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What’s Next, Washington?

The U.S. Patent Office has canceled Daniel Snyder’s team trademark, ruling that it is disparaging to a “substantial composite” of Native Americans. But the battle over the word “Redskins” is far from over

By
Jenny Vrentas
· More from Jenny·

No, the Washington NFL franchise does not have to change its name.

But the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s 2-1 ruling this morning to cancel the Washington Redskins’ trademark registrations, on the grounds that the team name is disparaging to Native Americans, is an important victory for those who have opposed and advocated against the team name.

“I feel like this is definitely the tipping point [toward a name change],” says Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), which has campaigned against Native American stereotypes, including mascots, since the 1960s. “This is not just the advocates out there. This is the trademark commission that says, this is not a term that is acceptable and we can’t continue to register it. It’s really an important ruling. It legitimizes the complaint.”

Five Native Americans, led by Amanda Blackhorse, filed suit in 2006 to cancel federal registration of six of the team’s “Redskins” trademarks. The case was heard by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in March 2013, and as the calls for a name change have grown louder over the past year, both sides awaited this ruling on a potentially critical battleground.

Washington is still able to use the controversial name and its trademarks. But if the registration cancellation stands, the trademarks would no longer be federally protected, meaning the team would have a harder time stopping infringers from selling knockoff team gear. That could be a financial hit to both the team and the NFL.

The question of whether the registration cancellation will stand, however, is a big one. The team said it plans to appeal the board’s ruling, as it did successfully in a similar case filed by another group of Native Americans in the 1990s. “We’ve seen this story before,” Bob Raskopf, the team’s trademark attorney, said in a statement. “And just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo.”

This is bigger than a trademark decision,” Pata says. “Do sponsors really want to be associated with the team when there is such a groundswell rejecting the name?

In the previous case, Pro Football, Inc. vs. Harjo, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board also ruled to cancel the Washington Redskins trademark registrations. The team appealed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which reversed the Board’s decision, for two reasons: 1) There was not substantial evidence that the name was disparaging, and 2) a legal doctrine called laches, which basically means the plaintiffs waited too long to bring their complaint. The case was then brought to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the district court’s reversal—but only on the grounds of laches. The appellate court did not rule on whether or not there was substantial evidence to support the assertion that the name was disparaging.

This is important, because the five plaintiffs in the current suit were younger when they filed—closer to the age of 18—so laches should not be a successful defense in this case. And there is no precedent for how the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals would rule on the disparagement claim when it reaches that level. Another difference: If the team again appeals by filing a civil action in district court, that would be heard in a different court (the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, instead of the District of Columbia) due to a reorganization a few years ago.

In layman’s terms, there’s no way of knowing what the results of the appeal will be this time around.

The Harjo case was filed in 1992 but not fully resolved until 2009, so the current suit could take years to play out in the courtroom. The trademark board’s ruling is just the first step—but its greatest impact could be outside the courtroom.

“I’m thinking about sponsorships now,” Pata says. “This is bigger than just a trademark decision. The [sponsors] will be taking note. Do they really want to be associated with the team when there is such groundswell rejecting the name? I think when that happens, that starts hitting at the core, at the financial positioning.”

Battle of Washington

Artist Douglas Miles on the San Carlos Apache reservation in Arizona. (Jenny Vrentas)


Jenny Vrentas and Emily Kaplan of The MMQB traveled to Native American reservations and spoke to people on all sides of the team-name issue. The conclusion: It’s complicated. FULL STORY

Opponents of the team name have long expected it will take outside forces to bring about a name change, particularly after owner Dan Snyder’s famous assertion to USA Today that he would “NEVER—you can use caps” change the 81-year old moniker. The trademark board’s ruling is a direct blow to the team and the NFL’s consistent defense that an “overwhelming majority” of Native Americans support the name. Canceling a trademark on the grounds of disparagement, by definition, means that the board concludes it was disparaging to a substantial population of the affected group at the time it was registered.

