The National Football League's Washington Redskins lost six federal trademark registrations of their team name and logo Wednesday when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office said it was “disparaging to Native Americans.” The 2-1 decision doesn’t mean the football team must change its name, just that it won’t hold exclusive rights to the Redskins name and likeness used on merchandise.
The ruling is similar to one by the board in 1999 to cancel the trademarks, but that decision was overturned by a federal appeals court on procedural grounds. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has staunchly refused to change the team’s name despite the fact that many find it offensive. Redskins’ trademark attorney Bob Raskopf said the team will appeal the decision.
“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,” Raskopf said. The team is expected to seek a stay of the ruling while they appeal, and would then retain rights to its trademarks as the legal battle continues.
If the ruling is upheld, it could lead Snyder to reconsider his refusal to rename the team, wrote James Joyner of Outside the Beltway. “The team would be essentially forced to change its name in order to continue profiting from merchandise sales since anyone would be free to undercut them in price.”
Russell of Liberaland noted that the financial impact won’t just hit the Redskins. “Among other things, the National Football League itself is unlikely to continue supporting the name, because the NFL’s own logo always appears on all of the ‘official’ team tchotchkes that football fans like to buy — and the NFL is certainly not going to stand idly by [as] its logo gets used by every knock-off artist in the world who starts selling Washington, D.C., football team jerseys today,” he wrote.
Allahpundit of Hot Air wrote that the name Redskins has become more closely associated with the football franchise than Native Americans. “Over time the sports meaning has completely overtaken the racially derogatory meaning,” Allahpundit wrote. “If someone walked up to you today and said ‘What do you think of the Redskins?’, you’d assume without a second thought that he was asking you about the NFC East, not casually slurring Native Americans.” However, legally the board's ruling is sound, Allahpundit continued, adding that if the team were similarly named after another racial group, it would be seen as offensive. For this reason, the trademark "has to fall. Not because it’s actually disparaging but for reasons of simple consistency."
Ultimately though, wrote Tom Van Riper for Forbes, it's hard to concretely say everyone finds the name objectionable. “The underlying reality is that these things are subjective. Polls have consistently shown that Native Americans are divided on the issue of the Redskins and other Indian-related names of sports teams (no, Native Americans don’t all think alike, they are individuals with varying opinions and political leanings, the same as the broader population).”
Bud Eilliot writing for Tomahawk Nation said that the Redkins ruling will likely have little impact on another sports team named after Native Americans: the Florida State University Seminoles."’Redskins’ is a generic slur. There was no tribe named the Redskins. And it applies to all Native Americans,” he wrote. “’Seminoles,’ on the other hand, does refer to a specific tribe. And within that, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the Tribe originating in the state where FSU exists, supports the name in a public way.”