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Examining the Redskins' trademark case

6/19/2014
Play2:39
Patent Office Cancels Redskins' Trademark

Darren Rovell discusses the United States Patent and Trademark Office's cancellation of the Washington Redskins trademark registration for being "disparaging of Native Americans'' and what that means financially for the NFL and team owner Dan Snyder.

Taking a look at what was said and written about the trademark ruling Wednesday involving the Redskins, from a variety of angles:

The nuts and bolts of the case: The news on the case is rather simple. The United States Patent and Trademark Office in a 2-1 vote cancelled the Redskins trademark because it was “disparaging to Native Americans.” ESPN's Darren Rovell has a lot of reaction in his story.

What it means: Well, it doesn’t mean the name is about to change (though ultimately that could be the case). A Massachusetts-based attorney, Michael McCann, who is an expert on sports law, provided his assessment for Sports Illustrated. (One note: They are obviously not based in Richmond, Virginia, as he wrote in the article, but the point remains the same because they are headquartered in the state). Here's another take from Slate's Jordan Weissmann.

Coming off the heels of the past year’s fight, it certainly feels like yet another step. Unlike in 2003 when they won an appeal on a similar ruling, there are louder and stronger voices involved, so this won’t go away quietly. The question is, can the opposition get sponsors to boycott the Redskins or annoy the NFL enough to the point that they force the team to change? The Washington Post Express’ Rick Snider provided a way out for owner Dan Snyder.

Poll results: ESPN SportsNation asked readers a simple question: Should the Redskins change their name? It’s not a scientific poll, of course, but here are the results: Out of 150,000-plus votes, 63 percent said they should keep the name and 37 percent said they should change. Every state in the country was in favor of keeping the name. The state where the vote was the closest? Oregon, with 48 percent in favor of a change. California cast the most votes (more than 10,000) and had a 55-45 split. Many will argue that this poll is irrelevant (or that the 37 percent is higher than some previous polls). Just pointing out the survey. Yes, I also know there are Native Americans who aren’t bothered by the name. No idea how many.

Stay out, government: I agree with this take from The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins. If the Redskins are going to change their name, let it come from societal pressure and not from congressional action. She made it clear that she’s in favor of a name change, but also wrote: “You don’t really want government agencies to become the arbiter of acceptable words and images. You really don’t. The main reason you don’t is because, like it or not, what’s offensive is subjective.” Totally agree. This isn’t as much about them needing to take care of other issues as it is about that slippery slope. I'm not a fan of slippery slopes.

Redskins' response: The one thing I’ve heard from a number of people is that the Redskins’ response has altered their stance on the issue. (I have heard this from fans and players. The latter group is sensitive to what’s going on.) There was an arrogance from the franchise from the get-go, starting with Snyder’s “in all caps” response. It hasn’t helped the cause one bit. In hindsight, the team needed to take a sensitive approach from the start, privately meeting with various tribes to have an earnest discussion. I know some of that took place long afterward, but the initial phrase haunts the team and is lumped in with other miscues along the way. Add it up and the casual fans or fence-sitters have been turned off. Some aspects have helped (Bruce Allen’s letter, for example), but the rest have been like pouring gasoline onto a fire. For what it’s worth, I don’t think branding Snyder as a racist works either. A lot can and has been said about the man over the years; that’s not a label I’d use. Supporting the team name does not make you a racist -- I know very good people from all walks of life who favor the nickname. I'd be awfully careful using that term. You can argue for the name change without branding people who support it.