Trademark ruling against 'disparaging' Redskins name adds momentum to those seeking change

The Associated Press

A Washington Redskins football helmet lies on the field during NFL football minicamp, Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Ashburn, Va. The U.S. Patent Office ruled Wednesday, June 18, 2014, that the Washington Redskins nickname is "disparaging of Native Americans" and that the team's federal trademarks for the name must be canceled. The ruling comes after a campaign to change the name has gained momentum over the past year. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Earlier this year, the agency rejected trademark requests for "Redskins Hog Rinds" and "Washington Redskin Potatoes." It also turned down an Asian-American rock band called The Slants and the Jewish humor magazine Heeb.

Courts overturned the board's 1999 ruling in part because the plaintiffs waited too long to voice their objections after the original trademarks were issued. The case was relaunched in 2006 by a younger group of Native Americans who only recently became adults and would not have been able to file a case earlier.

Until recently, the trademark case often stood alone in the campaign to draw attention to the issue. Now it's just part of an ongoing narrative.

On Saturday, a major sector of the United Church of Christ voted to urge its 40,000 members to boycott the Redskins. On Capitol Hill, half the Senate recently wrote letters to the NFL urging a change because "racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports."

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman spoke out against the name in the context of the NBA's decision to ban Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life for making racial comments. Obama said last year that he would think about changing the name if he owned the team. Mayor Gray suggested Wednesday that the name will almost certainly have to change if the team ever wants to build a new stadium in the city.

Snyder, who has vowed repeatedly never to abandon the name, declined to comment as he walked off the field after a practice Wednesday. He recently created a foundation to give financial support to American Indian tribes, but that failed to mollify his critics.

"If the most basic sense of morality, decency and civility has not yet convinced the Washington team and the NFL to stop using this hateful slur, then hopefully today's patent ruling will, if only because it imperils the ability of the team's billionaire owner to keep profiting off the denigration and dehumanization of Native Americans," Oneida Indian representative Ray Halbritter and National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jackie Pata, two of the leading voices in the campaign to change the name, said in a statement.

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AP National Writer Eddie Pells in Denver and Associated Press writer Sam Hananel in Washington contributed to this report.

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