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Thoughts on the US Patent Office and Washington's name.

Ezra Shaw

Disclaimer: I am speaking only for myself. My views here don't represent Vox Media or the other Bull Run Editors. I did not take an internal poll among the contributors here and as always Bull Run has no relationship with UB or the UB Athletics department.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office has canceled the Washington Redskins trademark registration, calling the football team’s name “disparaging to Native Americans.”  The landmark case, which appeared before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, was filed on behalf of five Native Americans.

Federal trademark law does not permit registration of trademarks that “may disparage” individuals or groups or “bring them into contempt or disrepute.” The ruling pertains to six different trademarks associated with the team, each containing the word “Redskin.”

I personally find the name distasteful and something that should have been changed a decade ago. I do not tend to care too much about "offensive names" like Indians, Fighting Irish, or Vikings but "Red Skin", a phrase not initially conceived as a racial slur became one a long long time ago.

Different people, all of good conscious, have different views on the Redskin name but what we should all agree on is that  this is a disastrous decision and sets a terrible precedent. The federal government has effectively used an administrative agency to strip a private business of their name solely because some are offended by that name.

This is totalitarianism! This is freedom dying at the hands of political correctness and the desire to be "nice".

Anyone who deals with blogs knows the hoops that we have to jump through to use names and images, or to sell gear. Many of the images we use are available to Bull Run because Vox Media pays people. The others I use with permission or when they are under a creative commons license.

I can't sell shirts on Bull Run with the work "Bulls" on it, and I am unable to use an image of a Bull which is too similar to the one used by UB Athletics. That work, that name, is rightfully their property. Stripping away their rights to that name would damage the university.

This is why, if the decision stands, the Redskins will have to change their name. In theory I can start selling Redskins Jersey's and T shirts today and not have to pay the NFL a dime for the privilege.

There are those who say "nobody is forcing the Red Skins to change their name". This is a distinction without a difference. If I were to make sure you don't get paid for your job I am not forcing you to work elsewhere but are you really going to work for free?

In the end I hope the Red Skins appeal this decision and prevail. I hope that despite their terrible name that they can help drive back the forces which seek to use government bureaucrats to control the private and public lives of anyone they do not like.