An ad by the Change the Mascot campaign demonstrates how it's still Washington football even without the dictionary-defined racial slur, mascot and trademark.

An ad by the Change the Mascot campaign demonstrates how it's still Washington football even without the dictionary-defined racial slur and mascot.

Supreme Court: Yes, You Can Trademark Disparaging Racial Slurs Like R-Word

Washington NFL team says they are “thrilled” with the court's trademark decision; Natives take to social media to deride ruling

In a significant blow against the fight to change the Washington NFL team name, the Supreme Court ruled June 19 that a federal law prohibiting trademarks of disparaging racial slurs is unconstitutional and violates free speech provided by the first amendment. The decision comes in response to a case concerning “The Slants,” an Asian-American band that has fought in court to keep its controversial name. The Supreme Court struck down the Lanham Act in particular, which denied trademark protection of any word or name that disparaged someone, living or dead. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion that “trademarks are private, not government speech.”

“(It’s) far fetched to suggest that the content of a registered mark is government speech, especially given the fact that if trademarks become government speech when they are registered, the Federal Government is babbling prodigiously and incoherently,” Alito wrote.

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Amanda Blackhorse, a lead plaintiff in the ongoing case against the Washington NFL team’s use of a racial slur and the four other plaintiffs, said in a joint statement sent to Indian Country Media Network that they “are disappointed with Supreme Court’s ruling that Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act is unconstitutional, and we respectfully disagree with the Court’s decision.”

Regardless of the Supreme Court’s ruling, “the term ‘redskin’ disparages Native Americans,” the statement reads. In 2014, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the Washington NFL teams’ trademark of the word ‘redskin,’ ruling the term is disparaging to Natives, but that decision was later overturned.

Change The Mascot, a group of Natives and allies advocating for the repeal of the Washington NFL team’s name, said the ruling does not change the definition of the word ‘redskin’ or its impact on Natives.

“This is an issue we have always believed will not be solved in a courtroom, and this ruling does not change some very clear facts. Washington’s football team promotes, markets and profits from the use of a word that is not merely offensive – it is a dictionary-defined racial slur designed from the beginning to promote hatred and bigotry against Native Americans,” group leaders National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jackie Pata and Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter said in the statement. (Indian Country Today Media Network is wholly—owned by the Oneida Indian Nation.)

They added that the ruling does not change the fact that empirical research has shown that Indian mascots harm the mental health of youths. “And the problems caused by the R-word epithet are still very real and present today. Social science research has shown that its continued use has devastating impacts on the self-image and mental health of Native Americans, particularly children,” the statement reads.

As a result of the new social science concerning the detriments of Indians mascots on children, in 2015, the American Psychological Association called for the immediate “retirement” of Indian mascots.

“These mascots are teaching stereotypical, misleading and too often, insulting images of American Indians,” former APA President Ronald F. Levant wrote. “These negative lessons are not just affecting American Indian students; they are sending the wrong message to all students.”

Lisa Blatt, attorney for the Washington NFL team, told CNN the team is “thrilled” with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“The Team is thrilled with today’s unanimous decision as it resolves the Redskins’ long-standing dispute with the government,” she said in a statement. “The Supreme Court vindicated the Team’s position that the First Amendment blocks the government from denying or canceling a trademark registration based on the government’s opinion.”

Native Twitter was ablaze with frustration June 19 following the release of the Supreme Court’s decision—many saying the decision stands as further example that the U.S. continues to care little for the wellbeing of Natives.

  • Marshall J.

    I think this fight is one that is not worth the effort. There are many problems in the native communities, far more impactful and damaging to the people than worrying about some sports team desire to use native americans to represent them. I think the native community as a whole needs to stop being so sensitive about miniscule issues while we have so much more the worry about and fix that would make a much bigger impact on improving the conditions and moral of the native people.

  • Whiteman W.

    The legal decision is correct, I believe, despite the fact that it saddens me greatly. But the law cannot change hearts, and until the hearts of men (that’s generic, not sexist) change, none of this will either. Where there is no respect for fellow human beings, there is no civility – people are seen as “things,” and things are far easier to mistreat or just dispose of.

    I do not concur, however, with letting go of the offensive labeling issue. There are things that are sacred and/or deeply personal to human beings, and unless others are educated and reminded of that fact, they will continue to hurt – sometimes unknowingly. Keep educating the generations and perhaps one day ….

  • Ronni R.

    Tell me how would the Jewish people feel if there was a L.A. team called the Los Angeles Jew’s Or how about a team from Texas called the Spick’s, ETC.,ETC…………………………. So cut the Bull—-! If it affected your life you wouldn’t like it either…………………………………..

  • Ronni R.

    The USA picks a chooses what they ( the government ) finds offensive or not right. What is Constitutional and what is not. Example: Merry Christmas…. oh wait I can’t say that now. Its offensive to a bunch of immigrants and their religious belief’s. Well excuse me for being an American. Here, this is for you. On December 25th, MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!!

  • Jeff C.

    the New York Knicks (formerly New York Knickerbockers)…(most American English words ending in ‘nic’ or ‘nik’ are using the N word in disguise.Like the word ‘picnic’ was a term suggest to pick one and have a lynching and pack a lunch and make a day of it…wordslike ‘beat-nik’ and ‘freak-nik’ and similarly defined by ‘beat-lovers’ during the spoken word beat poet movement or the former college student festival that was held in Atlanta, GA)…
    I just provide these as information and not to detract from the current issue at hand and to point out that an underlying tone of the acceptance of racist terms in this country is historic and is often repeated and is a big problem in establishing any type of actual equality in this country…

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Supreme Court: Yes, You Can Trademark Disparaging Racial Slurs Like R-Word