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The Redskins: Suppressing unpopular speech

By a 2-1 decision, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled on Wednesday that the Washington Redskins could not renew six trademarks because the name “Redskins” was “disparaging.” Two bureaucrats in Washington have thus decreed an end to the name of Washington’s professional football team. How perfect.

The two appeal board members concluded that “a substantial composite of Native Americans found the term Redskins to be disparaging.” They stated that the word faded from common usage in the 1960s because of social and political pressure. Therefore, they concluded, the word itself is offensive and disparaging. To aid their case, they referenced dictionary definitions of the term.

They might also have found it useful to look up the definition of “disparaging.” Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “disparage” as “to describe (someone or something) as unimportant, weak, bad, etc.” and “to lower in rank or reputation.”

So the official position of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is that a football team’s name lowers the rank or reputation of others — but not of the team. Genius.

This is a political ruling dressed up as a legal one. A similar one years ago was tossed; this one probably will be too, as it should be. One does not have to like the Redskins name to oppose government suppression of speech the government dislikes.

Johnny A
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