Supreme Court delivers victory for Washington on trademark case

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The long and winding road regarding whether Washington will lose federal trademark protection for its name and logo isn’t officially over, but it essentially is.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in a case involving the name of a band (“The Slants”) that may be offensive to Asian-Americans that the guarantee of free speech under the First Amendment  overcomes the government’s supposed ability to invalidate trademark rights on potentially offensive grounds. It doesn’t mean that “The Slants” or “Redskins” are or aren’t offensive; it means that the government can’t deny trademark protection based on arguments that a given term does or could offend.

The government argued in the current case and in the Washington case that the issuance of a trademark transforms the potentially offensive term into “government speech.” Justice Samuel Alito had this to say in explaining that federally-protected trademarks aren’t messages from Uncle Sam: “[I]f trademarks represent government speech, what does the Government have in mind when it advises Americans to ‘make.believe’ (Sony), ‘Think different’ (Apple), ‘Just do it’ (Nike), or ‘Have it your way’ (Burger King)? Was the Government warning about a coming disaster when it registered the mark ‘EndTime Ministries’?

The public debate regarding whether the Washington name and logo actually offends Native Americans bubbles up from time to time. I’ve personally chosen to avoid using the term in deference to those Native Americans who are actually and genuinely offended by the term. Other writers at PFT can make their own decisions. When a flawed Washington Post poll showed that only nine percent of 504 self-identified Native Americans deemed the term offensive, the fact that one in 10 find the dictionary-defined slur to be offensive was enough to persuade me to continue to refrain from using it.

If you choose to use it, that’s fine. I’m not wagging a finger at those who use it. But in the same way that the First Amendment allows the franchise to continue to choose to use the term, the First Amendment allows me and anyone else to continue to choose to not use it. If that upsets the people who choose to use it, so be it.

99 responses to “Supreme Court delivers victory for Washington on trademark case

  1. Yes the Redskins, that’s Redskins won a victory.

    Unanimous decision, for the Redskins.

  2. This was always obvious. It always amazes me how people that make their living off of free speech (namely the media, who were 100% the driving force behind this) are the first to try to silence speech that they don’t like

  3. The thing that bothers me is that it is the team in our nation’s capital. Amd while it has been for many years, the fact that it is a news story in recent history makes other nations take notice.

    I know a lot of Chinese people, and several have told me, that if you want food, shopping or luxury, you go to Europe. You go to America to feel what it is like to be a human being.

    That’s a pretty powerful image of America in the rest of the world. It is a shame to damage it with a silly team name.

  4. “If that upsets the people who choose to use it, so be it.”

    You realize that NOBODY on the side of using the ‘Redskins’ name, ever got upset with your choosing NOT to use it – in fact, most of us laugh at your petty protest.

    No – the only ones ever getting upset, are those on YOUR side of the issue, ‘wagging your finger’ at anyone who dared utter the word “Redskins”. You can try and deflect, but it won’t work…

  5. Good!
    However non Indian Americans will still tell Native Americans how offended they should feel even though they actually could care less.
    Hail to the Redskins!

  6. It amazes me how people don’t understand you don’t have the right not to be offended. That’s how free speech works.

    There are a number of people in this country with the belief that free speech only exists if its speech they agree with.

  7. aj66shanghai says:

    The thing that bothers me is that it is the team in our nation’s capital. Amd while it has been for many years, the fact that it is a news story in recent history makes other nations take notice.

    I know a lot of Chinese people, and several have told me, that if you want food, shopping or luxury, you go to Europe. You go to America to feel what it is like to be a human being.

    That’s a pretty powerful image of America in the rest of the world. It is a shame to damage it with a silly team name.
    =======================================

    You should do some traveling, as I have. Most of the world laughs at the left wing political correctness movement here. Most other places on earth, if a white person dressed in blackface, it would be considered art, even in Africa (I saw it). Do that here and you’ll have people threatening your life.

  8. Redskin as a fact is a native term for warrior, it represents the red clay used to paint faces before battle…… It is only offensive to pasty white people and those who see a chance to make a buck … Proud Lumbee

  9. The right conclusion. Had they decided the other way, we would have had to start the discussion to rename the USS Oklahoma City and anything else related to Oklahoma, as that name derives from the Choctaw language, translated out to “Red People.”

  10. Plenty of companies use variants of their name in different markets. British Telecom changed their name to BT so to make them more attractive to international/overseas customers. I think British Petroleum did the same with BP.

    Washington could change their name to The Skins and whilst keeping the same logo, change the skin colour to a ethnically neutral colour.

    Whilst everyone now will still know their history, future generations probably wouldn’t care less.