Administrative Trademark Judge Karen Kuhlke wrote in her opinion, “The recognition that this racial designation based on skin color is disparaging to Native Americans is also demonstrated by the near complete drop-off in usage of ‘redskins’ as a reference to Native Americans beginning in the 1960’s. The record establishes that, at a minimum, approximately thirty percent of Native Americans found the term REDSKINS used in connection with respondent’s services to be disparaging at all times including 1967, 1972, 1974, 1978 and 1990 [when the six trademarks were issued].”

There was a dissenting opinion written by Administrative Trademark Judge Marc Bergsman, alleging not that the term “redskins” was not disparaging when the trademarks were issued, but that the plaintiffs did not present enough evidence to prove that it was, in particular the assertion that the NCAI, which passed a resolution opposed to the name, represented thirty percent of Native Americans at the time of the registrations.

The team’s statement outlined its successful outcome on appeal in the previous case. The NFL did not comment, deferring to the team.

Those fighting for a name change are celebrating today. Jesse Witten, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, saw the decision in his email inbox at 9 a.m. and called Blackhorse, who “almost couldn’t express herself with words,” he said. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, who last month circulated the letter signed by 49 Democratic senators pushing for a name change, called the ruling a “landmark decision” on the U.S. Senate floor this morning. But while this is another step forward for opponents of the name, they’re still not at the finish line—a name change.

“It’s not done until it’s over,” says Pata. “This is a huge win, but we’re here for the long haul. I don’t know how the team doesn’t recognize at this point that it’s not just a small group of Indians anymore. It’s more than that. People and fans and the country itself are saying, ‘Let’s just change the name.’ ”

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112 comments
jdtarheel
jdtarheel

REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS REDSKINS

Toyky Kid
Toyky Kid

From a Canadian perspective....


Just change their logo to a potato.


End of story. :)~



But on a serious level... I think (personally) there are other things, better things, to worry about then a name that has been around for 80+ yrs.


Mech
Mech

The only "groundswell" is coming from pc midgets who want to take attention from the Presidents other foul ups. Liberals only get offended when the boss says to. What a group of mental midgets and followers.

Sportsredo
Sportsredo

The Washington Blitz sounds just fine. The name will change within 1 1/2 years and Joeblough (just below) will still be a blow hard with little brain in 2016. You can take a horse to drink but you can't make him water. 

JoeBlough
JoeBlough

"Redskins" is not a derogatory term and any group who thinks it is is misinformed.  Yes, it sounds bad, but the origins are not.  It is not used to refer to Native Americans ANYWHERE.  And it has no relationship to the N word by comparison.  It is benign and harmless.  But it is historical and should be preserved in this way.

richard123
richard123

1. Move the team out of Md... and as far as possible from Washington. D.C. does not merit a team in its honor.

2. Do away with all sports teams mascots, only the city name. 

JoshuaNava
JoshuaNava

"Native Americans"  the white liberal club center for people who feel guilty, met and deemed that naming of tribes and "those people" for wording and I dont hurt feel good club was deeming offendatory remarkability t--o the progressive agenda.

In other words you're a ray-cist.

JoshuaNava
JoshuaNava

Look if you guys would just shut up and bow down to your lord and savior Obama he will tell you what is offensive. If i gave jenny a test on native american culture... Chickasaw might be confused with chick fil lay..

Only thing that matter is at what narrative is pushed at what time by this scandal plagued administration.  Hey look guys genocide in Iraq and Syria!!! Lets get offended about colloquial non racist name !

ianlinross
ianlinross

Sounds like an agenda item for the 5 O'Clock Club.

DavePilot
DavePilot

There exists plentiful historical evidence - in addition to instances in the current common vernacular - to build a case that the term "cowboy" is primarily pejorative in meaning.  So where's the outrage against the outfit ol' Jerry runs down there in Arlington, TX?  Where's that groundswell?


Oh.  Right.


Nevermind.  

twwoup
twwoup

The vulture culture hard at work destroying peoples lives and taking their property. They start with low hanging fruit like Donald Sterling and the Redskins. Pretty soon they'll be ruining YOUR life!

