Racist names meet the First Amendment in Minneapolis

Minneapolis officials are reportedly considering legal action to prevent the Washington Redskins name from being used at TCF Bank Stadium.

The Minnesota Daily reports that the city attorney is investigating whether the city has legal authority to ban the football team’s name and logo.

“I have my doubts,” said Cam Gordon, who represents the University and surrounding areas on the City Council.

He said there might be issues with the ban violating freedom of speech. And at a council committee meeting late last month, the councilman called the issue a “minefield.”

You think?

“It’s the most horrific name in sports history,” said Clyde Bellecourt, founder of the Minneapolis-based American Indian Movement.

He’s right, of course. It is.

And hate speech can be suppressed without violating the First Amendment if it causes the listener to react violently. But, the Supreme Court has made clear that people still have a right to hateful speech.

That officials in Minnesota are being pressed to challenge that right is not without some irony because Minnesota has had more than its share of assaults on the First Amendment.

A 1992 case before the Supreme Court defined the difference between hateful acts of hateful speech when it overturned the conviction of a teenager for burning a cross on the lawn of an African American St. Paul family.

“Displays containing abusive invective, no matter how vicious or severe, are permissible unless they are addressed to one of the specified disfavored topics,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his decision striking down a Saint Paul ordinance. “Those who wish to use ‘fighting words’ in connection with other ideas — to express hostility, for example, on the basis of political affiliation, union membership, or homosexuality — are not covered. The First Amendment does not permit St. Paul to impose special prohibitions on those speakers who express views on disfavored subjects.”

Minneapolis, too, has a central role in the definition of the First Amendment In the ’30s, journalist Jay Near — an “anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-black and anti-labor” publisher of The Saturday Press in Minneapolis — contended a Jew was the biggest gangster in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Gag Law was used to make it a crime to publish or even work for a publication that was “malicious, scandalous and defamatory.” The Supreme Court overturned the law.

“We no longer want to take it,” Clyde Bellecourt said of racist mascots and names such as the Washington Redskins.

Which is his right, too.

  • Matt
  • KTN

    We shouldn’t take it either, but rather than expand the list of things outside protection of the 1st, society ought to let the market decide, and with enough pressure, the team will eventually concede and change its name. No need to concern the 1st here, obnoxious speech is still protected speech.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    I think the best thing for Mr Bellecourt and his group to do is get a permit from the city to hold a rally close enough to the stadium to be visible in Fox’s flyovers of the game. Use the first amendment to make the NFL, which is already having a tough year, squirm a little more.

    • There were protesters AT the Monday Night Football game last night. They were in the stadium, with banners and everything, and ESPN didn’t show any of it. Simply being close with a large group doesn’t guarantee being seen.

  • birddie

    So the far left in Minneapolis want to violate the 1st Amendment rights of others. I would expect something like that from the “progressives”. They also want to trash the 2nd Amendment. Guess what liberals? You will always lose when you attempt to violate our Constitutional rights.
    Why don’t they spend their time and money on attempts to reduce the amount of lawsuits they must pay for?

    • This concludes today’s trolling.

      • Gary F

        Though Police is shutting you down.

        • “Though police?”

    • >>They also want to trash the 2nd Amendment.<<

      Pretty much all I see are those wanting to have some basic, common sense safeguards as to who may be allowed to have a firearm. Of course, that's for another discussion.

  • Nicholas Kraemer

    It is only fitting that a team that plays “in” a city named in honor of Christopher Columbus should have a football team with a name disparaging Native Americans.

  • RF Jim

    City Pages points out the UofM – Vikings contract language gives them an out: Vikings cannot engage in any action or use any language inside the stadium that might reasonably be expected to offend contemporary community standards, such as use of words regarding sexual acts, defamatory language, or language that might denigrate any class or group of people.

    • Right, that’s a contractural situation.

  • elminnesota

    The First Amendment is trumped or matched by The Civil Rights Act of 1964 which protects all people from discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, color, national origin etc. – all of which apply to the Washington Mascot. If one is an employer, a public educational institution receiving federal funds, a public accommodation such as an arena or stadium, public airwaves or an elected government entity, it is illegal to discriminate and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allows court and federal injunctions, interventions and regulatory action to prevent planned harms from occurring. Professional football at the U stadium involves a public accommodation, multiple employers, a public educational institution with a contractual obligation to prevent discrimination and a state funded authority. The concept of institutional racism includes the difficulty a society has in seeing the harms that occur by inheritance. Most of us still do not see indigenous people as equals and no other protected class of people experiences the racism and prejudice indigenous people experience – partly because mascots dehumanize and diminish how society views indigenous people.

    • No, it really isn’t trumped. Being offended or even being the target of hate speech isn’t discrimination.

      To the extent there is a contract that may be a violation is a contractual issue between the signatories, not a constitutional issue to which non signatories have a claim.

      Think Nazis marching in Skokie.

      Or an editorial cartoon that offends some Muslims because of the portrayal of Muhammad.

      • elminnesota

        You obviously are defending a pre-held position but you ignore some facts. Just like the “N” word, the “R” word is as described by the Federal Trademark ruling a racial slur and disparaging of an entire race of people. Using the “N” word (“R” word) in a public accommodation such as a stadium or arena (see Civil Rights Act of 1964) is discriminatory and illegal as defined by law. I am talking about harms to people, not being offended. I believe in free speech and offensive speech is protected speech. The difference with mascots is that non indigenous people have manufactured racist names and images of a diverse nation of peoples that dishonor them, demean them, distort who they are, encourage sacrilegious behavior in the stands and are directly directly link to sexual violence against indigenous women, bullying of indigenous children, and negative self concept. The public would never allow the “N” word, complete with a racist image and fan blackface, to exist in a public stadium with regulated broadcast media with laws that explicitly prohibit that form of speech. The most public of public accommodations in America is professional football. It is a publicly sponsored institution. Would you say it is ok for the “N” word analogy to play out in football stadiums across professional sports, college sports and high school sports teams? I think not. It would not only be illegal, but it would never happen today because we have progressed in terms of our conscious understanding of racism and sexism and others forms of prejudice – except for indigenous people. Why do you view indigenous people as less than equal?
        Mascots dehumanize indigenous people. Indigenous women are sexually assaulted by mostly white men at a rate 2.5 times higher than all women. Most indigenous children are bullied. Mascots damage how indigenous people are perceived by people like you and me.

        • You”re making a signifant mistake by assuming my embracing the realities of the First Amendment protections somehow embraces the vile nature of the Redskins names.

          Do I think the N word would play out as a sports name. Obviously not. But not because it would be a threat of, say, imprisonment for saying a word. But because our collective values make the name counterproductive to the needs of the entity using it. That is also what will soon eliminate the Redskins name.

          But we don’t have to burn the village in order to save it.

          I do believe the Washington Redskins name will be wiped off the franchise and it will happen without destroying the most important protection we are given in a still-free society.

          The tide has already turned in this effort and this should continue so long as AIM doesn’t make it a choice between our freedom and our values.

          • By the way, the Federal Trademark decision was not a discrimination case; it was a trademark protection case in which the Redskins lost their copyright on the name. It didn’t rule the Redskins coulen’t use the name; it ruled the Redskins couldn’t protect the name. It did so by ruling the Redski.s disparaged the five people who brought the case.

            It’s also worth noting that the decion does not take effect and is not in force until all appeals are lost.

          • elminnesotaa

            The Federal Trademark ruling was the best objective analysis of whether the R word was hate speech – discriminatory – unsupportable per The Civil Rights Act of 1964. They did an excellent job of reviewing the evidence and issued a ruling stating that the R word was a racial slur and detrimental to the objectives of trademark regulation and protection because it violated the rights of citizens to be free from hate speech in public commerce.

            This country operates on a balance of powers and ideas. The first amendment is balanced by the protections for people who would suffer the harm and tyranny of the majority through discrimination. There are a handful of clear culturally discriminatory, human damaging names and symbols. Employers and media organizations already practice editorial license and filter speech. Again I invoke the “N” word. I invoke mascots in public schools that portray a nation of people in clearly damaging ways – savages with indigenous images are used in our public schools to this day. ?! We already abridge the first amendment in many ways. I am adding to the list the forgotten group called indigenous people. We need to get them to an equality of treatment and enforcement of our laws. We balance the first amendment with yelling fire in a theater with yelling “N” hate speech in a public theater. The “R’ word in a public arena is the same thing. You won’t see it that way because you don’t want to and because you cannot. You are part of the problem.

            There is no village burning except when it comes to the villages of indigenous people not very long ago. We have regulated airwaves that define speech not in the public interest. Our employers (football teams are employers) are regulated for equality. Our public schools are regulated for equality. You wish to ignore the case for indigenous people’s equality and think this will diminish the first amendment. Your argument is more about your unwillingness to change your mind and observe that protecting the rights of a race of people like we do with all other protected classes is the best preservation of our flawed but precious system of government.

          • No question the Trademark ruling classified Redskin in a way it hadn’t been classified before. But I don’t think we can say the ruling did more — or was about more — than what it was actually about.

            Ironically, the ruling actually makes it easier to use the word for profit, not harder. It just made it financially illogical for the Redskins to continue to use it.

  • davehoug

    Is taking offense a legal cause of action?

    • The Supreme Court has answered that question and defined when it is/isn’t.

      It’s also going to further define it with its decision yesterday to take the case of someone who made violent messages online.

      • davehoug

        Interesting, more info please.

  • Fred, just Fred

    And yet, your legislators and Governor just handed over $1 billion of your tax dollars to support the NFL, and those self same legislators and Governor are confident they will be returned to office. Somehow, the outrage rings hollow from where I’m standing.

    • John Peschken

      Yabba-Dabba-Doo to your argument Mr. Flintstone.

  • davehoug

    SHOULD changing standards be used to punish or protest a name for what is deemed offensive today, but was not originally??? SHOULD we allow punishment to Columbus Ohio or Coon Rapids MN if society deems those names offensive in the future?

    Thoughts invited, I don’t have the answer.

    • You should have the answer. It’s right there in the First Amendment. The answer is “no.”

      Now, people might not WANT to live in a particular community because of its name (didn’t Apple Valley change its name because of this?), but that’s not an issue in which government has an interest.

  • Tichana Allen

    As a person of Scandinavian decent, I am deeply offended by the “Vikings” name used by the Minnesota Football team. Scandinavians have a rich beautiful culture. The image of the blonde haired brute with braids and the horned helmet focuses on one small, often unpleasant part of our history.
    For this reason, during all Minnesota Football games, I will refer to the team as the Minnesota “Al Frankens”.