Law | National | Sports

Washington NFL team remains defiant after losing trademarks

The logo for the Change the Mascot campaign

The Washington NFL team vowed to overturn a decision to cancel six trademarks that have been deemed "disparaging" to Native people.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board issued its long-awaited decision in Blackhorse v. Pro Football Inc on Wednesday, holding that young Native activists made their case to cancel the marks due to their offensive nature. The ruling won't force owner Dan Snyder to change his team's name but his attorney said he would fight it anyway.

"We are confident we will prevail once again, and that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s divided ruling will be overturned on appeal," attorney Bob Raskopf said in a statement. "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."

In 1999, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board determined the trademarks were disparaging in a petition filed by Suzan Shown Harjo and other Native activists. The team appealed to the federal court in Washington, D.C..

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly issued two major decisions in the case -- one in October 2003July 2008. Both times, she concluded that the activists waited too long to file their petition but pointed out that she was not ruling on the merits of their claim that the trademarks are disparaging to Native people.

The case also went to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals twice. A decision in July 2005 left open the door for people who weren't alive when the trademarks were first registered in 1967 to bring their own challenge.

Another ruling in May 2009 again focused on the delay in the filing of the petition filed by Harjo's group.

As the litigation proceeded, another group of young Native activists, led by Amanda Blackhorse, a member of the Navajo Nation, filed a new petition to challenge the marks. Their case was heard in March 2013.

Meanwhile, political pressure began to build on Snyder and the NFL. In October 2013, President Barack Obama said the team should consider eliminating its name.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, primarily Democrats, are also pushing for change Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada), the Senate majority leader, called the team's name "a sad reminder of a long tradition of racism and bigotry."

"Daniel Snyder says this is about tradition," Reid said in a statement yesterday. "I ask: what tradition? A tradition of racism is all that name leaves in its wake."

“This decision is a step forward for Indian Country and for all Americans who champion tolerance," added Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, in a statement. "No team or organization should profit from a dictionary-defined racial slur.”

The Oneida Nation and the National Congress of American Indians also welcomed the decision to cancel the marks. The tribe is leading the Change the Mascot campaign, an effort supported by NCAI, the largest inter-tribal organization.

“On behalf of the Oneida Indian Nation, the Change the Mascot campaign and NCAI, we would like to sincerely thank Suzan Shown Harjo and Amanda Blackhorse for their tireless efforts that helped lead to today’s historic milestone,” Ray Halbritter, the Oneida Nation's representative, and Jackie Pata, NCAI's executive director, said in a press release.

Nearly every inter-tribal and Indian organization opposes the use of racist mascots in sports and in schools.

Get the Story:
Federal agency cancels Redskins trademark registration, says name is disparaging (The Washington Post 6/19)
Redskins Lose Ruling on Trademarks, but Fight Isn’t Over (The New York Times 6/19)
Redskins Trademark: A Primer on the Cancellation (The New York Times 6/19)
Is This the Beginning of the End of the Redskins’ Team Name? (The New York Times 6/19)
Yolo tribe applauds cancellation of Redskins trademark (The Sacramento Business Journal 6/19)
Sports world has long history of changing nicknames (The Lebanon Democrat 6/19)
Times change, and so do teams' nicknames (The Chicago Tribune 6/19)
Dan Snyder and the Redskins Take a Loss (The New Yorker 6/18)
A victory for the Native American community (MSNBC 6/18)
U.S. Patent Office Axes Six Redskins Trademarks (The Huffington Post 6/18)
Harry Reid to Dan Snyder: 'Writing is on the wall' (Politico 6/18)
East Texans weigh in on Redskins' trademark cancellation (KTRE 6/18)
Local Tribe reacts to Redskins controversy (KESQ 6/18)
It’s Official: ‘Redskins’ Is Racist, but Will the Team or NFL Listen? (The Daily Beast 6/18)

Related Stories:
Patent office cancels trademarks for Washington football team (6/18)
Church group approves boycott against Washington NFL team (6/16)
Former Washington player calls for team to drop racist name (6/13)
Musician urges team name change as NCAI video makes waves (6/11)
Opinion: Lobbying firm hired to defend NFL team's racist mascot (6/11)
NCAI's 'Proud to Be' video to air during NBA finals game tonight (6/10)
Churches headed for vote on boycott of Washington NFL team (06/04)

Join the Conversation