BobKurtz
BobKurtz

How about the Washington "Ugly White Guys"   Warriors would be good, except my team is the Golden State Warriors.  Maybe we could change that to Golden State/San Francisco Clippers or Golden State Seals,  Seals and Clippers are name of San Francisco teams in the 1940s.  San Francisco Seals were in the Pacific Coast League for baseball and my dad played on the San Francisco Clippers in 1941 and 1946 Pacific Coast Football League

bloggerfromneo
bloggerfromneo

I don't believe there is that much opposition to the name Redskins. In fact, from what I see, there has been more appreciation lately for the owner and his teams name than ever before since this nonsense started. This kind of crap comes from liberal democrats and whatever Native American support they can muster up. I've talked to Native Americans who said it doesn't bother them at all.

skanee00
skanee00

If they change to the "Washington Warriors", I hope they keep the Native American theme. Otherwise the Dallas/Washington rivalry would lose its appeal.

I don't buy that stereotypes are necessarily offensive. The "Vikings" and the "Fighting Irish" are a play on stereotypes, and nobody takes offense to them.

JayElbee
JayElbee

Hint, if you are defending a term for people that includes a color and the word "skin". You are a racist. There is no argument. But you could use a non-color with said word. So I propose to you the new name for your team... The Washington Foreskins. See. Not racist. 

kevinclass2010
kevinclass2010

I think that the term itself has nothing to do with the right to use it. Consider a hypothetical scenario.

We have a German soccer team named, "The Jews of Munich." The word Jews is not derogatory neither imply racism. However, I can find two objections against the right to use such name:

(1) We never use names of ethnic or racial groups to name soccer teams. Another example, it would be wrong for a Mexican team to name a team as the "Gringos" since that would spread stereotypes about the group referred to.

(2) German people have a HISTORIC DEBT with the Jewish people. After suffering centuries of persecution and genocide, the German people must respect the will of the Jews to maintain their identity for themselves.

As with the hypothetical case of the "Jews of Munich," Americans have a historic debt with the Native People. We must respect the right of the people to preserve their identity intact. Also, we always portray Native Americans as warriors, because once we feared them. Our irrational fear was what lead to the genocide. Using such warrior symbol is a projection of the fear and hatred we once had against them

PaulGrosse
PaulGrosse

So why don't they just change their name to the Natives. Wouldn't have to change their logo. Could call them the Nats for short like the local baseball team, and its a hell of a lot more respectful than Redskins. They could actually promote a growing respect for the true North American Peoples.

damien.veatch
damien.veatch

Here's my question: If the Washington Redskins are forced to change their name, should the Wellpinit Redskins, a high school in Washington state? As Rick Reilly wrote in a column linked below, Wellpinit is 91.2% Native American. The school chose the nickname because they feels it honors their heritage. They're upset that anyone would want them to change it.


Should Wellpinit High be forced to change their name?


If not, why should a school get to use an "obvious racial slur" as a mascot? If so, why should a group of mostly white people get to tell a group of almost exclusively Native Americans what they are allowed to call themselves?


http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/9689220/redskins-name-change-not-easy-sounds

josephderella
josephderella

Why are so many people trying t o make Dan Snyder into a Donald Sterling. Redskin name has been in existence since inception of NFL. All of a sudden some people have a problem with it and the wussies running our government, for the sake of votes, campaign money and political correctness, have jumped ont he bandwagon. 90% of Native Americans have NO problem with the name(they more interested in feeding their families and having a decent life). Why can't the political hacks in DC take care of those issues.


As for Mr. Snyder, I hope he stands pat on declaring he will NOT change the name.

Steve Czaja
Steve Czaja

I am really hating the whole process of how an extreme group who is perpetually outraged over very trivial things gets to have so much power. Leave the Redskins alone! It's none of your concern and the name hurts no one. Names never do.

