|The IP Kat pauses on the field|
to ponder offensive sports team
trademarks and logos.
Traditionally, sports teams in the US are named after frightening wild animals or other similarly intimidating mascot. [Please don’t ask this Kat to explain the selection of her alma mater, New York University, of the name “The FightingViolets” for its sports teams. Despite the team name, the mascot is now a Bobcat.] For better or worse, a significant part of American history includes the acquisition of land (in some cases peacefully and in many others through battles) from Native American tribes. American settlers, in their early accounts of interactions with Native American populations, depicted the Native Americans as violent, “red-skinned” warriors.
Unfortunately, that image, now recognized as inaccurate and insensitive, pervaded American culture. It also impacted naming conventions for local sports teams. The Washington Redskins, an National FootballLeague (NFL) team, and the Atlanta Braves, a Major League Baseball team, are just two examples in major league sports. There are also countless grade schools whose sports teams are named the “Chiefs” and whose mascots are Native American chiefs in full, feathered headdresses. The NFL team based in Kansas City, Kansas is called the Kansas City Chiefs – its logo is an arrowhead and the team plays its home games at Arrowhead Stadium.
Though these names have been used for many years, US culture
and consciousness has changed over time.
The public recognizes the offensiveness of the Native American
references in sports, especially in connection with the term “Redskins,” which
was used (by varying accounts) as a reference to the skin color of Native
Americans or, worse, as a reference to a hideous practice by western settlers
of skinning the skulls of captured Native American tribesmen. As a result, the owner of the Washington
Redskins has been pressured for years to change the team’s name to something
less offensive. But with established
trade marks and a highly recognized franchise, the team owner, Dan Snyder, has
been reticent to rebrand. In fact, he proclaimed, “We’ll never
change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.” On the other hand, the objections are now
reaching a crescendo and even die-hard fans of the Washington NFL team are
beginning to acknowledge that the team is likely to succumb to a name change in
the near future. According to the BBC,
several journalists have ceased referring to the team as the Washington
Redskins. Instead, they omit the
Redskins name and just reference the team by location.
|The current logo of the|
Washington Redskins - soon
to be a collector's item?
This is a prime example of how shifting cultural norms can affect trade mark law. A term or name that was not previously considered sufficiently offensive has become offensive to a large enough portion of the public to make the name potentially unregistrable. The Lanham Act, which codifies US trade mark law, sets forth the various reasons why a mark will not be accepted for trade mark protection, including a mark which "consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute." This Kat wonders whether the Washington football team could successfully register a trade mark for “Redskins” today, or if the USPTO would refuse the registration on the grounds that the mark consists of immoral or scandalous matter, or that it brings a group of persons into disrepute.
the name really matter anyway? The team
owner might rightfully be worried about rebranding. Most companies must invest large sums of
money to rebrand successfully and to ensure that its loyal consumers understand
that the new brand is just a new name and not a change in origin, quality or
consistency. However, when it comes to
sports teams, these considerations are generally irrelevant. A fan may have an emotional attachment to the
team name and logo, which may be emblazoned on his favorite shirt that he has
worn to watch every game for the past decade.
But despite the emotional attachment, fans are more loyal to a team for
its location. This Kat’s grandfather
grew up watching the local New York baseball team then known as the Brooklyn Dodgers. When the Dodgers moved to Los
Angeles, California, he shifted his team loyalty to the New York Yankees so
that he could support a hometown team. I
don’t know any New Yorker who is an LA Dodgers fan solely because of the fact
that the team historically played in NY.
It seems unlikely that a Washington Redskins fan would suddenly not support
the team merely because Mr Snyder changed the team’s name from the Redskins to
something considered less offensive. A
Washington fan will always be a Washington fan, especially if he continues to
the state of Washington, District of Columbia. [This
Kat knows European footie fans understand this deep-seated loyalty.] [Update: A slip of the keyboard! The Washington Redskins are located in Washington, DC, not the state of Washington. Is it obvious this Kat is not a football fan?]
|Speaking of dodgy nicknames...|
The Brooklyn Dodgers were
nicknamed "The Bums".
Notwithstanding Mr Snyder’s proclamation, this Kat suspects that Mr Snyder’s biggest concern is the financial health of the organization. If revenues from the sale of licensed team merchandise decline as fans opt not to wear apparel featuring logos they find offensive, Mr Snyder may finally have a strong incentive towards changing the name.
Are there any examples outside the US of brands whose names or logos have become offensive as cultural norms shifted?
Top 10 Worst Team Names here http://keepingscore.blogs.time.com/2009/05/17/top-10-worst-college-team-names/
Crowdsourcing a Brand New Name Reviewed by Miri Frankel on Tuesday, September 17, 2013 Rating: