“I’m still laughing about it,” said Orlandino, the CEO of Pipedream Products, manufacturer of a wide variety of novelty and bedroom products, some of which you’ve never even imagined. “I think Daniel Snyder’s a lunatic,” Orlandino went on. “I think he’s the Trump of the NFL. Get your own house in order. What are you pulling us into this [mess] for? We sell a good product at a fair price. It’s got nothing to do with the Redskins.”
Well it does now, in a way. As The Post’s Ian Shapira reported this week, Washington’s most recent legal strategy includes the “Take Yo Panties Off” defense, with the team citing a wide variety of “startling” and possibly offensive trademarks while defending its own. The team argued that these trademarks do not convey any perception of government endorsement, that the United States is not implying approval of Dago Swagg clothing, Booty Call sex aids, or Dumb Blonde hair products.
But that filing also nudged a whole bunch of businesses into the public arena, where they could trade elbows with the Redskins. It also raised a whole bunch of questions. To wit:
What’s wrong with Edible Crotchless Gummy Panties?
Some of the examples cited by the team are obviously outrageous, and many cannot even be published here. But some of them I didn’t get. Like Edible Crotchless Gummy Panties, for example. I mean, underwear is not possibly offensive. Neither is gummy candy — especially not the delectable peach flavor. So how is combining them into a trademarked item even remotely “startling,” to use the team’s word?
“I was shocked,” Orlandino agreed. “It was more descriptive than it was offensive. Now, I make an item called [whoa whoa whoa WHOA, not on this Web site, sir]. That could be construed as offensive.”
I mean, whoa. Go wash your eyes out with soap. Just in case.
[And before I go on: This is a very complex case, touching on a whole bunch of different issues, and not just this sort of amusing one. The Redskins make many persuasive arguments having nothing to do with sex toys and everything to do with the intricacies of trademark law and the meaning of government registration; this article is not meant as a legal critique. I’d encourage you to read the full filing.]
What do the Reformed Whores think about all this?
Well, the comedy/country musical duo — once barred from an appearance on a Disney property due to their name — loves the free publicity. But like Orlandino, they’re not thrilled about being lumped in with the Redskins.
“I’m offended that they would say that our name is as offensive as their incredibly offensive slur,” said Katy Frame, a Montgomery County native and one of the Reformed Whores. “That’s crap. No. I don’t accept that.”
“We’re not as bad as that, for sure,” agreed her partner, Marie Cecile Anderson.
Frame, as it turns out, went to school in the District, and was vaguely a Redskins fan, out of local pride. But her understanding changed with time, and she began thinking “that’s not okay — they can change it, they can grow up.” Her band’s name, she said, is meant to play around with gender roles and women’s issues; their lyrics include frequent riffs on women’s rights, empowerment, sex and love. This is not comparable, she argued, to a billion-dollar business warding off a group of aggrieved Native Americans.
“We’re using the name to bring light to women’s issues, so it actually serves a purpose beyond just offending people,” she said. “C’mon. It’s not the same. It’s not the same. They’re trying to defend this horrible name, in a way that’s just getting ridiculous.”
“There’s just a big difference,” Anderson added, “between racist and funny.”
Okay, it’s probably not good when the Reformed Whores are embarrassed to be associated with your name. So how about another cited musical group, the Nappy Roots?
They might even be more upset. That Southern rap group has been around for about two decades; the members found their inclusion in the Redskins defense “ludicrous,” offering a choice bit of unprintable commentary that the Redskins would probably find “startling.”
“Identifying other people that are ‘doing it too?’ How juvenile is that?” said Chris Weeks, the group’s manager. “I joked about dry snitching in the rap community, because it’s like, are you really saying this? It becomes even more offensive.”
Why more offensive? Well, Weeks argued there’s a difference between the self-identification with a word that could have a negative connotation — like nappy — and the use of a word by one group to describe another, like Redskins.
“If I offend another black person by using the word ‘nappy,’ that’s something we hash out internally in our community,” he said. “For someone that’s calling Native Americans ‘Redskins,’ and has been doing so for decades, and is then justifying it by saying ‘Well these guys use the term nappy, look at them,’ that’s just the weakest argument. I can’t believe they took time to even file the brief, that’s how preposterous I think it is.”
Dang, this is getting kind of serious. Let’s lighten it up. What about the Anal Fantasy collection. Why is that offensive, or startling?
Again, I don’t get it. Is the word “anal” on some list of inherently outrageous terms?
I asked Orlandino. He laughed.
“You’re asking the guy who invented this stuff,” he said. “To me, it’s another widget. Out in public it might be offensive. It’s a line of products for anal sex. Some of the products in there are probably more offensive than the actual brand.”
Which, I … yeah. So anyhow. Nice weather we’re having, right?
And what’s the deal with Midget-Man Condoms?
They’re not really for modestly endowed gentlemen. It’s just a gag gift. They retail for $4.99 at Spencer’s, and the picture on the package is of one of Orlandino’s employees, an inside joke.
In its filing, the team cited several trademarks that had been offered as more offensive than the Redskins name in a Daily Caller article last year. One of them was Cracka Azz Skateboards. So what does that company’s founder think about its name?
“It’s a blatant racial slur, yes,” said Ben Terrell, a (white) truck driver from Ohio who said he went through years of battles to get that name approved. “That’s what I got called in high school, so it was sentimental. I went to a black high school, so I was always ‘Cracka Azz.’ The name stuck with me, and it just happened to be a racial slur.”
See, these things are all judgment calls, and while it won’t change many opinions, this latest filing does muddle matters. The examples cited by the team suggest that something can be both offensive and protected, that trademarks shouldn’t be judged on the basis of good taste, that “the PTO has registered hundreds if not thousands of marks that the Team believes are racist, or misogynistic, vulgar, or otherwise offensive” — including Terrell’s skateboard company.
That might well be a winning legal strategy. In the court of public opinion, though, the Redskins have always argued that their name is not in the same universe as offensive racial slurs, and that its good taste has never been in question. Saying “look, we’re not as bad as this white guy who is appropriating a slur once used against him” is … well, complicated.
Terrell, as it turns out, feels a kinship with other businesses who have used “a racial slur or a prejudiced type of idea to sell their products.” (For taste reasons, I can’t cite the examples he offered.) He thinks the Redskins should be allowed to keep their name and their trademark protection, and he remains proud of his own legal victory.
“Dude, it’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever done,” Terrell told me. “I’m just a trucker. It was better than getting a bachelors degree to me: to get around the attorneys on a blatant racial slur.”
What other trademarks did the Team believe to be racist, misogynistic, vulgar, or otherwise offensive?
Well, the Big Titty Blend was on the list. And one wonders if the Redskins researched this one before including it. Stephanee Rowbury was one of the first employees of Big City Coffee, a Boise shop that opened in 2001. When Rowbury was diagnosed with breast cancer, owner Sarah Fendley created the new blend to show support. After Rowbury’s death in 2011, Big City launched a new company, Joe Cans Coffee For A Cause, to raise awareness and provide support for women with breast cancer.
“We have raised enough funds this year to fund 175 mammograms,” Fendley told Sports Illustrated this week. “If that’s offensive, then don’t buy my coffee.”
The Redskins lawyers, in calling Big Titty Blend “racist, misogynistic, vulgar, or otherwise offensive,” would presumably argue that the context and history do not matter; that they were just judging the word on its dictionary merits. Which is kind of a treacherous path for this team to travel.
Whoa, too serious! More sex talk! Have I mentioned the alluring Hot Octopuss anti-premature ejaculation creams?
That company’s U.S. spokeswoman declined to comment on the Redskins filing, although she did say if I’m ever interested in sampling one of Hot Octopuss’ toys, all I have to do is ask. Sportswriting is a magical profession.
How about the WTF Work? forum guy?
He also declined to comment. Why the f … I mean, why the heck not?
And how about the guy who sells apparel that denounces capitalism by suggesting it interacts with donkey anatomy in a particular way?
Not a fan of the Redskins! And not just because he roots for the Jets!
