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Redskins lose name trademark battle, but not the name change war

Written By | Jun 18, 2014

WASHINGTON, June 17, 2014 – Media reports are that you best snap up your Redskin’s trademarked jerseys and foam fingers, because the much-hated name will soon be a thing of the past. Well not really. A small battle victory, however the war to change the name of the Washington Redskins has not been won.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office has canceled the Washington Redskins trademark registration.

Bob Raskopf, Trademark Attorney for the team says “So What?”

“We’ve seen this story before. 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.

We are confident we will prevail once again, and that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s divided ruling will be overturned on appeal. 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.”

Despite actions from petitions to Presidential pleas, the Washington football teams owner Dan Snyder has refused to change the name, which millions of Americans, find disparaging.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been pressed by Congress and interested groups to force Snyder to change the name to no avail.

In October 2013, President Obama said:

“If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizeable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”

President Obama is well known as a sports fan and his endorsement of the name change has brought this issue to the forefront of water cooler conversations.

“As the first sitting president to speak out against the Washington team name, President Obama’s comments today are historic,” said Ray Halbritter, a representative for the Oneida Indian Nation, which has launched a “Change the Mascot” campaign against the team. “The use of such an offensive term has negative consequences for the Native American community when it comes to issues of self-identity and imagery.”

The fight to change the teams name is over 40 years old and changes have been made. One of the first things to go was the long black braids cheerleaders donned before doing a mock rain dance following a touch down. The band no longer wears feathered headdresses and the lyrics “scalp ‘em” have been removed from their fight song.

Five Native American filed the case before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. This attempt was not the first; the trademark menuever has been tried, and failed, previously.

 “This victory was a long time coming and reflects the hard work of many attorneys at our firm,” said lead attorney Jesse Witten, of Drinker Biddle & Reath. “The reason this action can be taken is that Federal trademark law does not permit registration of trademarks that “may disparage” individuals or groups or “bring them into contempt or disrepute.”

This ad, aired by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation during the NBA finals expresses just how disparaging the name is to Native Americans.

Snyder has steadfastly refused to change the name, saying it “honors” Native Americans. In an October 2013 letter to fans, he writes:

“Our franchise has a great history, tradition and legacy representing our proud alumni and literally tens of millions of loyal fans worldwide. We have participated in some of the greatest games in NFL history, and have won five World Championships. We are proud of our team and the passion of our loyal fans. Our fans sing “Hail to the Redskins” in celebration at every Redskins game. They speak proudly of “Redskins Nation” in honor of a sports team they love.

So when I consider the Washington Redskins name, I think of what it stands for. I think of the Washington Redskins traditions and pride I want to share with my three children, just as my father shared with me — and just as you have shared with your family and friends.

I respect the opinions of those who disagree. I want them to know that I do hear them, and I will continue to listen and learn. But we cannot ignore our 81 year history, or the strong feelings of most of our fans as well as Native Americans throughout the country. After 81 years, the team name “Redskins” continues to hold the memories and meaning of where we came from, who we are, and who we want to be in the years to come.

We are Redskins Nation and we owe it to our fans and coaches and players, past and present, to preserve that heritage.”

One element of the teams “great” history Snyder forgets to mention is that the team’s first owner, George Preston Marshall, changed the name from Braves to Redskins, that he claimed was in honor of coach William Dietz, who claimed to be Sioux.

Only Marshall fired Dietz. And Marshall was the last owner to resist team integration, carrying an all white roster until threatened by the federal government in 1961.

The appeal board’s ruling pertains to six different trademarks, each that use the name Redskin, that are associated with the team.

“We are extraordinarily gratified to have prevailed in this case,” Alfred Putnam Jr., the chairman of Drinker Biddle & Reath, said. “The dedication and professionalism of our attorneys and the determination of our clients have resulted in a milestone victory that will serve as an historic precedent.”

All of this does not mean that the team has to change their name. It only affects the amount of money the team can make selling merchandise that reflects the name. It limits the team’s legal options when others use the logos and the name on T shirts, sweatshirts, beer glasses and license plate holders.

And that probably won’t happen either as the team does not need to make any changes until after the appeal process is completed and as Snyder churns plenty of money for Washington, DC and the surrounding area, the push to change the name is truly just hollow words.

The current lawsuit was brought eight years ago by Amanda Blackhorse, Phillip Glover, Marcus Briggs-Cloud, Jillian Pappan and Courtney Tsotigh .

“It is a great victory for Native Americans and for all Americans,“ Blackhorse said in a statement. “I hope this ruling brings us a step closer to that inevitable day when the name of the Washington football team will be changed.”

In the meantime, all we can do is, as was threatened during the recent racially charged situation surrounding the Los Angeles Clippers and owner Donald Sterling, is enforce a change from the seats.  Don’t buy them. Don’t support the team with ticket sales, buying t-shirts or jerseys or those dumb No. 1 foam fingers.

Because the Washington football team, until it changes its name, is not and cannot be within the top 100.


Jacquie Kubin

Jacquie Kubin is an award-winning writer and wanderer. She turns her thoughts to an eclectic mix of stories - from politics to sports. Restless by nature and anxious to experience new things, both in the real world and online, Jacquie mostly shares travel and culinary highlights, introduces readers to the chefs and creative people she meets and shares the tips, life and travel information people want to read.