Change the Mascot: The Washington Redskins, Offensive Trade Marks, Freedom of Speech and Racism in Sport

Australian Intellectual Property Law Bulletin, 29(7), pp. 178-183.

20 Pages Posted: 25 Aug 2016

See all articles by Matthew Rimmer

Matthew Rimmer

Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

Date Written: August 22, 2016


There has been a long history of conflict and disputation in respect of Indigenous Intellectual Property.

In the United States, there has often been controversy over representations of Native Americans in trademark law. There has been intensive public and legal debate over offensive trademarks, such as the Washington Redskins.

The Navajo activist Amanda Blackhorse has led a campaign to cancel the trademarks of the Washington Football team – the Washington Redskins. She observed:

"This is such a huge victory not only for, you know, our group, but for Native Americans all over the nation…. The cancellation of the trademark does not mean that the team has to change their name. Our biggest thing with this is that, you know, their name, the “R” word, does not deserve federal protection. We don’t think that Dan Snyder and the co-owners should make money off of a racial slur, especially a racial slur directed at Native American people."

In a study of the impact of native mascots and team names on American Indian and Alaska native youth, Erik Stigman and Victoria Phillips have documented how ‘these stereotypical representations are too often understood as factual representations and thus “contribute to the development of cultural biases and prejudices”’. Opponents to the trademark ran advertisements against the Washington Redskins as part of the ‘Change the Mascot’ campaign.

This article previews the Supreme Court of the United States’ possible consideration of a dispute over offensive trademarks, freedom of speech, and racism in sport. It suggests that it would be worthwhile the Supreme Court of the United States to hear a combined case dealing with the question of offensive trademarks. It argues that that it is within the power of the United States Patent and Trademark Office to regulate offensive trademarks. Furthermore, it highlights the need for the United States Government to provide effective protection for Indigenous Intellectual Property. First, this piece considers the legal dispute in respect of the Washington Redskins trademarks. Second, it examines the parallel conflict dealing with The Slants trademarks. Finally, this study examines the political responses to the controversy over offensive trademarks in the United States Congress, the White House, and the Presidential race.

Keywords: Indigenous Intellectual Property, Trade Mark Law, Freedom of Speech, Racism, Sport

Suggested Citation

Rimmer, Matthew, Change the Mascot: The Washington Redskins, Offensive Trade Marks, Freedom of Speech and Racism in Sport (August 22, 2016). Australian Intellectual Property Law Bulletin, 29(7), pp. 178-183.. Available at SSRN:

Matthew Rimmer (Contact Author)

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) ( email )

Level 4, C Block Gardens Point
2 George St
Brisbane, Queensland QLD 4000

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