United States Patent and Trademark Office Rules Redskins Logo Offensive, Cancel Trademark Protection

Source: Bruce Handy/Vanity Fair

The nickname Redskins, as in the Washington Redskins, is racist, and the team and the N.F.L. should be ashamed of themselves for not having changed it years if not decades ago. Really, it’s obvious.

But the judges on the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the United States Patent and Trademark Office couldn’t be quite so blunt. Although they more or less agreed with me in their decision last week to revoke the team’s trademarks, they had to be rational and high-minded about it; as did the lawyers for the five Native American plaintiffs who were suing on the grounds that the Redskins’ trademarks “disparage” Native Americans; as did the lawyers for the Redskins, who couldn’t just argue that a handful of hyper-sensitive, politically correct American Indians shouldn’t be allowed to mess with decades of tradition, not to mention the billion-dollar business of pro football—however much the team might believe that.

While lawyers might be used to sifting through human messes with proof-like reasoning, I found the Trade Board’s full 99-page decision a fascinating read. I was surprised and, at times, amused by the way that it applies logic and legal precedent to a question grounded in the fraught, muddy arenas of culture, history, subjectivity, and emotion—a cool, almost abstract approach to a hot and loaded topic. Short of an algorithm to distinguish the truly offensive from the merely cheeky or risqué, this is the next best thing. Actually, that sort of algorithm would be horrible, though interesting.

Anyway, I’ll walk you through some of the decision’s high points:

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