  11. I never really understood the underlying motive for the PC police in their attempt to rule the world. It seems only they can determine what is offensive or not offensive and the line keeps changing.

    So congratulations to the Redskins and to those 1 or 2% of the snowflakes who take umbrage, just remember, this is a market based economy and you can always choose to economically boycott the Redskins and the NFL for being so offensive to you. But kindly leave the rest of us alone.

  12. RandyinRoxbury says:
    Jun 19, 2017 1:48 PM
    Good!
    However non Indian Americans will still tell Native Americans how offended they should feel even though they actually could care less.
    Hail to the Redskins!
    ————————————
    ….and if it wasn’t for a certain reality tv host you would have never been so embolden to post what Native Americans feelings truly are.

    #timeisticking

  13. If a one-in-ten-are-offended study is enough to convince you to avoid using a term, then you should reconsider many of the terms that you use on a daily basis.

    Or you can stop cherry picking.

  14. If the name is not derogatory then go ahead and find a large Business man and call him a suit to his face.

    The term refers to something that was worn (… it represents the red clay used to paint faces before battle, see kwjsb’s response), not a person or group of people.

  15. aj66shanghai says:

    The thing that bothers me is that it is the team in our nation’s capital. Amd while it has been for many years, the fact that it is a news story in recent history makes other nations take notice.

    I know a lot of Chinese people, and several have told me, that if you want food, shopping or luxury, you go to Europe. You go to America to feel what it is like to be a human being.

    That’s a pretty powerful image of America in the rest of the world. It is a shame to damage it with a silly team name.

    *********

    The powerful image of America was reinforced by the Supreme Court, which destroyed the political correct argument that one person being offended is more important than another’s free speech.

  16. Thank God we got a moderate on the supreme court to balance out the snowflakes on the left!

  17. dcpatfan,
    1. Not a fan of that “man”
    2. This had been stated many times long before “he” came around
    3. I’m pretty sure its the polls that show, by a large margin, that Native American either aren’t offended by the name or don’t care.

  18. The Redskins are still a bad team and about to become terrible again once Cousins leaves.
    Couldn’t happen to a nicer owner. 🙂

  19. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — they can change the Redskins name to the Whiteskins and I wouldn’t be offended one bit, even though I’m white.
    It’s such a stupid argument brought up by a minuscule number of people who ran out of stupid stuff to protest.

    And btw — my great grandmother was a full blooded Erie Indian.

    What they ought to do is change the name from the Redskins to the Morons to honor those nut cases who found Redskins offensive.

  20. Jun 19, 2017 1:51 PM
    Redskin as a fact is a native term for warrior, it represents the red clay used to paint faces before battle…… It is only offensive to pasty white people and those who see a chance to make a buck … Proud Lumbee
    —–
    Then why is it in EVERY Clint Eastwood or John Wayne western ever made in which they utter the term “redskin”, it’s clearly an insult? Heck, in Outlaw Josey Wales, Grandma utters it and then follows up with, “No offense” to Chief Dan George. It was a lighthearted moment that was called back later when he cursed at “palefaces” (which, I’m sure you historical revisionists will say it was a reverential term for Cowboys, right?).

  21. sumkat says:
    Jun 19, 2017 1:38 PM
    This was always obvious. It always amazes me how people that make their living off of free speech (namely the media, who were 100% the driving force behind this) are the first to try to silence speech that they don’t like

    ====================================

    If you think about it, it makes sense. Since the media conglomerates have constitutional protection (free press), their power is enhanced when others are denied free speech rights.

    For example, media companies always oppose internet bloggers from being characterized as journalists.

    Also, they favor campaign spending limits because if you can raise enough money to go around them, their power decreases. They want to be the gatekeepers and restrict everyone else.

    It’s about money and power, as usual.

  22. Sad to see idiotic comments from both sides here. I wish people would learn to articulate actual positions instead of retreating to the laziest generalizations they can think of to justify their positions on a given issue (“Racist!” “Snowflake!”).

    Believe it or not, some things are worth thinking about for more than two minutes before making up your mind and calling everyone who disagrees with you an idiot.

    And to those decrying or celebrating the political makeup of the Supreme Court, consider that an overwhelming majority of Supreme Court decisions are unanimous or near-unanimous. Usually only the truly hot-button stuff (gay marriage, gun rights, etc.) creates division. The law is the law, and the Justices know the law. So the next time you want to cast judgment on a Supreme Court decision, stop and considering whether you have even the slightest notion how the law applies to the issue, or whether you are just whining because the law doesn’t support your politics.

