By Travis Waldron
The U.S. PTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board issued a ruling in the case, brought against the team by plaintiff Amanda Blackhorse, Wednesday morning.
“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 board wrote in its opinion, which is here. A brief explanation of how the Board reached its decision is here.
“The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board agreed with our clients that the team’s name and trademarks disparage Native Americans. The Board ruled that the Trademark Office should never have registered these trademarks in the first place,” Jesse Witten, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, said in a press release. “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.”
“I am extremely happy that the [Board] ruled in our favor,” Blackhorse said in a statement. “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?”
By Jonathan Topaz and Lucy McCalmont
“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,” he said in a statement, citing rulings in 1999 and 2003. “We are confident we will prevail once again, and that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s divided ruling will be overturned on appeal.”
Reid lauded the trademark decision on the Senate floor Wednesday, saying it reinforces the push for the Redskins to change the name.
Reid called the name a “sad reminder” of the bigotry Native Americans have faced and said the issue “is extremely important to Native Americans all across the country.”
“Daniel Snyder may be the last person in the world to realize this, but it’s just a matter of time until he is forced to do the right thing and change the name,” he said.
“The writing is on the wall,” Reid added. “It’s on the wall in giant, blinking, neon lights.”
By Neil Irwin
Mr. Snyder has been either resolute or stubborn, depending on your view. (“We will never change the name,” he told USA Today last year. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”)
But what’s interesting about the new trademark ruling is how it undermines Mr. Snyder’s stated case for not making a change. He and his newly hired lobbyists and public relations gurus have tried to argue that “Redskins” is meant to honor and celebrate Native Americans, not belittle them.
Whatever Mr. Snyder and his allies believe now, the legal question is whether the trademark disparaged Native Americans when the first trademark at issue, from 1967, was granted. It doesn’t matter, for trademark law purposes, how much Mr. Snyder says the name celebrates Native Americans now, or how much money he gives to tribes.