Should the U.S. Congress Be in the Business of Telling Businesses What They Can Name Themselves?

A story about the bill Non-Disparagement of American Indians in Trademarks Registrations Act of 2013, which was recently introduced in the U.S. Congress.

Recently, Del. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, a Democrat representing American Samoa, has put forth the Non-Disparagement of American Indians in Trademarks Registrations Act of 2013 (to read the full text of the bill and to follow its progress in Congress, click here.). It would ban current and future trademarks that use the term redskins to refer to American Indians. Stripping the trademark protection from the word would cost the National Football League’s Redskins in Washington D.C. considerable sums of money related to its marketing and, the thinking goes, compel a name change.

But should the U.S. Congress be telling private businesses what they can call themselves? And what are the implications for sports clubs who use names that are also regarded as deragatory--even racist--by many, such as the Cleveland Indians? Roll Call's staff writer Emma Dumain explores these issues in an excellent new article.

Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, an Ohio Democrat whose district includes Cleveland, said she has always supported changing the name of her home team and endorses scrapping the Washington Redskins name. She said she doesn’t think the legislative route is an appropriate one, though.

“It’s the right thing to do, it’s the moral thing to do, and they need to do it,” Fudge said of changing the team names, to Dumain. “But I don’t believe you can legislate to a privately owned enterprise what their name should be.”

American Indian groups such as the Native American Rights Fund and the National Congress of American Indians have come out strongly in support of the bill in Congress. “[Native mascots and nicknames] are all offensive, but perhaps we start with the most egregious example first,” said Robert Holden, deputy director of the National Congress of American Indians, to Roll Call, adding that legislation dealing with only one team’s trademark will “hopefully help owners, fans and even team members understand better what’s going on here.”

As the court of public opinion and the U.S. legal system have tackled the issue, now Congress is acting. Should they?

Read the full text of Dumain's article by clicking here.