By the time you read this, the author may be out of a job.
You see, I’m writing this while wearing an Atlanta Braves cap. And not just any cap. One with the smiling Indian logo.
Now, you may say, this cap might be in poor taste, but surely that’s not illegal in the United States. If it were, we’d need to shut down Ocean City, and probably just about the entire Atlantic coastline, every summer. But there are folks out there threatening broadcasters over what some consider an offensive nickname: the Washington Redskins.
John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University, sent registered letters “styled as a legal notice” to four D.C. area television stations warning them to limit their use of the term Redskins “or risk a legal challenge to their broadcasting licenses.”
Banzhaf’s action followed an appellate court ruling that will allow Native American groups to challenge the Washington football team’s trademark on “Redskins.” The federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board has already ruled that the word Redskins is racially derogatory and offensive.
Of course, what’s offensive is in the eye of the beholder. What bothers Banzhaf and some Native Americans doesn’t bother other people. If he doesn’t like the name “Redskins,” he doesn’t have to buy their “offensive” merchandise. He doesn’t have to attend their games or watch them on TV. And he’s always free to root for the Cowboys.
But that’s what’s frightening. This potential legal action isn’t aimed at the people Banzhaf claims are offending him. Rather, he’s challenging others, warning them that if they even dare to speak a word he finds offensive, he’ll attempt to put them out of business. And he’s not subtle about his threat. “Broadcast stations whose licenses are challenged often face a major and very expensive legal battle,” he notes in a news release.
It’s all part of the new political correctness. In the U.S. today, intolerance is the new tolerance. When someone speaks of the importance of tolerance he doesn’t mean, “I respect your right to say or do something, even if I disagree.” What he means is “If I’m offended by what you say or do, I’ll take legal action to stop you.” And, in the Redskins case, anyone who even speaks your name.
Another critical point here is who gets to decide what’s offensive.
Banzhaf claims it should be easy for broadcasters to avoid saying “Redskins.” Instead, he suggests they say “Washington is hoping for a win over the Bears.” But someday a group of zookeepers might decide “Bears” is offensive. Would they be allowed to ban that word from our airwaves? Eventually somebody’s going to sue over the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves, the Florida State Seminoles.