Redskins, rebrands -- and reasons

Like a quiverful of arrows striking their target, emails from almost every corner of the civilized world have been thudding into this Kat's email box to tell him all about the Washington Redskins' REDSKINS trade mark and this ruling by the US Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) that the mark was "disparaging".  This Kat has already made his feelings known, but will repeat them for what he hopes will be the final time since many of his email correspondents, friends and others appear to have missed his point. Accordingly he is stating here a number of points and principles that appear to him to be paramount.

* He cannot say whether the word "Redskins" is disparaging or not since he is not so closely connected with contemporary American culture to recognise the subtleties and nuances of verbal communication in the US. Additionally, while he has been called many things in his time, "Redskins" is not one of them. He will not therefore express any opinion on whether there is objective evidence that "Redskins" is disparaging, or as to what, subjectively, it feels like to be referred to as a "Redskin".

* He can see plainly from his surfing of the internet and the social media that there is a body of articulately-expressed opinion, as well as a quantity of more emotive writing, on the part of people who believe that the word "Redskins" is disparaging.

* It is his impression that the body of opinion that the word "Redskins" is disparaging has been steadily, if slowly, increasing over the past decade.

Washington Post poll, published 25 June 2013
Should the Redskins change the team's name? [Washington Post poll, 19 June 2014]
* Taking the position of a brand owner, he believes that the value of any brand lies not only, and not even, in the fact that it is susceptible of registration as a trade mark but rather in the value that is given to it by current and future consumers of goods and services for which it is used.

* Irrespective of whether a trade mark or brand is disparaging, there is little business sense in seeking to promote it in circumstances in which it is, rightly or wrongly, increasingly considered to be so by current and future consumers and by those who, rightly or wrongly, exert an increasing influence on the opinions and on the economic activity of those consumers.

* Heritage is history, but it is not the same as goodwill and it cannot of itself create or preserve conditions of profitability for a brand.  Washington Redskins has been a significant part of American football history, and that cannot and should not be denied -- but history only works backwards as a marketing asset and it is hard to see how it can create bonds of ongoing loyalty and consumer support where, taken apart from the team's historical sporting achievements, the word "Redskins" is increasingly viewed as having toxic or negative connotations.

* The replacement of "Redskins" with a fresh name can bring positive benefits where intelligently handled and will attract a vast and invaluable quantity of free, potentially revenue-generating, publicity from the same media that are currently reporting on the brand's travails.

* This Kat has heard talk of taking an appeal, if necessary to the United States Supreme Court, which will be obliged to hear the issue on the grounds that (i) large amounts of money are at stake, (ii) the principle involved is so politically and culturally sensitive that it requires the close attention and guidance of the Supreme Court and (iii) it addresses aspects of US trade mark legislation which that court has had insufficient opportunities to examine.  He is not equipped to evaluate these three grounds, but wonders whether the Washington Redskins will gain anything other than a collection of legal bills, the possibility of keeping alive a trade mark with a likely decreasing value and the risk of attracting greater opprobrium.

Says the IPKat to the Washington Redskins: take the TTAB decision not as a setback but as an opportunity to go forward commercially and in a manner that is more in tune with American mores.  Do it with dignity, do it with style and you will make new friends, win new admirers and secure the merchandising base for a sports brand that will be a credit to you.

Says Merpel, you won't be the first folk in sporting history to rebrand a famous name.  Ever heard of Cassius Marcellus Clay ...? And he was The Greatest!

Can you change a cat's name? Here
Should you change a cat's name? Here
The naming of cats here and here
Redskins, rebrands -- and reasons Redskins, rebrands -- and reasons Reviewed by Jeremy on Thursday, June 19, 2014 Rating: 5


  1. I feel disparaged by your inclusion of the Cassius Clay name and rebranding.

    He embraced his Muslim heritage and you turn that event into a punchline for your story.

    Incredibly insensitive to me and my sensibilities.

  2. The Cassius Clay / Muhammad Ali example is not on point. As Anonymous says, the reason for the name change was purely religious and certainly not to overcome any disparagement. That being the case, why bring The Greatest, not to mention The Prettiest, into the offensive REDSKINS arena ?? A bad example; surely there must be more appropriate examples ?

  3. I took the Cassius Clay item to merely be an example of a famous name being changed to something completely different, and its consequences. According to the linked web page, the name change cost him $10,000,000.00

  4. Ron,

    That's exactly the problem. I bet that you are a nice person and would not dream of disparaging anyone. I bet that the author of the article is by and large of the same cloth.

    It just won't matter.

    There is always someone out there that will be offended and will find disparagement in any statement or use of language centered on themes that someone somewhere feels that some past injustice should be branded on every mind that views a hotbutton word.

    You and the author just might be exactly correct - but according to the politically correct, Anonymous at 19:23 is not only just as correct, but since he feels as if he is the victim, he is automatically more correct and you are a racist/islam hater or whatever - automatically.

    That's the political correct "game."


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