  23. I don’t if this is good or bad and I don’t think one individual should try to set the bar about how others should feel about persons, places or things.

    However, here is something I found extremely ironic. I was talking to a friend about this who thinks the name should be changed, it’s offensive to profit blah blah….

    This guys drives a Jeep Cherokee. How is it different?

  24. You should do some traveling, as I have. Most of the world laughs at the left wing political correctness movement here.


    Absolute hogwash. The modern cultures of Western Europe are progressive and liberal. They laugh at American conservatism and the cowboy gun culture it supports.

  25. As a seasoned trademark attorney, it so difficult to get a USPTO case before the Supremes, let alone get a judgment that reflects equity and fairness. I am stunned and happy! Release the locks from the “Redskins” brand!!

  26. As a Dutch-American, I am offended by the scene in Austin Powers where he says “There are only two things I can’t stand in this world. People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures… and the Dutch”. See how easy that was?

  27. The use of the name “Redskins” is the least offensive thing going on in Washington right now.

  28. whatjusthapped says:

    Jun 19, 2017 1:57 PM

    I never really understood the underlying motive for the PC police in their attempt to rule the world. It seems only they can determine what is offensive or not offensive and the line keeps changing.
    _________________________________
    At one time in America, about 1860, it was considered “politically correct” to talk about abolishing slavery. Thank God the PC police won that argument! Political correctness has advanced our society and made it HUMAN. Be glad. However, I do know that many of you do prefer we go backwards as a nation.

  29. As I have said many times, as long as there is a high school on an Indian reservation that nicknames its sports teams “Redskins,” then the term “Redskins” is not offensive or racist.

    On the larger view the Supreme Court used in its ruling, I am always glad to have the over-intrusive government dealt a setback in their ongoing mission to control every possible aspect of our lives.

  30. @GettingNoRespect
    …not given in to bickering with ignorance, and not really one to follow polls and with all due respect, you, nor anyone else knows how many Native Americans are offended by the name “Redskin”.
    That being said my comment was directed at the suggestion that “other” oppressed peoples are responsible for “telling” Native Amricans they should be insulted. They speak for themselves.

    #wewontgoeasy

  31. You should do some traveling, as I have. Most of the world laughs at the left wing political correctness movement here.
    ____________________________

    Absolute hogwash. The modern cultures of Western Europe are progressive and liberal. They laugh at American conservatism and the cowboy gun culture it supports.
    ____________________________

    Who are the Europeans to laugh at anyone? Americans laugh at them

  32. Good! Now, please resume referring to them as the Redskins and not Washington…

  33. Freedom will always be more important than anyone’s feelings. Now if we could only get our school systems to understand this and stop teaching kids the opposite.

  34. The Washington Redskins have the right to name their team as they see fit.

    If the name offends you, you have the right to avoid purchasing game tickets and team merchandise. You even have the right to protest the name if that’s how you want to spend your time.

    Seeing as how the Redskins franchise continues to sell both tickets and merchandise to multitudes of fans, it would appear that the majority of the Redskin’s customer base have voted in favor of the name with their wallets.

  35. @dcpatfan
    My first two points were to negate any thought that my statements or feelings had anything to do with the potus. They do not.

    My last statement was simply to backup why, I believe, he felt empowered to give the general feelings of the Native American population. His statement was, I believe, a confirmation that Native Americans could speak for themselves and that they did not require or want others telling them how they should feel.

    I’m still not clear on your position.

  36. GettingNoRespect says:
    Jun 19, 2017 2:14 PM

    If the name is not derogatory then go ahead and find a large Business man and call him a suit to his face.

    The term refers to something that was worn (… it represents the red clay used to paint faces before battle, see kwjsb’s response), not a person or group of people.

    ———————————————————
    You missed the entire point, It mean warrior

  37. We basically have selective free speech which means that everyone is okay with free speech their terms and only so long as it does not offend them because if it does then we need another safe zone or safety pin.

  38. Using the name is not the biggest issue in the world, but you’d have to admit it’s ironic that the team in the nation’s capital, with a sizeable black population, was also the last to sign a black player, and had to be forced into it by the NFL. Even Green Bay, with 99.9% white people, had black players 11 years before Redskins. Maybe the Skins need to get out and sign some Native Americans.

  39. No matter what you think of the name Redskins this would have set a horrible precedent had the decision went the other way. Telling companies that trademarks that have been in place for decades aren’t enforceable any more because somebody somewhere decided they are now offensive would have opened a whole can of worms.