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

This thread is one of the more carefully and respectfully argued topics I have read on SI. With all the comments posted, I still haven't formed an opinion about my desired outcome, which is unusual for me. Guess I'm getting old.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

A seven-month study was conducted by Smithsonian Institution senior linguist Ives Goddard. In the study, which is available online, Goddard concluded the origin of the word was "benign and reflects more positive aspects of relations between Indians and whites."


http://anthropology.si.edu/goddard/redskin.pdf


Native Americans described themselves as Red or the Red People.  “Homa” means Red People in Choctaw.  “Oklahoma” means land of the Red People in Choctaw and that word did not exist until the territory was named by a Choctaw Indian asked by the Government to do so:


http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~okcoal/place/choctaw1.htm


The current logo was designed in 1971 by Native American leaders, including Walter "Blackie" Wetzel, a former president of the National Congress of American Indians.  He brought in other leaders from Indian Tribes to help with its creation.  When it was done they said it was “perfect”. 


http://www.greatfallstribune.com/story/news/2014/02/16/don-wetzel-dont-call-redskins-logo-offensive/5528647/


Interestingly, the same National Congress of American Indians is now blaming the Washington Redskins for having a racial slur as a team name.  What has changed?  Could it be that the race baiting by other groups out there like the NAACP promising payouts of some kind in the end has mucked the waters? 



I'll tell you what is really arrogant and racist.  To take the meaning of a word from its original intention that was created by a culture and used by that culture as a proud honorable way to describe themselves and make it a racial slur against that culture.  


Who do these predominantly white liberal politicians and individuals think they are to decide such a thing?  And look how they have mucked the waters and turned the various Native American tribes against each other on this issue with their thought and PC police.  


They are a disgrace to America.  They are still lying to the Native Americans and using them as political footballs to the point where they now want to take away the name that they used to describe themselves and then convince them it is a good thing because it was a "racial slur" after all.  Absolutely despicable Harry Reid and Co.!  


All of this in an effort to distract, redirect, and continue to polarize Americans from focusing on the complete failures by these politicians on the real issues facing Americans of all color, race, and religion.

Ilovemesomeme
Ilovemesomeme

Skins fan here.........two things, first and foremost I don't believe the word "Redskins" in the context of the pro football team name is being used in a derogatory manner.  That being said, change the name already.  As someone who listens to the local sports radio stations during the work day, I'm just sick and tired of hearing the topic discussed ad nauseam.  There are people who feel it isn't offensive.  There are people who feel that it is.  That's not going to change.  Get rid of the name so those complaining about it can move on and find something else to complain about and the rest of us can go on about our lives without having to hear people argue back and forth about such a frivolous issue.  At the end of the day those that support the team will support the team no matter what the nickname is, or what the emblem on the side of the helmet looks like.  I find it unfathomable that people really spend a fair amount of time and energy arguing either side of such a frivolous argument.  It's a word people.  Change the name and move on already. 

virtualvip
virtualvip

Here's what's amazing (because the Redskins story itself just ... isn't. This could actually lead to better US gun control laws. Not kidding: 

blufish
blufish

"People and fans and the country itself are saying, ‘Let’s just change the name.’ - oh really?  Don't speak for me you jack booted fascist.

JoeBlough
JoeBlough

It is easy to think that "Redskins" is a racial or derogatory term, but it is not.  It was not used to address Native Americans as the N word did.  It was not used with hate and the N-word was.  I appreciate that a group is offended but they are misinformed.  Who is attacking Native Americans with this word?  Why do they feel denigrated by the word?  Because they imagine someone on the other end making fun of them and that is not the case now, nor was it the case when the word was used by Native Americans and the U.S. Government in the midwest originally.  It DOES NOT have any connection to the mutual practice of scalping or any other negative origin.

jdtarheel
jdtarheel

@Toyky Kid OMG that is hilarious.  I haven't already heard that "joke" 10,000 times.

danielfolsom
danielfolsom

@Mech To say that it's only pc people is to ignore multiple Native American tribe protests.

