The Washington Redskins trademark is in jeopardy but, if you listen to Daniel Snyder, the team’s name is not. “We will never change the name of the team,” Snyder told the media in May 2013. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
Is never still a relevant term?
This week the story has took a 90-degree turn when the United States Patent and Trademark Office has canceled six federal trademark registrations for the name of the Washington Redskins. According to the ruling the name — Redskins — is “disparaging” and the U.S. PTO has determined the name cannot be trademarked under federal law that prohibits the protection of offensive or disparaging language stating:
We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered.
The decision has prompted the Seattle Times to ban the use of the R-word because, as sports editor Don Shelton wrote, “it’s offensive … absurd, offensive and outdated.” In essence, the Times have modernized a 20-year old decision that “minimized” the use of the team’s name.
Sean Gregory of Time magazine added:
If Daniel Snyder now doesn’t just give in and change the name of the Washington Redskins, a nickname that is clearly offensive to some segment of the American population, he will set an all-time record for ownership buffoonery. And if the other NFL owners, led by commissioner Roger Goodell — a man who has long taken pride in doing what he sees as the right thing — don’t squeeze Snyder hard enough so that he changes the name, they’re all officially a bunch of rich buffoons as well.
But, I wonder, what is the National Football League’s motivation? Is commissioner Roger Goodell ashamed of the name? Do owners who believe the Redskins need to change their name also agree with the case presented by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, that the team’s name disparages Native Americans? Is this about sense or cents?
Granted, the ruling does not mean the Redskins legally have to change their name or stop selling merchandise, but it does change the conversation. The decision to keep or change the team’s name is no longer about our perceived values or right or wrong, but money. NFL owners can deal with a lot, but don’t mess with their revenue.
The USA Today asked Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones his opinion of the trademark ruling:
As far as the big debate that’s going on, I don’t have any statement on that. But as far as having team marks that aren’t protected, that’s a disadvantage. That would be one of the things that you’d consider if you’re going to do everything that you could to promote the franchise, to promote that name. If you didn’t have exclusive use of that name, then that would be a deterrent to using it.
Jones’ comments hint at the real motivation: money. As Time reported, “licensed merchandise creates revenue for all 32 NFL teams who share it.”
Forbes noted the financial repercussions to Roger Goodell, Snyder and the NFL stating:
Snyder may even lose support from his fellow owners for keeping his preferred team name. Other NFL owners meanwhile may pull their support for the Redskins team name for more directly financial reasons. For example, some owners may fear that licensees of NFL marks might offer less money for access to league-wide marks.
Is never still an option?
I say, follow the money.