OFF-THE-CUFF

You will just have to wait patiently for the unveiling of our 2015 Connect Business Magazine Business Person of the Year, which our annual panel of Minnesota State University College of Business professors has already chosen. You can read all about their choice in our January 2015 issue. What a crop of nominees we received this year!

According to our contest rules, a nominee could not have been featured in our magazine within the last two years. So if you nominated Kyle Smith of Tailwind Group (featured March 2014), for example, that’s why he and others recently featured weren’t accepted as nominees.

On to other fare: University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler took a courageous stand in August (whether you agree with him or not) by saying he would ask the Minnesota Vikings to not use the name “Redskins” during the Minnesota-Washington game at University of Minnesota-owned TCF Bank Stadium on November 2. He didn’t want Redskins apparel sold there or announcers even saying the word “Redskins” or any scoreboards or printed material mentioning the “Redskins.”

So by the time you read this, the world’s first “Redskins-free” game may have been played—barring a last-minute change, of course, which is unlikely given the tight relationship between University of Minnesota athletics and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.

The Washington Redskins organization and some Native Americans claim the Redskins name honors Native Americans. The rest of Native Americans and other detractors say otherwise.

I’m not taking a stand, per se. But in terms of a business angle, I am troubled over what the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, a unit within the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, has done to the Washington Redskins. In June, this board canceled all Washington Redskins trademarks registered from 1967-90 after deciding the Redskins name was too “disparaging” to Native Americans.


Quoted in espn.com, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said, “(This ruling) puts a big dent in their (the Redskins’) business model of trying to gain revenue from a disparaging term or slur. I find it very unlikely that someone is going to overrule the patent office on this. This is a huge decision by a federal agency.”

Existing U.S. law does prohibit disparaging, contemptuous, disreputable or scandalous trademarked names. Of course, the key point in this or any other case like it would be the definition of disparaging, contemptuous, disreputable or scandalous—and who gets to do the defining.

For example, I have a Scots-Irish heritage, which reaches into several of my family lines, including Vance. The Scots-Irish in America trace their heritage to Scottish Protestants living in Northern Ireland in the 18th century. Their English landlords and Irish Catholic neighbors there squeezed them socially and financially, and they endured decades of abject poverty. Many of the tens of thousands of Scots-Irish settling in the U.S. from 1720-90 were seven-year indentured servants before moving westward.

One notable event in Northern Ireland history occurred in 1689, when a military force of Irish Catholics loyal to former British King James II, also a Catholic, laid siege to the Northern Ireland city of Derry, which was loyal to William and Mary, England’s newly crowned Protestant king and queen. Thousands of Protestants perished during this horrible 105-day siege, which ended when William and Mary’s ships laden with lifesaving supplies broke through a blockade.

Personally, I’m not at all angry at the Notre Dame “Fightin’ Irish” and what some would call a disparaging, contemptuous, disreputable, scandalous, and ethnic-slurring trademark; but someday, someone probably will get angry enough and effectively argue their case before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and then that will be the end of The Fightin’ Irish.

Given the treatment offered the Redskins, and if the Trademark Office were truly consistent, one day you may see it cancel other professional sports trademarks, such as the ones owned by the Vikings (who were “terrorists” by today’s standards because of their like for raping and pillaging), and by the Brewers (who celebrate a beverage that causes drunk driving and fetal alcohol syndrome), Braves and Indians (see Redskins), Wizards (the KKK connection), Padres and Saints (must have separation of church and sport) and the Steelers and Jets (global warmers and polluters).

For their sake, it’s good the Houston Oilers became the Tennessee Titans.

And if a bare majority of some distant Trademark Trial and Appeal Board arbitrarily decided your trademarks used in southern Minnesota were just a bit too disparaging, contemptuous, disreputable or scandalous, you too could be plum out of luck—even if your trademark had been used for generations and accounted for a great deal of your profits.

What makes many businesspeople cringe is having to watch another arm of the federal bureaucracy ambush another American business—this one founded in 1932 and one that had its trademark registered more than 45 years.

If—or more likely, when—pressure groups move the Redskins to abandon the Redskins name, then so be it. I’m all for that if it happens. Just let public opinion or a University of Minnesota president or other NFL owners be the ones providing the pressure. As a rule, Uncle Sam should not be in the business of brazenly blitzing a business and trying to sack it for a loss.

Thanks for reading southern Minnesota’s only locally owned business magazine, the only one since 1994 serving nine southern Minnesota counties and reaching 8,800 business decision makers. See you next issue for our annual Business Person of the Year edition!

Correction Note: In our September/October issue we misidentified the name of new business Bradley’s on Stadium in our Hot Startz! Section. You can learn more about the establishment at bradleysonstadium.com or by seeing its ad on page 49.

Daniel Vance

Daniel Vance

A former Editor of Connect Business Magazine

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