  40. I agree with the court, but anyone who thinks this name not being used would have been a win for native Americans is delusional and has never read history. A team mascot, used to represent a fighter, warrior, something to be admired using a name that only recently (last 10 years) has been decided as a “slur” being then “corrected” would have somehow undone the disgrace of an entire ethnicity’s genocide? I am sure the women and children who were burned alive (en masse), savagely killed, tortured, raped, would bless this mightily and see history righted, had they been forced to change the name. That being said, its pretty easy to look up the ugly racist past of this team and understand why there are still just as many Cowboy fans here (I live here as a native Texan and Cowboy fan) as there are Redskins fans. Check it out, if you don’t know.

  41. Tough day for the staff. First Kaepernick delivers confirmation on why he will not have an NFL job and now the Redskins live on as a protected team name…wow.

  42. Congratulations, you get to continue to offend Native Americans. It’s one of the only “wins” Washington will have this year.

  43. Poor ole Phil Simms is having a bad year. First he gets booted off the number one profootball broadcasting team and now to learn that the Washington REDSKINS are keeping their name. He must be hating life.

  44. @mikea311

    did steven a smith have to apologize about calling chip kelley a racist. Bill mahr will have to apologize for life. On a bad joke not even a statement. Ill wait.

  45. lightninhopkins says:
    Jun 19, 2017 2:00 PM
    If the name is not derogatory then go ahead and find a large Native American man and call him a redskin to his face.

    ———–

    Why not? They’re too drunk on their firewater and too busy getting their limbs chopped off from diabetes do anything about it. The white man conquered them once and the white man will do it again

  46. It’s not up to you to decide what to call them it’s up to them. They get to name the team in accordance with their own wishes and the law. You only exist in the artificial world of sports because teams like the REDSKINS take the risk of starting a franchise and attracting a fan base. Your a parasitic opportunist who now thinks you’re bigger than the teams you cover.

  47. As my username shows I’m a Cowboy fan and a die hard fan at that but I’d stand in solidarity with skins fans if they had to change their name over something this stupid. I as well as many others have heard the name Redskins all my life and never thought of a racist aspect of it until liberals started telling us it was “racist.” And “the Slants”? Anybody who thought of that as being racist clearly has there own issues that the NFL and its fans are not obligated to fix. Get a life.

  48. Yea great news for freedom but the new Las Vegas Whitey Whites is having a hard time with their trademark case. Even harder for the new LA team who are changing their name to LA YellowMens. USA what a wonderful place.

    It really is a stupid thing that the owner of the team won’t think reasonably. If anyone can defend the name Redskins they should step up and enlighten people like me who cannot for the life of me understand how the name associated with the logo is not deeply offensive.

  49. Ugadogs21 says:
    Jun 19, 2017 2:47 PM

    However, here is something I found extremely ironic. I was talking to a friend about this who thinks the name should be changed, it’s offensive to profit blah blah….

    This guys drives a Jeep Cherokee. How is it different?
    ——————————————————————-

    Are you serious? It’s the difference between saying “black person” and “n*****”.

  50. I’m deeply and profoundly upset and angry that the football team I support has not made the playoffs in a don’t know how many years…So….I’ll respectfully ask that you also abstain from using the name in your column until such a time as they qualify for post season play…
    Simply refer to it as ” that team from Western New York”…
    Thank you.

  51. I guess next will be an historic court case involving those who sell tickets for more than their face value:

    The People vs. The Scalpers

  52. A good decision by the court today. It should not have come to that, but such is the cultural skewing caused by political correctness.

    Mike, PC first inhibits, then denigrates and argues against free speech, and this should be apparent from daily headlines. The Redskins are a storied sports franchise and have earned the right to keep their name. This is a well-trod path.

    Where does it end, Mike? The public mention of the phrase ‘Minnesota Twins’ could emotionally damage couples who cannot conceive, for instance.

    If I believe with conviction that your words offend me, will that be enough make you change your change your position? Or will I need another 9 per cent?

    The PC issue is larger than sports, even larger that any segment of our society. PC pits us against each other, amplifies anger, and now, is enough to cause near-death shootings at baseball games. To what end? Politics is already a spectator sport. Thanks, ESPN.

    I say “enough”. Let go of this unattainable notion of fairness. It will never happen. And sports should be as free as possible of it.

    While your position on this matter is well-known, I think many here would like to know why you chose to make this story about yourself. It almost seems like you saw it as a ‘teachable moment’?

  53. The government will always try to assume powers over us that we have never agreed to.

    At least this SCOTUS still follows the supreme law of the land. It will not and has not always been that way.

  54. Having come from a rather tall family I am offended by the team name Giants. I believe they should change their name to the New York Slightly Larger than Normals.

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