Should We Give Major Side Eye to Everything in the Washington Redskins Case?

Urban Dictionary defines the term "side eye" as a "facial expression expressing one's criticism, disapproval, animosity, or scorn of varying levels of intensity towards another person" involving "one person looking at the other out of the corner of their eye(s) with a scowl, as their head is turned in a different direction." When viewed in the entire saga's context, the latest news in the Washington Redskins name controversy may make you do just that - give major side eye to not only Dan Snyder, the team owner who refuses to change the franchise's name and marks, but also those taking a stand on the opposing side and the legal decision-makers. Why may the entire situation be deserving of this reaction? Here are a few noteworthy points:

1. Judge Gerald Bruce Lee determined that the NFL's suit against the five Native Americans who challenged a series of the Washington Redskins trademarks should not be dismissed as of now. I repeat, the Washington Redskins are suing the Native Americans who filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that the team's various trademarks are "disparaging" or "offensive" and, thus, should be cancelled, and a federal judge in Virginia said dismissing this lawsuit would be "unprecedented." The official opinion has not been drafted yet. Since this is a high-profile case, it will most certainly be litigated through because neither side shows any signs of budging.

On the surface, it feels extremely counter-intuitive that Dan Snyder and his legal team for the NFL franchise can sue these people for being offended by the use of their marks, but this is the beauty of our legal system, and I do not mean that sarcastically. Parties have options and can seek different legal remedies depending on their goals and likelihood of success.

Here, Snyder's attorneys for the team probably chose the right available legal option for the goals their client seeks and for the highest likelihood of success. Back in June, the USPTO canceled some but not all of the Washington Redskins' trademarks upon the request of these five Native Americans who filed the petition in the first place. The USPTO's jurisdiction is different from a civil court's jurisdiction. The former is an administrative body that, among other purposes, may carry out particular, limited judicial tasks whereas the latter is a judicial body. Therefore, a civil court might be able to give Team Snyder one of its desired results (reversing the USPTO's unfavorable ruling), and to date, it has the green light to proceed because the team has a legal. In the meantime, the team may use the Redskins name freely without repercussion, but they are risking losing their exclusive rights to the name when this whole process ends.

2. As mentioned above, the USPTO canceled six of the NFL team's trademarks earlier this year. The board's reached this ruling because the marks "were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered." The movement to change the team name has gained major support since 2013. The NFL team has used the Redskins name since 1933 and registered the six trademarks between 1967 and 1990. Team Snyder is arguing to the court that the team name was not offensive at the time of registration and, therefore, the board's ruling should be reversed and the marks should keep their federal registration benefits such as exclusivity.

3. Courtesy of the media, each side's support is likely exaggerated, and interestingly, the root of each side's arguments is the same - R.E.S.P.E.C.T. One poll suggests that Snyder has the majority of the adult public's support (83% of those surveyed responded that the team should not have to change its name). In contrast, approximately 5,000 protesters gathered outside of the football stadium in Minnesota for the Redskins-Vikings game last week and received a large amount of media attention. Moreover, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that the team uses the Redskins name and presents it "in a way that honors Native Americans" while protesters are screaming, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, this racist name has got to go!" There are pro-Redskins gatherings that raise signs stating "Native and proud to be a Redskin," too, to be fair. Obviously there is a misunderstanding here.

Both sides plant their arguments in a place of respect and yet the arguments are polar opposites. Here, we see how difficult it is to gauge both public opinion over the course of decades and the affected population's real opinion at the time a name first became used in commerce when there is no evidentiary record of that real opinion. Was the "Redskins" name offensive or disparaging when it received federal protection, and even so, should it be forced to stop using the name from this point forward? If it was not, society pressure could still produce the same result. Truthfully, the Native American protesters must realize they have a long struggle ahead. Expecting it to be easy is naive because people are cautious when the issue involves the place where sports and law intertwine. With that said, it is very unclear how this case will conclude in the long run.

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