WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — Game over?
A federal trademark board ruled Wednesday that the Washington Redskins nickname is “disparaging of Native Americans” and that the team’s trademark protections should be canceled, a decision that applies new financial and political pressure on the team to change its name.
The 2-1 ruling from the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board came in a case that has been working its way through legal channels for more than two decades. It doesn’t force the team to abandon the name, but it comes at a time of increasing criticism of team owner Dan Snyder from political, religious and sports figures who say it’s time for a change.
“It is a great victory for Native Americans and for all Americans,” one of the plaintiffs, Amanda Blackhorse, said in a statement to ThinkProgress.org. “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?”
The Redskins quickly announced that they will appeal, and the cancellation for trademark protections will be on hold while the matter makes its way through the courts. That process could take years.
It was the second time the board had issued an opinion on the case. A similar ruling from 1999 was overturned on a technicality in 2003.
“We’ve seen this story before,” Redskins attorney Bob Raskopf said. “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.”
The ruling involves six uses of the “Redskins” name trademarked by the team from 1967 to 1990. If it stands, it would mean the team can continue to use the name, but it would lose a significant portion of its ability to protect the financial interests connected to it. If others printed the name on sweatshirts or other apparel without permission, it would become more cumbersome to go after such groups.
Courts overturned the board’s previous ruling in part because the plaintiffs waited too long to voice their opposition after the original trademarks were issued. The case was relaunched in 2006 by a younger group of Native Americans who had recently become adults and therefore would not have able to file a case earlier. The hearing was held in March of last year.
The chorus of critics against the use of the name has grown over the past year.