“I understand why lawyers are going to use whatever argument they can, but in my opinion it’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Jason Greenfield, the Brooklyn socialist who holds that trademark, which he uses on t-shirts and in commercials. “There’s a big difference between a comment on an economic system, and what many people feel is a derogatory term about a group of people. You can’t ignore the context, which is that you’re talking about a persecuted group of people who were literally killed, poisoned. … It’s not even close. Not even close.”
Greenfield, I should note, has found it “extraordinary difficult” to get people to watch his videos; he was thrilled that a reporter was calling to discuss all this. He’s been hoping for years that people would find his trademarked phrase offensive, because that would lead to dialogue and attention.
“I would really like even just the smallest hint of publicity, but so far no one has, no,” he lamented. “There really hasn’t been enough attention for anyone to be offended. I can’t even get a negative reaction. I wrote a long resignation letter, and there wasn’t even a negative comment. Pretty much everything on the Internet has some sort of negative comment. So it’s pretty remarkable.”
Did you ever imagine the Redskins would wind up helping a Brooklyn socialist trying desperately to promote videos about how capitalism interacts with donkey anatomy? Because I didn’t.
How about the Oh! My Nappy Hair salon and hair products company?
This was all an interesting experience, talking to people who have flirted with the lines of perceived good taste in their government marks, people from across the country and from across racial lines. I spoke at great length with Rosario Schuler, who started Oh! My Nappy Hair in California a quarter-century ago, referring to stylists as “Nap Specialists” and preaching “This is the hair that God gave us.”
She hadn’t heard about the Redskins name debate, and I tried to fill her in as fairly as I could. A few hours after we talked, she called back for another lengthy conversation. Schuler, who was in the news after Don Imus’s controversial use of “nappy,” ultimately decided she differentiates between her appropriation of an adjective that applies to her own group, and the Redskins use of a noun that refers to others.
“Once society thrusts a wrong onto a group of people, then that word or words become taboo,” she said. “And the only way that word can be utilized is if that group of people decides to turn around, and use it themselves, and say it’s okay. Other than that, once it’s thrust upon them, you’re still throwing mud at them. … I turned Oh! My Nappy Hair around into a positive. Had the white people started saying ‘nappy hair,’ then it might have been a negative. But I took it — because it was somewhat taboo — and made it a positive thing.”
I know, you wanted to read funny stories about sex toys and lubricant magnates, not ruminations on identity and culture. And yes, how Native Americans think about this issue remains contested, with some majority-Native American schools continuing to use the name with pride.
There are no easy answers to these questions, and the team’s filing goes far beyond this list of other trademark holders. It’s just striking how many of the people I contacted found the Redskins name more objectionable than their own supposedly scandalous trademark. For her part, Rosario decided that the Redskins should not keep their trademark.
“What are you using to define the name ‘Redskin?'” she asked. “They’re dangerous? They’re animalistic? That’s what you want to keep saying? Because they’re not that. Hair is one thing; a person’s character becomes a whole different issue.”
And what, finally, does Nick Orlandino believe?
While the Reformed Whores and Nappy Roots and Brooklyn socialists and California salon owners may think the team should change its name, Orlandino — the man behind those edible gummy panties — disagreed. He doesn’t want Daniel Snyder to mention his products, and he called the owner a name that might as well be on one of his products, but he doesn’t want them to change, either.
“Listen, he’s not wrong. He bought this franchise, and this is their trademark — probably the biggest asset the team has next to the stadium,” Orlandino said of Snyder. “I don’t want to see the Redskins go away. That’s an institution in the NFL. You start messing with things like that, then everything goes pear-shaped.”
Orlandino, a Raiders fan, mentioned the difficulty Snyder would have in changing over merchandise, in rewriting history. He argued — correctly, I think — that whatever the team’s name is, fans would wear Redskins gear to games for 100 years. “You can’t change that,” he said.
And if Orlandino was personally insulted by a trademarked team name? Well, that might be different.
“If they made fun of Italians, maybe I’d get upset,” he said. “Who knows?”