that survey is very questionable; the poll was done by phone, which means that many Native Americans in rural conditions were not given a chance to express their opinions. In addition to that, the sample size was only 768 persons who self-identified as Native American. Anything under 1,500 should make one pause and think before buying in to the results of a public poll.

However, while the survey methodology is flawed and outdated, I only cite it to suggest that the issue is more nuanced than one would initially think. The fact that the percentage of Native Americans apathetic to the name was 90% rather than something a little lower shows that the issue is not just black and white. It shows that some support or have no problem with the name and that more research needs to be done.

Now some of you may be of the opinion that if 10% find it offensive, then it should be changed. I can't disagree with that because that's your opinion. However, I am not quite sure what the correct threshold should be.

I don't think that a minority of people being offended should necessarily overrule the majority that is accepting of a certain thing. Some may feel that a larger threshold for offense should be considered. Some might think the threshold should be lowered. There is simply no "right" threshold that everyone will agree on.

All I mean to point out is that when choosing one's own specific threshold make sure to consider the viewpoints of those being offended, but also balance those opinions to make sure that the wants of the few don't necessarily wash out the wants of the many.

A lot has been covered here. There are other good pieces of literature on the Redskins name-change situation as the debate has rolled on. Monday Morning Quarterback writer Jenny Vrentas wrote an excellent piece on the situation and makes some points in favor of changing the name, that I myself have not made in this piece.

At the end of the day, Native American tribes should be calling the shots here and not anyone else. And those that have an opinion are welcome to have it, even welcome to share it, but it shouldn't mean a thing in the court of public action. And for those of the opinion that the name should be changed and were cheering the recent ruling, you might want to consider that the consequences for the group being "offended" might outweigh any long-term benefits.

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