Boycott Your NFL Team, Washington

Patent and Trademark Office ruling won't erase slur, and probably shouldn't.

Protesting the nickname of the Washington football team outside a Nov. 7, 2013, game against the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis. (National Journal)

It's pretty simple, Washington. Your NFL football team's name insults many Native Americans, which makes it a slur, and the best way to erase the stain is to boycott the team.

Don't go to the games, sports fans. For members of Congress, lobbyists, and other political MVPs, just say no to the free tickets, box seats, and buffets. You shouldn't be taking these micro-bribes anyway.

Don't watch the games. Don't wear the jerseys. Don't buy the sponsors' products. Hit churlish owner Dan Snyder in the pocketbook without treading on the First Amendment. But don't punt this issue to patent lawyers and bureaucrats. Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins nails it:

Now that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has struck a governmental blow against commodified ethnic insults, I'm nervous, because I may have "disparaged" somebody this morning when I buttered my toast. After I put away the Land O' Lakes butter with that Indian maiden logo on the box, I bit off a chew of Red Man tobacco and climbed into a Jeep Cherokee.

The Washington football club ought to ditch its slur of a trademark, voluntarily. It ought to do so on the grounds of basic decency and good taste, and, you'd hope, with an intelligent sense of history, context, and place. If they won't do it willingly, then the rest of us, and the team's colleagues in the NFL, ought to embarrass, jeer, and cajole them into it. But the method currently being employed, the mobilization of the U.S. government in favor of a correct sensibility, is wrong.

Jenkins quotes a lawyer for the ACLU, Gabe Rottman, warning of the precedent set when a government agency regulates speech, then adds:

You don't really want government agencies to become the arbiter of acceptable words and images. You really don't. The main reason you don't is because, like it or not, what's offensive is subjective. It creates "a morass of uncertainty," Rottman wrote. Consider how many offensive violations someone could find in one episode of The Family Guy. Or Game of Thrones, or Orange Is The New Black.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and multiple colleagues have been urging Snyder to change the team's name for months now.

My colleague Matt Berman points out that the Kennedy administration forced the Washington football team to desegregate — the only NFL team that hadn't yet done so. Then-owner George Preston Marshall wanted to build a new stadium on federal land in 1961, and the administration gave him an ultimatum: Blacks play on your team or your team doesn't play in a new stadium.

Using a stadium as leverage is smart. Using the First Amendment as leverage is as dangerous as it is unnecessary, if Washington's fans and power brokers boycott Snyder. I'll do my part, no sweat.  Your team doesn't play my Detroit Lions this year.