A group of Native Americans are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule a technicality that allows an NFL franchise to profit from portraying them in a racially offensive way.
They want the justices to declare the Washington Redskins’ trademarks invalid, since the law prohibits them when they defame a particular racial or ethnic group. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office panel found in 1999 that the name could not be protected because it was demeaning to a people. However, Native Americans saw that decision overturned on a technical matter: They failed to file their petition before the deadline passed.
The NCAA, recognizing that sports teams with Indian names and mascots are offensive to many Indians, has banned their use. Major League Baseball and the NFL have not been as culturally sensitive. In a 2004 interview with BET.com, a top executive with the Washington Redskins football team pledged that the team would never change its name.
While many Indian-name teams are offensive to some, none carries the wallop of the Redskins. Team officials in D.C. attribute the name to the reddish skin color of some Indians. But many Native American leaders say there is a much more nefarious origin. They point to a time when colonial governments put a bounty on Native peoples. There was money to be made on hides, particularly those of Indians, they say. Those bloody hides, became known as “redskins,” they say, and they were far more expensive than those of beaver, fox or mink.