“Panties Off” Defense to Redskins’ Offense

November 16, 2015

332 words

Just when you thought you’d heard it all: In 2014, you may recall, a federal trademark appeal board cancelled the trademark registration of the Washington, DC, professional football team’s name, the “Redskins,” holding it offensive to Native Americans. The board said the mark is barred by the Lanham Act’s ban on disparaging names that may lead some people to hold others in contempt. In July a federal district court rejected a challenge to the board’s decision, holding that a trademark is “government speech” and so not shielded by the First Amendment. On Friday, October 30, lawyers for the team filed an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, VA. The 82-page brief, which you can read here, covers a lot of legal territory. But the lawyers (and everyone else by now) obviously savored their gotcha moment, even as others mocked. Perhaps you won’t be astonished to learn that the trademark office has granted protection to quite a few other offensive words and phrases, but you may be taken a bit aback to read through a partial list: “Take Yo Panties Off” and “Dago Swagg” for lines of clothing; “Bound Gangbangs” for a pornography purveyor; “Retardipedia.com” for a website; and “Midget-Man” for condoms. If that’s government speech, what’s it trying to say? No doubt lots more to come from the lawyers and the court. And from everyone else.

Predictably, opponents of the Redskins trademark ridiculed the brief for trying to change the subject, saying, in effect, “the word I hate is still worse than the words you hate,” when the issue pretty evidently is whether the law sets a standard impossible for a government agency to follow. I’m sorta hoping this one goes to the Supreme Court. How will the justices divide on whether “Boys Are Stupid, Throw Rocks at Them” (trademark for a line of wallets) is speech of the government of the United States of America?

November 3, 2015

Your email will not be posted on the site if you make a comment.

One Comment

  1. Charlie December 14, 2015 at 8:11 pm - Reply

    The Redskins example of PC depiction is interesting to me as a Redskins fan, and I confess I have been a fan long enough that I instinctively reject change in the absence of a compelling case. (The joke goes that Snyder is willing to change the name of Washington Redskins- by deleting “Washington.”) A colleague some years ago was a Native American Prince, and I would like to ask him his view, however, to give the issue some personal element. If he thinks it is not a big deal, I would stay the course, for sure. Somehow I suspect he would say this is an affront that pales in the historical context, if it is an affront at all. But I honesty can’t say.
    More compelling is the issue of Woodrow Wilson and his namesake School at Princeton, which is the subject of controversy there. There is no doubt Wilson was a racist. He was also the architect of the modern Princeton University, a Governor, then 2-term President. If this does not qualify him as namesake of the School dedicated to governmental affairs I don’t know what could. Is Jefferson’s name to be expunged from the U of VA because of his affair with Sally Hemmings?
    I suspect Wilson was an anti Semite but this did not offend me when I walked past the Woody Wilson School as an undergrad. Granted, my forbears did not endure slavery. Blacks have a unique sensitivity. But where does it stop? Slavery and Native American history is original sin of the US, and is of a magnitude that it cannot be expunged with symbolic nomenclature change. (But what about Andrew Jackson who had less redeeming virtue??)

Leave A Comment