Washington franchise nickname deemed "disparaging to Native Americans" in landmark ruling.
In a landmark decision Wednesday, the United States Patent and Trademark Office canceled six federal trademark registrations for the Washington Redskins, ruling that their nickname is "disparaging to Native Americans," reported Think Progress. Subsequently, the name can’t be trademarked because it’s in violation of federal trademark laws prohibiting offensive or disparaging language.
"We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered,” the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board wrote in its opinion Wednesday.
The landmark ruling marks a significant victory for a group of Native Americans who filed the lawsuit against the NFL franchise and for Native Americans everywhere.
"I am extremely happy that the [Board] ruled in our favor," said Amanda Blackhorse, lead plaintiff and a Navajo Native American, in a statement to Think Progress. "It is a great victory for Native Americans and for all Americans. We filed our petition eight years ago and it has been a tough battle ever since. I hope this ruling brings us a step closer to that inevitable day when the name of the Washington football team will be changed. The team’s name is racist and derogatory. I’ve said it before and I will say it again — if people wouldn’t dare call a Native American a ‘redskin’ because they know it is offensive, how can an NFL football team have this name?"
Added the plaintiffs’ lead attorney Jesse Witten: "We presented a wide variety of evidence — including dictionary definitions and other reference works, newspaper clippings, movie clips, scholarly articles, expert linguist testimony, and evidence of the historic opposition by Native American groups — to demonstrate that the word ‘redskin’ is an ethnic slur.”
All being said, following the ruling Wednesday, the Redskins were quick to point out that they were denied their trademarks in 1999 only to win an appeal four years later in 2003. As per a press release Wednesday, the team remains confident that they will be able to keep using the nickname via another successful appeal, which is already in the works.
"We are confident we will prevail once again, and that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s divided ruling will be overturned on appeal," said Redskins trademark attorney Bob Raskopf via a press release statement. "This case is no different than an earlier case, where the Board cancelled the Redskins’ trademark registrations, and where a federal district court disagreed and reversed the Board. As today’s dissenting opinion correctly states, “the same evidence previously found insufficient to support cancellation” here “remains insufficient” and does not support cancellation. This ruling — which of course we will appeal — simply addresses the team’s federal trademark registrations, and the team will continue to own and be able to protect its marks without the registrations. The registrations will remain effective while the case is on appeal."
Just this past March, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder once again defended the franchise’s nickname and even launched the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation to aid Native Americans.
Washington kicks off its 2014 season on the road against the Houston Texans on September 7.
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(Photo: Nick Wass/AP Photo)