The Washington Redskins are the subject of an ongoing trademark lawsuit about their offensive team name and logo. While we believe team names deemed inappropriate or racist should be banned from earning trademark rights, it is disappointing that multiple other teams that exploit similar racially-charged terms have yet to face similar consequences. According to CBS News, the Supreme Court cancelled the Redskins’ trademark on their name and logo because of its racist connotation and rejected the team’s appeal on the decision on Monday Oct. 3. The team specifically requested that the Supreme Court hear their appeal before the lower courts, indicating the significant consequence the loss of trademark has on the team’s business.
While the team is still able to use the name, trademark laws do not protect it; this vulnerability allows outside companies to exploit the name and logo for unofficial merchandising. The team could lose millions of dollars to outside vendors selling their name on products.
This loss in profits is most likely the only consequence the team will face—other than possible public scrutiny over their name—because of free speech protections. But other sports teams, such as the Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs and Florida State Seminoles—the latter additionally using the face of a Native American man as their logo—all inappropriately commodify and mock indigenous people.
While activist groups petitioned and attempted legal action against the Redskins, there aren’t many options other than using trademark bureaucracy to affect the team. Redskins owner Dan Snyder refused to change the name in the face of opposition, and other teams with similar names have yet to face as much scrutiny.
Sports are an important American cultural phenomenon, and fans are often emotionally attached to the names and logos that represent their teams. It is always difficult to change beloved traditions, but traditions can always be critically analyzed through a contemporary lens.
While we can’t argue with the freedom of speech, the reluctance of multiple teams to address the historical implications of their names and logos says a lot about misguided American nationalism.