News & Politics

Why the Washington Redskins Should Gladly Give Up Their Trademark

The Washington Redskins would like the Supreme Court to take up the exceedingly weird case of their trademark. If the court considers a similar case, Lee v. Tam, the team argues, it should help them settle once and for all whether the US Patent and Trademark Office can invalidate their trademark because it is offensive.

As my coworker Benjamin Freed notes, the Skins’ case is “a bit of a greatest-hits compilation,” recycling not only the “Just about everything is potentially disparaging to someone” argument that so delighted John Oliver, but also the argument that while the name “may have offended some people several decades ago,” it has since been “reclaimed as a source of pride” by Native Americans.

The main thing the Skins are trying to accomplish here is determine whether the a provision in federal trademark law that prohibits disparagement is vague and unconstitutional. But it’s important to note that this is not a case about free speech. The feds aren’t saying the Redskins can’t keep their name. It’s saying they can’t have exclusive rights to it.

So I have an idea. The Redskins should relinquish their trademark. Such a move could completely redefine team owner Dan Snyder’s  legacy—no longer would he be seen as the guy who in 17 years has overseen three seasons in which the team won more than nine games. He’d be the man who let everyone honor Native Americans the same way his team does.

Even better, he’d finally be seen as a free-speech advocate. The thin-skinned bully who sued a newspaper over an article he never read and has tried to buy friendly media coverage would become the man who freed that “source of pride” so anyone who wanted could put it on a T-shirt–or even name their blog after it. This would totally change the way history viewed Snyder, and if he retired now to enjoy the golden glow of respectability, that would be okay, too.

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.