Government agency calls 'Redskins' offensive
January 8th, 2014
09:20 PM ET
7 months ago

Government agency calls 'Redskins' offensive

Washington (CNN) – The heated debate over the Washington Redskins name has now moved beyond living rooms and corporate offices to the U.S. government itself, with one agency making an unequivocal ruling that the term "Redskins" is offensive slang.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected an application to trademark the name "Redskins Hog Rind," writing that the term "Redskins" is "a derogatory slang term that refers to, and is considered offensive by, American Indians."

The agency cited five definitions from online dictionaries - from The Oxford Dictionary to Yahoo – that labeled the word as offensive or disparaging. In addition the agency pointed to news articles about Native American challenges to the Redskins name, including the policy of the National Congress of American Indians, which officially refers to the team as the "R*dskins" or "R Word".

The Redskins' senior vice president for communications, Tony Wyllie, told CNN the team is not commenting on the decision.

Federal law prohibits trademarking any term that may be immoral, scandalous or may disparage another person. To determine what crosses the line, the agency looks at two questions: 1) the term's likely meaning and use in the product's context and 2) whether the phrase disparages a specific group of people.

Thus, many words have been approved in some circumstances and rejected in others.

The term "squaw," for example, was ruled offensive when used for clothing and general retail but was approved for use with skiing equipment associated with "Squaw Valley." And the PTO rejected the use of "Khoran" for a brand of alcohol, something that the Islamic holy book, the Quran, considers sinful. Actor Damon Wayans' application for a clothing line called "Nigga" was rejected, as have been several applications to use even the phrase "the N word." But a group protesting the phrase was allowed to trademark "Abolish the 'N' word."

Likewise, the agency has permitted the term "redskin" when applied to potatoes or when directly applied to the football team, as in "The Redskins Broadcast Network."

But outside of such contexts, this decision labels the term as offensive.

James Bethel, the man applying for the "Redskins Hog Rind" trademark, can appeal the PTO's decision.


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soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. tom l

    Yeah, govt isn't getting too involved I. Our lives........

    I'm just waiting for the Thought Police next

    January 8, 2014 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  2. ladies first

    What are people going to do when someone gets offended because they over hear a joke being discussed thats funny? Are they going to find that offensive to! By the way, all races talk about each other behind one anothers back and it's been going on for centuries.

    January 8, 2014 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  3. Wes

    And the New Orleans Saints team name is offensive to atheists. And the Golden State Warriors is offensive to me because it implies people from California are violent. While we are at it, the Buffalo Sabres is offensive because it implies a weapon, which is also offensive to me. And the Miami Hurricanes should not use 'hurricane' because of Katrina. And don't get me started on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

    January 8, 2014 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  4. Randy

    Jesus H. Spaghetti Monster, how is this STILL a point of contention? This football team should be laughed out of the NFL, at least until they can grow a pair and admit when they've made a mistake (and correct said mistake). I don't understand how ANYONE who works for the Redskins organization goes to work in the morning feeling good about what they'll be doing that day. There is no difference...none...between the name Washington Redskins and a name like Washington Filthy Savages. How about the Baltimore Porch Monkeys? The Arizona Wet Backs? The New York Guinea Greaseballs? How about the newest expansion team, the New Hampshire Cracka-lacka Honkey Brigade? You know I'm right (and CNN moderators, you know I'm using those awful terms for dramatic effect to make a salient point, not as racist trolling), so why do we go CRAZY when the president of Chik-Fil-A says he doesn't like gay people (to the point of calling for that man's LIFE), but we don't say a WORD about a team who refuses to change their dated, backwards, disgusting, and blatantly racist team name?!

    January 8, 2014 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  5. ThinkAgain - If you want Congress to actually do something FOR the American people, vote out the Repub/tea bag majority

    Cue tea bag outrage at the guvment in three, two, one ...

    January 8, 2014 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  6. Hooper

    There are more important things to think about than this. People without jobs. People without housing. People without food, living in the streets or under them. I'm sure the major interest of the majority of the people is the name of a sports team. Get real.

    January 8, 2014 11:49 pm at 11:49 pm |
  7. CALIFORNIA

    The federal government offends a large part of the population.

    Political correctness is a disease in this country.

    January 9, 2014 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  8. Kinard

    God, must be at war with the poor, otherwise crap like this wouldn't be an issue while so many are doing without. You'd think the politicians and people in the entertainment industry would grasp this fact, and put insignificant issues like this on the back burner until some real problems are taken care of.

    January 9, 2014 01:59 am at 1:59 am |
  9. John

    Funny response. Some might argue that the agency's use of the term "American INDIANS" [caps added] is ALSO considered offensive since they aren't from India. Of course, I keep reading the constitution and simply cannot find the part that says we have the right not to ever be offended by anything anyone else says or does. Could someone tell me where that's written and why it doesn't conflict with the 1st amendment right of free speech?

    January 9, 2014 04:36 am at 4:36 am |
  10. poop

    Just change the mascot to a potato

    January 9, 2014 05:33 am at 5:33 am |
  11. Marie MD

    The owner, little mr. big man snyder, will never do it. He owns, if not the world, this area or so he thinks.
    This fool bought a house on the Potomac River and cut down trees that were protected since he coulen't see the river from the house and because he could. Did he get a fine? Of course not! I take it he didn't realize that the trees were there before he built his mansion?
    Her also tried to sue a Post reporter for calling him for who he is. Not sure what happened, but the truth must hurt and he can't sue if it IS the true.

    January 9, 2014 06:20 am at 6:20 am |