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Judge backs Native youth in battle over NFL team's racist mascot

A group of young Native American activists scored a major victory today in the campaign against the Washington NFL team's racist mascot.

Judge Gerald Bruce Lee ruled that the team's federally-protected trademarks must be canceled. He determined that the symbols are disparaging to Native people.

"The team has consistently associated itself with Native American imagery," Lee pointed out in the 70-page decision.

But rather than representing a symbol of pride or honor, Lee said the six trademarks at issue are derogatory in nature. He relied on the dictionary definition of the racial slur used in the team's name.

"The record contains several dictionaries defining 'redskins' as a term referring to North American Indians and characterizing 'redskins' as offensive or contemptuous," Lee wrote.

Beyond the actual use of the term, Lee rejected a slew of legal challenges to the Lanham Act, the federal trademark law. The team raised First Amendment claims but the judge said those don't restrict a federal agency that engages in "government speech."

"Simply put, the court holds that cancelling the registrations of the Redskins Marks under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act does not implicate the First Amendment as the cancellations do not burden, restrict or prohibit PFI's ability to use the Marks," Lee wrote, referring to Pro-Football, Inc., the legal name of the team.

Pro-Football filed the lawsuit in federal court in Virginia after the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled that the marks must be cancelled. The team sued the six young Native activists who brought the petition in Blackhorse v. Pro Football, Inc..

The team can fight the decision by taking it to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Further proceedings could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

For now, the Native activists are celebrating. "Victory!! #NotYourMascot !!" lead petitioner Amanda Blackhorse, a member of the Navajo Nation, wrote simply on Twitter.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Pro-Football, Inc. v. Blackhorse.

Get the Story:
Federal judge orders cancellation of Redskins’ trademark registrations (The Washington Post 7/8)
Federal Court Rules Against Redskins In Legal Battle With Native Americans (NPR 7/8)

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