Boycott Your NFL Team, Washington

Patent and Trademark Office ruling won’t erase slur, and probably shouldn’t.

Protesting the nickname of the Washington football team outside a Nov. 7, 2013, game against the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis.
National Journal
Ron Fournier
Add to Briefcase
Ron Fournier
June 19, 2014, 4:13 a.m.

It’s pretty simple, Wash­ing­ton. Your NFL foot­ball team’s name in­sults many Nat­ive Amer­ic­ans, which makes it a slur, and the best way to erase the stain is to boy­cott the team.

Don’t go to the games, sports fans. For mem­bers of Con­gress, lob­by­ists, and oth­er polit­ic­al MVPs, just say no to the free tick­ets, box seats, and buf­fets. You shouldn’t be tak­ing these mi­cro-bribes any­way.

Don’t watch the games. Don’t wear the jer­seys. Don’t buy the spon­sors’ products. Hit churl­ish own­er Dan Snyder in the pock­et­book without tread­ing on the First Amend­ment. But don’t punt this is­sue to pat­ent law­yers and bur­eau­crats. Wash­ing­ton Post sports colum­nist Sally Jen­kins nails it:

Now that the U.S. Pat­ent and Trade­mark Of­fice has struck a gov­ern­ment­al blow against com­mod­i­fied eth­nic in­sults, I’m nervous, be­cause I may have “dis­paraged” some­body this morn­ing when I buttered my toast. After I put away the Land O’ Lakes but­ter with that In­di­an maid­en logo on the box, I bit off a chew of Red Man to­bacco and climbed in­to a Jeep Cher­o­kee.

The Wash­ing­ton foot­ball club ought to ditch its slur of a trade­mark, vol­un­tar­ily. It ought to do so on the grounds of ba­sic de­cency and good taste, and, you’d hope, with an in­tel­li­gent sense of his­tory, con­text, and place. If they won’t do it will­ingly, then the rest of us, and the team’s col­leagues in the NFL, ought to em­bar­rass, jeer, and ca­jole them in­to it. But the meth­od cur­rently be­ing em­ployed, the mo­bil­iz­a­tion of the U.S. gov­ern­ment in fa­vor of a cor­rect sens­ib­il­ity, is wrong.

Jen­kins quotes a law­yer for the ACLU, Gabe Rottman, warn­ing of the pre­ced­ent set when a gov­ern­ment agency reg­u­lates speech, then adds:

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. It cre­ates “a mor­ass of un­cer­tainty,” Rottman wrote. Con­sider how many of­fens­ive vi­ol­a­tions someone could find in one epis­ode of The Fam­ily Guy. Or Game of Thrones, or Or­ange Is The New Black.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id and mul­tiple col­leagues have been ur­ging Snyder to change the team’s name for months now.

My col­league Matt Ber­man points out that the Kennedy ad­min­is­tra­tion forced the Wash­ing­ton foot­ball team to de­seg­reg­ate — the only NFL team that hadn’t yet done so. Then-own­er George Pre­ston Mar­shall wanted to build a new sta­di­um on fed­er­al land in 1961, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion gave him an ul­ti­mat­um: Blacks play on your team or your team doesn’t play in a new sta­di­um.

Us­ing a sta­di­um as lever­age is smart. Us­ing the First Amend­ment as lever­age is as dan­ger­ous as it is un­ne­ces­sary, if Wash­ing­ton’s fans and power brokers boy­cott Snyder. I’ll do my part, no sweat.  Your team doesn’t play my De­troit Lions this year.

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