Save Money in this Sunday's paper

Our View

comments

Tolerance wins, with an asterisk

Tolerance 1, Redskins 0.

That’s the storyline this week, right? That’s the takeaway from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s decision Wednesday to cancel the Washington Redskins trademark because it is “disparaging to Native Americans.” It’s a ruling that could cost Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder millions of dollars, because it allows anyone else to put his team’s name on a T-shirt, mug or whatever they’d like.

That means that unless the courts intervene, Snyder will be inclined to choose another name that’s more palatable to his bottom line. Even if he does it for the wrong reason, it’s the right result. Snyder loses. Tolerance wins.

So why does this not feel like a victory?

It’s certainly not because of sympathy for the Redskins’ owner. Was there an owner not named Donald Sterling who was more deserving of this open-field trademark tackle? Snyder has been stubborn and tone deaf, and he’s clung to the Redskins name because the money it brought him is more important than the pain it brought others.

And make no mistake, Redskins does bring pain. It’s a slur flung at a group of people that early Americans stole from and killed. It’s an epithet that’s not anything like a helicopter named Chinook or a college team named the Seminoles. Those are names meant to honor a tribe, not mock a people.

Snyder, it seemed, was never going to realize that – at least not until his wallet told him to. It would have been better, though, if the government didn’t tell him instead.

Yes, the trademark office was following established law that outlaws trademarks for language that holds individuals or groups in contempt. It’s also true that the department has made similar decisions throughout the years, including one three years ago when it declined to issue a trademark to the web site Stop! Islamization of America.

But that provision of trademark law is constitutionally iffy, some scholars say. Trademarks are commercial speech and, like much speech, can and should receive substantial protections. Even if you recoil at the name Redskins, canceling its trademark is punishing Snyder for using his First Amendment rights.

For many, that’s perfectly OK. After all, we count on the government to protect us in innumerable, legitimate ways – from discrimination, from fraud, from the hazards that businesses ignore. But we should pause when our government protects us from being offended, even when we agree. What’s the next trademark or copyright, the next book title or product name, that will be too offensive to some?

Surely, Daniel Snyder plans on raising some of those issues to a judge or two. Maybe he’ll lose again. But he was losing, already, before Wednesday. His team’s name was a public relations burden as it never had been before. More and more people were speaking out against it, including the president and members of Congress this time around.

Inevitably, that pressure was going to make its way to his bottom line. Or maybe, though less likely, his heart. Slowly but eventually, we collectively find our way to the right place. Eventually, tolerance wins. This week, it just got a little too much help.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more



Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more


Quick Job Search
Salary Databases
Your 2 Cents
Share your opinion with our Partners
Learn More
CharlotteObserver.com