The decades-long fight to banish offensive nicknames appears to have gotten a sizable boost from the government. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office revoked the NFL’s Washington team’s exclusive rights to the R-word.
Of course, it could be just another tease. Daniel Snyder, owner of the team, will fight the decision. His lawyers already predicted they’ll be able to overturn the decision to cancel the team’s trademark protection on appeal.
That’s usually what privileged people do: fight to maintain privilege. Too bad Snyder and the NFL are missing a chance to join the rest of America in the march toward progressiveness.
Native American groups, media members and respected publications, other professional sports organizations, fans, 50 U.S. senators and celebrities all have deemed the NFL’s using this term to be offensive. Now the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, ruling on a suit brought by a group of Native Americans in 2006, has weighed in.
Yet, Snyder will keep fighting. And the NFL will remain silent. In the wake of the NBA ousting one of its owners for racial insensitivity, Roger Goodell and the NFL will fight to keep it in their league.
In a statement dripping with arrogance, Bob Raskopf, Washington’s trademark attorney, said: “We’ve seen this story before. And just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the (team’s) name and logo.”
As usual with the mightiest of sports leagues, it requires extremes before change is allowed. It has been the case with PEDs, with concussions, with crime among players. It’s a shame one of the most powerful and impactful establishments in sports needs to be forced into doing the right thing.
The ruling can’t stop Washington from using the team name—it will continue to have trademark protection while the matter makes its way through the courts. But if the ruling eventually is upheld, it would take away the team’s exclusive rights to the name and allow anybody to profit from its use, thereby decreasing its value to the team. The hope is that going into Snyder’s wallet will bring about a change of heart.
Everyone knows this whole Native Americans-as-mascot bit is antiquated. Its use has expired. Even if it is as harmless as supporters claim, it is too connected to a time this country is trying to move past.
Yet Snyder fights on.
Tradition is less valuable than progress. It seems corporations like Washington and the NFL still haven’t figured that out, so they stubbornly cling to a bygone era until they are ushered from relevance.
“I was given a chief’s headdress when we won the Super Bowl,” Joe Theismann, Washington’s Hall of Fame quarterback, told USA Today. “To me, I was honored to accept that headdress, and I was honored to wear that uniform at the time I did. But like everything else, society is changing almost daily.
“This is not gonna go away. It’s become very evident that it’s entered the political arena, it’s entered the governmental agencies arena. It certainly has been a part of public opinion. And it’s just a question of the position that Dan wants to take going forward.”
Sure, Snyder would lose the support of crazies who named their kid John Riggins. But the gain would be greater. No. 1, they’d get to sell a brand new line of merchandise after they change their name and mascot. An entire fan base would need to be reoutfitted, not to mention those who’d just appreciate the gesture and support the franchise.
Instead, the racial epithet will have to be pried from the NFL’s cold grip.
Wednesday’s ruling might not be enough. It won’t be a surprise if it’s overturned. Judge Marc A. Bergsman, the dissenter in the 2-to-1 vote, said the real question is not whether the term was disparaging to Native Americans. He said the decision should be based on if it was disparaging when the trademark was applied for—between 1967 and 1990. Because if it was cool back then, it should be cool now.
The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board has been overturned before. A similar ruling by the board in 1999 was overturned on a technicality in 2003.
The Washington NFL squad can use its team name exclusively until the appeal is settled, years from now probably.
Here’s hoping the ruling is upheld soon and that the National Congress of American Indians starts producing its own R-word merchandise.
For 81 years, the franchise and the NFL have made money off demeaning a people. It would be a great irony, and a great pleasure, to see Native Americans dominating the market, supplying a demand that won’t die.