Mike26
Mike26

@Sportsredo So your answer to someone voicing an opinion different from yours is to make personal attacks?  I'm just asking if this is your complete M.O. or if you actually discuss issues with other folks or not.

dallas_cowboys_forever
dallas_cowboys_forever

@JoeBlough


You are clueless.  It has been amazing to read the agonizing gyrations the supporters of the term "Redskins" have coughed up in these forums over the past week.  It is ludicrous in this day and age to maintain that this term is not derisive.  To try and follow the "logic" of these bigots, one would then assume terms like "blackies" are terms of honor and respect.  Incredible.  Redskin fans are slowly becoming enlightened to the fact that their racist team name will eventually be put in the dustbin of history where it belongs.  "Redskins" will be nothing more than an embarrassing footnote and your grandchildren will be amazed that your ignorant insensitivity still existed in the 21st century. 

Go_Niners!
Go_Niners!

@JoeBlough The history on that is far less clear than you portray, and many native americans do consider it derogatory.  

danielfolsom
danielfolsom

@richard123 Washington DC is made up of people who grow up there. The only crazy people in Washington D.C. are the people you all elect from other states.

JoeBlough
JoeBlough

@JoshuaNava The president does not run the patent office.  And this guy is light years beyond the unilaterally idiocy of the previous bozo, bush jr.

dallas_cowboys_forever
dallas_cowboys_forever

@bloggerfromneo 


Don't use the term "Native Americans," use the term "Redskins" to describe those you've talked to since you stupidly maintain it is a term of respect.  

GoPSULions
GoPSULions

@skanee00 After stereotypes, then will come the political correctness for other reasons.  The Buccaneers and Raiders - glamorizing murderers and thieves; Bills - in part named after a man that help almost drive a species to extinction; Ravens - named for a book by an author that possibly had drug and alcohol issues; ... Once the flood gate is open, its hard to close it.

Mike26
Mike26

What an incredibly ludicrous rationale.

KennethJohnson
KennethJohnson

@josephderella George P Marshall, the original owner of the Team was equal to Donald Sterling, if not worse. You can not separate the name of the team from the person who named it. BTW i am not white, but I find it interesting that white people are whining about PC infringing on Free Speech, Yes, we know that you would rather say the old slurs, call a spade a spade as the saying goes, and we know better, You are not going to hear Dr, Ben Carson defend the use of N****r in front of his face.

Mike26
Mike26

You're not old, you're more "life-experienced" than others.

damien.veatch
damien.veatch

@JimSmith4 Great comment, Jim. You present a sizable and persuasive body of evidence to back up your position, complete with links.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@Ilovemesomeme


 A seven-month study was conducted by Smithsonian Institution senior linguist Ives Goddard. In the study, which is available online, Goddard concluded the origin of the word was "benign and reflects more positive aspects of relations between Indians and whites."


http://anthropology.si.edu/goddard/redskin.pdf


Native Americans described themselves as Red or the Red People.  “Homa” means Red People in Choctaw.  “Oklahoma” means land of the Red People in Choctaw and that word did not exist until the territory was named by a Choctaw Indian asked by the Government to do so:


http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~okcoal/place/choctaw1.htm


The current logo was designed in 1971 by Native American leaders, including Walter "Blackie" Wetzel, a former president of the National Congress of American Indians.  He brought in other leaders from Indian Tribes to help with its creation.  When it was done they said it was “perfect”. 


http://www.greatfallstribune.com/story/news/2014/02/16/don-wetzel-dont-call-redskins-logo-offensive/5528647/


Interestingly, the same National Congress of American Indians is now blaming the Washington Redskins for having a racial slur as a team name.  What has changed?  Could it be that the race baiting by other groups out there like the NAACP promising payouts of some kind in the end has mucked the waters? 



I'll tell you what is really arrogant and racist.  To take the meaning of a word from its original intention that was created by a culture and used by that culture as a proud honorable way to describe themselves and make it a racial slur against that culture.  


