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. What happens if there is a wrongful death lawsuit involving a person who died from eating REDSKIN potato salad infected w/ salmonella bacteria? PC is insane and Orwellian. It must be stopped by any means necessary.

  2. I have not heard any Pelli Rossi chimne in here on the Redskins name topic. Are there any Native Americans out there with opinions? I have a name for the team because I have seen them in action. It would require a different head dress. Coneheads. And I am not from France. I admit to being from Planet Remulak.

  3. Now that U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte and the court have censored the word Redskin from the courts vernacular economic and educational opportunity will now magically spring forth from every reservation across the land.

  4. The team is considering a name change to: Pelli Rossi. The owner of the team said that the name is after a vintage Italian wine from Sicily nominally called Dago Red but that he altered the name so as to not offend anyone. A press conference is scheduled for tomorrow.

  5. That the Redskins are a championship professional football team ought to redeem a big chunk of the negative connotations, so while I understand the objection, I do not think it holds.

    And the issue does not appear to matter a great deal to Native Americans the way the N-word matters to [whichever politically correct word I am supposed to use these days; I got used to the old, correct word black so long ago that I cannot remember which or the 3 or 4 is currently correct and am too lazy to look it up right now].

    I suspect that if Samuel Jackson of ‘Jackie Brown’ stardom owned a pro championship team called the N-word base with an ‘a’ on the end, there would be no controversy, despite the origins of the word. Those who have seen ‘Jackie Brown’ know why I referred to that star and that movie.

  6. John,
    How doubleplusungood of you to write such words. Treading on thin ice of becoming an unperson you are.

  7. America is entering the very “Brave New World” of “1984” as “newspeak” prevails to confuse the timid into acquiescence and descent into the anarchy of irrationality and incoherence.

    Does leadership in a particular direction, despite its foibles, exist or is political correctness a “black hole” that inexorably attracts and destroys all matter?

  8. “Elwin Thrasher
    It is obvious that “Judge” Messitte needs to recuse himself.”

    Hear, hear!!!

    This judge needs to be prosecuted for abuse of power. This is not adjudication, it is enforcement. This is a blatant demonstration of bias. This judge must be immediately impeached and removed. This is as egregious as the many cases of police brutality, abuse of power and betrayal of the public trust that have been recently posted on this site.

  9. There is a statue at the Supreme Court with some blind guy. If justice is blind then keep your eyes closed with the Redskins are in town playing the Cowboys. If justice is blind it can be deaf too. And if it is deaf, dumb, and blind it can put up with a football team in DC called the Redskins. But if justice is hearing well, seeing the light and smart as a whip then change the name by judicial fiat. I would prefer an American car over a Fiat but, that is how those judges are: deaf, dumb, blind, and driving cars without papers. I wont use the w o p word and offend the powers that be with all their civility rules.

  10. Who’s next. the Viking, Saints, Patriots, Raiders, Yankees, Steelers, The Redskins were named so out of the bravery of a people

  11. The half blind guy for whom I work as a guide and philosopher is part Osage but he hails from a Blue State. He says that if his state voted Republican he would leave but does not like the slur on any state being called a Red State. What a quandry.

  12. Vince Jankoski “Disclaimer: The name “Redskins” is unquestionably offensive.”

    I agree with your disclaimer but why did you use it 7 times?
    The history of the name:


    [I]n a 1933 interview with the Associated Press, George Preston Marshall, the team’s owner and original founder, admitted that the story [to honor its coach, William “Lone Star” Dietz] wasn’t true.

    “The fact that we have in our head coach, Lone Star Dietz, an Indian, together with several Indian players, has not, as may be suspected, inspired me to select the name Redskins,” Marshall said in the AP report. The quote was originally referenced in a story on the team’s name at Sports Illustrated’s MMQB site. Jesse Witten, the lead attorney in a lawsuit challenging the legality of the team’s federal trademark protection, unearthed the actual AP report this week, and provided it to to Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney. ESPN’s Keith Olbermann reported it on his show, “Olbermann,” Thursday night.

  13. Washington football receives public money and as a result it should be held to a higher standard than comedians and rap singers who are independent of government subsidies.

    But Jim Barnes reports in The Post’s Local Living that businesses in Loudoun are starting to wonder why one of sports’ most lucrative franchises is receiving Loudoun tax dollars when it could be going to needier merchants.

    “They’re giving the money away to an organization that doesn’t need it, and they’re cutting all sorts of funding from worthy recipients,”

    Last year was a busy one for public giveaways to the National Football League. In Virginia, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, who styles himself as a budget-slashing conservative crusader, took $4 million from taxpayers’ pockets and handed the money to the Washington Redskins, for the team to upgrade a workout facility.

    A small number of media outlets have independently taken the position that they will not use the name Redskins, but instead refer to the team as “Washington”, with the exception of the Washington City Paper, which refers to the team as the “Pigskins”.[77] David Plotz of Slate in an article announcing the decision to stop using the name stated, “Changing the way we talk is not political correctness run amok. It reflects an admirable willingness to acknowledge others who once were barely visible to the dominant culture, and to recognize that something that may seem innocent to you may be painful to others. In public discourse, we no longer talk about groups based on their physical traits: No one would ever refer to Asians as yellow-skinned. This is why the majority of teams with Indian nicknames have dropped them over the past 40 years.”[78] One day later, Mother Jones and The New Republic concurred, making the same decision.[79][80] Sports writer Peter King has also decided that he will no longer use the name in his reporting, but will substitute “Washington” when referring to the team. “I can just tell you how I feel: I’ve been increasingly bothered by using the word, and I don’t want to be a part of using a name that a cross-section of our society feels is insulting.” Wikipedia

    Washington Pigskins does have a ring to it in more ways than one…

    A team based in the nations capital should not bear a name that is a racial slur. And the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo needs to go too…..

  14. And the Right Rev. SaucyDump finishes his homily and passes the plate, which sermon motivated me to tender my mite of an Irish Poem :

    The Uplift Brigade, or
    The Missionary Position Paper
    An Irish Poem by Squeeky Fromm

    After cladding with bras the Maori,
    The Puritans felt a new story
    Would be needed, post haste,
    In these post -Christian days,
    Both for moolah and personal glory.

    Now the Black and the Brown racial baiters
    Had made lots of bucks off Klan haters.
    Sooo, that market was thin.
    But hmmm. . . The Red Skin???
    “Hooray! ” cried “outrage ” celebrators.

    Now new markets need some breaking in.
    So it is with Le Cause d’ RedSkin.
    But Barnum said suckers
    Are there for the pluckers
    So who knows how this whole thing will end???

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  15. Aren’t we always being told by the progressives to just suck it up when a group objects to things like violent video games, explicit lyrics in songs or violent/sexual TV shows? Aren’t we always told, “You don’t have to watch it”? If you don’t like the Redskins name, good for you, don’t buy their stuff or support them.

  16. Sauce, Wow, took that long to reduce yourself to name calling. How impressive or unimpressive depending how you look at it.

  17. James Knauer, The destruction of words is a beautiful thing. What don’t you understand? Do you really think you should be able to think independently?

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