Amid all the problems that currently split our republic and our people down the middle, the US Patent Office has unerringly struck at the biggest of them all – the persistence of the Washington Redskins football team in retaining the name by which they have been known for more than eighty years — NOT. The Patent Office bowed to politically correct pressure from lobbying groups, the US Senate Majority Leader, and the President himself and declared that the team name is racially disparaging and therefore illegal. They revoked the trademark status of the name; and in so doing, they have joined the long line of government entities intent on re-making our nation into one governed by the whims of men and not laws.
The patent office justified its decision with reference to an obscure section of its mandate that permits denial of trademark status from the get-go if it can be demonstrated that the mark is offensive or disparaging to a definable group within our culture – but only from the get-go. In other words, if the Redskins name was deemed offensive to Native Americans in 1933, when the trademark was first sought and granted, the Patent Office would have had grounds for denying the petition. But the present controversy over the name began in the early 1990s, and no one offered evidence of any objection to the trademark at the time it was granted. So far as I can tell, there is nothing in the law governing the patenting and trademarking process that permits a do-over sixty to eighty years after the fact.
When a similar action was brought before the feds in the nineties, they revoked the trademark at that time also. It was overturned on appeal because the petitioners offered no documentation on the impact of the alleged “discrimination” on the injured parties. The same deficiencies are blatantly evident in the present action, but that does not exhaust the issues left unaddressed by a longshot.
There was no outcry at the time over the disparaging impact of the name; there has been no substantial wave of protest even at this time. The action in question was brought by five members of the Oneida Nation. If an entire class of people were injured, it would make sense to bring a class action; the petitioners evidently could not find enough offended Native Americans to make even a pass at establishing a class. The most recent polling to my knowledge was done in 2004, and ninety percent of Native Americans polled said they had suffered no harm. (I get my information from the Washington Post – hardly a right wing newspaper – and an editorial in that paper written in June by Jonathan Turley.) The only people who seem to have their knickers in a knot are the white liberals – inside and outside government – who are grimly determined to make their life minding the business of others.
Don’t get me wrong. If I believed for one moment that a substantial number of Native Americans were actually upset about the Redskins, I would be backing their play with all the strength and gifting I have. But I would be advocating for private citizens to pressure – through boycotts and such – the team to do the right thing. I would not ask government to trample the team’s free speech rights. Agencies acting outside the laws that justify their being only make a bad situation worse. And God knows we have bigger fish to fry – whether in terms of Native American issues or education or health care or the destruction of American credibility worldwide – than a trumped up spat over a name.
There is no excuse for the damage – genocide is the appropriate word – done to Native peoples through massacre, removal from their lands, infliction of infectious diseases, and the destruction of their food supply and habitat – and much of it is still denied throughout our culture. But if we want to address the serious issues facing this portion of our ppopulace, we might start with the forty-nine percent of Native young people who do not graduate high school. We might even ask the Obama Administration why it prevents nations like the Crows of Montana from developing their energy and mineral resources – both rich and available – on their sovereign and guaranteed-by-treaty reservation lands.
Jesus – the only unblemished bringer of justice in history – calls Lazarus to emerge from his tomb in John 11. He does not stand around assessing blame for Lazarus’ death; he calls the man – and all mankind – to accept abundant life going forward.
Photo credit: Scott Ableman (Flickr)
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