Who do these predominantly white liberal politicians and individuals think they are to decide such a thing?  And look how they have mucked the waters and turned the various Native American tribes against each other on this issue with their thought and PC police.  


They are a disgrace to America.  They are still lying to the Native Americans and using them as political footballs to the point where they now want to take away the name that they used to describe themselves and then convince them it is a good thing because it was a "racial slur" after all.  Absolutely despicable Harry Reid and Co.!  


All of this in an effort to distract, redirect, and continue to polarize Americans from focusing on the complete failures by these politicians on the real issues facing Americans of all color, race, and religion.

jdtarheel
jdtarheel

@danielfolsom @Mech And what about the Native Americans that love the name and feel honored by a team using it and pull for that team to win?  F Them right?  If one person is offended it must be changed.

Mech
Mech

@dallas_cowboys_forever  I guess for the first 81 years it never dawned on you to be offended ? Morons doing what the lemming boss says to do. 

KarimB
KarimB

@Mike26 

No Mike, the analogy is perfect.


There was a genocide of native americans.


15 million native americans we're deliberitaly murdered by the English and Americans from the late 1500s the the late 1800s.


To use the image of a genocided people as a sports mascot adds insult to injury.


This applies to Redskins as well to all the other native related mascots from Black Hawks to Braves.


Any comparison to Yankees or Cowboys is ludicrous because they're celebrated american mythological heroes.


Genocide is what happened but most Americans are clueless about it even though its common knowledge in the rest of the world...

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@room1oh1


 A seven-month study was conducted by Smithsonian Institution senior linguist Ives Goddard. In the study, which is available online, Goddard concluded the origin of the word was "benign and reflects more positive aspects of relations between Indians and whites."


http://anthropology.si.edu/goddard/redskin.pdf


Native Americans described themselves as Red or the Red People.  “Homa” means Red People in Choctaw.  “Oklahoma” means land of the Red People in Choctaw and that word did not exist until the territory was named by a Choctaw Indian asked by the Government to do so:


http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~okcoal/place/choctaw1.htm


The current logo was designed in 1971 by Native American leaders, including Walter "Blackie" Wetzel, a former president of the National Congress of American Indians.  He brought in other leaders from Indian Tribes to help with its creation.  When it was done they said it was “perfect”. 


http://www.greatfallstribune.com/story/news/2014/02/16/don-wetzel-dont-call-redskins-logo-offensive/5528647/


Interestingly, the same National Congress of American Indians is now blaming the Washington Redskins for having a racial slur as a team name.  What has changed?  Could it be that the race baiting by other groups out there like the NAACP promising payouts of some kind in the end has mucked the waters? 



I'll tell you what is really arrogant and racist.  To take the meaning of a word from its original intention that was created by a culture and used by that culture as a proud honorable way to describe themselves and make it a racial slur against that culture.  


Who do these predominantly white liberal politicians and individuals think they are to decide such a thing?  And look how they have mucked the waters and turned the various Native American tribes against each other on this issue with their thought and PC police.  


They are a disgrace to America.  They are still lying to the Native Americans and using them as political footballs to the point where they now want to take away the name that they used to describe themselves and then convince them it is a good thing because it was a "racial slur" after all.  Absolutely despicable Harry Reid and Co.!  


All of this in an effort to distract, redirect, and continue to polarize Americans from focusing on the complete failures by these politicians on the real issues facing Americans of all color, race, and religion.

Sportsredo
Sportsredo

@room1oh1 @JoeBlough  That's why his name is Joeblow!!!  And he only used the term Native Americans instead of Redskins three times in his 7 lines. Doh.

dallas_cowboys_forever
dallas_cowboys_forever

@JimSmith4 @room1oh1


Why do all you insensitive bigots use the term "Native Americans" in your laughable defense of the term "Redskins."  Call them "Redskins" since you surreally try to maintain it is "a proud and honorable" term.  And btw, who do we think we are to decide such a thing? THE ENLIGHTENED, dummy. 

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