Hail To The North American Indigenous Peoples?

November 18, 2009

On Monday the United States Supreme Court declined to review a U.S. District Court decision denying six American Indians’ trademark challenge against the Washington Redskins. This battle has been going on for 17 years, and may not be over yet.  Even a victory wouldn’t have meant much, since the Redskins can still choose to use their nickname, whether or not it is capable of being trademarked.

The bigger question is should they? My gut instinct is to say that a football team has a right to use any name it pleases.  If Native Americans are offended, don’t support the team and organize boycotts, but don’t bring lawsuits.  If I step back for a moment and put myself in their shoes, however, I understand their anger. I am an Italian American, and I can’t imagine being too happy if there was an NFL franchise named The Kansas City Greaseballs, or something like that.  It would bother me.

Still, a privately owned business is permitted to pick any name it chooses, no matter how ill advised.  Where the American Indians seem to have a legitimate argument is the question of whether the word “Redskins” can be trademarked.  The Law prohibits use of a name “that may disparage persons, living or dead, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.”  The name “Redskins” disparages a large group of people.

The Supreme Court entirely ducked this issue by ruling that the plaintiffs waited too long to bring their claims. In essence, they were too old before they claimed that the name bothered them. However, a new battle may be brewing, as is reported by True/Slant.  It looks like a second petition has already been brought before the Trademark Board, and the petitioners were in their late teens and twenties when the petitions were filed.

It might not be for awhile, but sooner or later we’ll find out whether this nickname can be trademarked. If not, there might be trouble in Cleveland, Atlanta, Kansas City, Chicago,and probably fifty other cities and towns whose names escape me right now. The Cleveland Indians should be particularly concerned. The trademarked logo of Chief Wahoo is about as offensive a stereotype as can be imagined.  In case you’ve never really taken a close look at it, you really should.

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