Misleading Headlines About Slants/Redskins “Alliance”

Posted by Simon Tam Category: Category 1, News

I thought that we dealt with this before. Actually, we did.

In December 2015, a news story claimed that we were “unlikely allies” with the racist NFL football team, The Washington Redskins. That misfortunate combination of those two words led to hundreds of other stories with misleading headlines, mischaracterizing our band’s long battle with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. So imagine the horror and disappointment when I woke up to find hundreds of newspapers and radio stations sharing an Associated Press story that kicked off with “Redskins, rock band form unusual trademark alliance.”

This is the problem with developing intriguing, click bait-driven headlines. People want mystery, they want allure. But seldom do they want actual facts. Let us be absolutely clear: we have not formed an alliance. That is false.

In December, Reuters made it clear that when the Redskins filed their petition to the Supreme Court, they did so while disparaging me and my legal team: Redskins throw serious shade at The Slants’ counsel in new cert petition. And last April, I had an exclusive interview with the Oregonian talking about the frustrations of people assuming our cases were intertwined: The Washington Redskins want to join Portland music group The Slants’ trademark fight. We’ve also written repeatedly about this issue: When Our Story Went Viral: Addressing Misconceptions About Our Case and The Difference Between “The Redskins” Case and Ours.

What the Associated Press and other journalists fail to mention is that everyone on all sides of the legal argument has asked the Supreme Court to review the cases. That’s right: The United States Patent and Trademark Office, the Department of Justice, Pro Football (The Washington Redskins), Amanda Blackhorse (petitioners against the Redskins), and we have asked the high court for review. Is this an alliance that was deliberately formed? No, of course not.

While I have argued that free speech shouldn’t be restricted – and in this instance that allows some similar positions with the football team – this does not mean our band is in support of the Redskins. As I’ve written for Huffington Post:

“The Change the Name campaign is much bigger than a trademark. It is possible to support free speech while opposing hate speech. It is possible to highlight injustices that communities have faced without relying on the cancellation of a trademark to do so. And it is definitely possible to frame questions about free speech around the marginalized groups who need it the most instead of writing laws around one football team, one flag, or one political candidate…

True equity isn’t achieved by sweeping government actions that negatively affect some communities more than others. The restriction of speech hurts marginalized communities. We should not discourage people from using wit, irony, or reappropriation to disarm the malicious. There should be a more culturally competent approach to avoid undermining the work of activists, artists, nonprofit groups, or businesses who use reappropriation to encourage, empower, and to educate.

The debate on free speech has almost always focused on those who abuse it. The cost of free speech sometimes means having disagreeable speech. We can’t have free speech and be free of speech we disagree with. But the price that is paid for censorship of it is carried on the backs of the underprivileged.”

The AP article in question also claims that our briefs have failed to articulate the differences between “Redskins” and Slants:”

“The website [theslants.com] says the word Redskin “has a long history of oppression” and “the football team treats the people as mascots.” By contrast, The Slants “breaks stereotypes about Asian-Americans, especially in the entertainment industry.”

Tam does not mention those distinctions in his brief to the court…”

Yet, our Ex Parte Appeal Brief on the evidentiary record states:

“While PTO decisions respecting registration are not precedential, these registrations demonstrate a proposition that should be uncontroversial, namely that, unlike inherently offensive slurs such as HEEB, SQUAW or REDSKIN, “slant” is not inherently offensive.”

Our legal positions are different than that of the football team. I’m not going to go into the specifics of it here – the extensive public record is available for review – but I am calling for journalists to use higher standards in their approach. We should stop spreading these false assumptions and quick conclusions to an extremely complex and nuanced situation, especially with so much at stake. At the end of the day, a journalist doesn’t have to deal with being associated with racist Dan Snyder nor does he have to face threats like we do.

I know the case history is tough to wade through – it tops several thousand pages now and has had a roller coaster of events (especially in the last two years). But that should make presenting clear facts even more important than ever.

For those who want to see the *actual* brief filed and what it says, click here.

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