The “R” Word: Federal Judge Bans Use Of “Redskins” in Opinion

350px-Washington_Redskins_logo.svggavel2An interesting footnote appeared in an opinion by U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte in Maryland this week. Messitte stated that the court would no longer use the team name “Redskins” in any opinion and will refer instead to “the Washington Team.” I recently wrote a Washington Post column on the controversy over the Redskins name. The question is whether it is appropriate to limit the use of the name in an opinion when there is considerable public debate over whether it is offensive and whether, if it is barred in opinions, the court should bar its use in court.

The footnote appears on the first page of a ruling dismissing some claims in the case of ex-New York Giants linebacker Barrett Green who accused the Redskins of giving its players financial rewards for deliberately injuring opposing athletes.

The footnote states:

Pro Football’s team is popularly known as the Washington “Redskins,” but the Court will refrain from using the team name unless reference is made to a direct quote where the name appears. Pro Football’s team will be referred to hereafter simply as “the Washington Team.”

According, the opinion uses somewhat awkward language such as “on December 5, 2004, Green, who was a defensive linebacker for the New York Giants, was playing in a game with the Washington team at the Washington team’s Maryland stadium.”

The action presents a novel question. Clearly the court is allowed to bar offensive language not just in opinions but in court. However, if the court believes the name is offensive for opinions, it would seem to follow that he would instruct others not to use the name in court. The problem is that this issue is hotly contested and indeed it is the subject of pending litigation in the appeal from the board at the Patent office in denying trademark protection to the team. While the name was found offensive by this small administrative board, it is on appeal and the legally enforceable name of the team remains “Redskins.” Until the matter is resolved, should a court adopt such a rule? There is great latitude given courts in managing their courtrooms and opinions, particularly in barring words or conduct viewed as disruptive or offense.

What do you think?

Messitte has a B.A. from Amherst College in 1963 and a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 1966. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in São Paulo, Brazil from 1966 to 1968. He sits on the United States District Court for the District of Maryland and was nominated by President Bill Clinton on August 6, 1993,

Sources: Washington Post and Wall Street Journal

46 thoughts on “The “R” Word: Federal Judge Bans Use Of “Redskins” in Opinion”

  1. Maybe we should just aim for some truth in advertising and get the Washington “team” to changes its name to the Beltway Bandits. Of course, the anthem will take some getting used to: “Hail to the Bandits, Hail Victory! Thieves of the Beltway! Fight for corporate greed!”

  2. What VJ said. Besides, when did etiquette and morality become law? Freedom of speech inevitably leads to disagreement and the King can’t subject us to the guillotine anymore. Get used to it.

    “Sticks and stones may break my bones,

    But names will never hurt me.”

    What do the Indians call Americans in the smoke-filled back rooms of the casinos? I’m offended even before I learn the answer. I’ll call my attorney.

    The inmates have taken over the asylum.

  3. bettykath,

    I used the word “Redskins” because (1) I am a fan of the team, (2) I do not believe in limiting one’s vocabulary, (3) to not use the term “Redskin” would border on the politically correct and I am certainly not politically correct, (4) to refrain from use of the word “Redskin” in the face of pressure from the media would be cowardly, (5) nearly everyone I know uses the term, (6) I am a believer in tradition, (7) I am an old dog who doesn’t learn new tricks easily, and (8) I reserve the right to use offensive language when the occasion presents itself.

    Upon reflection, what I should have said was the term “Redskin”, when used to describe a Native American, is offensive – not so when used as a football mascot.


    It was hyperbole.


    Apparently, all they teach is INTERPRET, REINTERPRET, CONVOLUTE, OBFUSCATE, PERPLEX, BAFFLE and EXHAUST until we liberal, collectivist activists get what we want.

    “…petition the government for a redress of grievances…” has evolved into, “do everything for me ‘womb to the tomb,’ and do it well or I’ll import more Hispanic voters over the southern border until America is a one-party, collectivist state.”

    The inmates have taken over the asylum.

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