The Washington Redskins have notched the first victory of the 2017 NFL season, knocking off crosstown rival the U.S. Department of Justice. The DOJ has decided not to pursue its attempt to cancel Washington’s trademarks because of the potentially disparaging connotations in the “Redskins” name.
The writing was on the wall following the Supreme Court’s decision last week in Matal v. Tam. In that case, the justices ruled that an Asian-American band had the right to call itself “The Slants” despite the disparaging connotation of the name. That ruling thus would serve as precedent in the Redskins’ case, allowing the team to continue trademarking the name despite protests about its racially-based origins.
In Tam, the Court ruled that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office did not have the right to discriminate against “The Slants.” Trademark law barring insulting, racist, or otherwise critical terms had been on the books for 71 years, but the justices unanimously ruled that such a law infringed on rights to free speech. Washington had faced the possibility of losing its trademark, and thus a lucrative source of revenue, because of the Justice Department’s action.
But the Justice Department ended the Washington case, which dated to 2014, in a letter to the Richmond, Va.-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. “Consistent with Tam, the Court should reverse the judgment of the district court and remand the case with instructions to enter judgment in favor of Pro-Football,” wrote DOJ civil attorney Mark Freeman.
The Redskins met the Supreme Court news with relief and defiance:
— Luke Rodgers (@thelukerodgers) June 19, 2017
Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder remains one of the least popular owners in the NFL for a variety of reasons, from on-field woes to escalating financial burdens on fans. But he’s managed to unite Washington fandom with his declaration to keep the Redskins name for as long as he’s owner despite protests. Now, it seems he’s on far firmer ground with his stance.
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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.