Opponents of racist mascots protest at a NFL game between the Washington and Dallas teams in January 2016. Photo by Amanda Blackhorse / Twitter
Law | National | Sports

Washington NFL team requests delay in racist trademark dispute





After making an unusual and urgent plea to get its racist trademark case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Washington NFL team is now seeking to delay the proceedings.

The team asked the Supreme Court to hear the case even before a ruling was issued at the appellate level. But the justices rejected the petition in Pro-Football Inc. v. Blackhorse without comment in an order on Monday.

A day later, an attorney for the team has asked the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to postpone its upcoming hearing in the case. The team wants to wait for the Supreme Court's decision in Lee v. Tam, a closely-related trademark dispute, before going forward.

"It would be inefficient and wasteful for this court and the parties to have oral argument in this case when the Supreme Court’s decision in Tam may dispose of this case in its entirety, and at a minimum will inform this court’s resolution of the First Amendment question," attorney Lisa S. Blatt wrote in a letter to the 4th Circuit on Tuesday.

The request comes after the 4th Circuit already scheduled a December 9 hearing in the case. Blatt in fact asked for 20 minutes of argument time before asking for the delay.

Amanda Blackhorse reacts on Twitter after the U.S. Supreme Court turned the Washington NFL team away.

The dispute arose out of a challenge filed by six young Native activists, led by Amanda Blackhorse, a member of the Navajo Nation. They convinced the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the team's trademarks because they are disparaging to Native people.

The team had the option of going straight to the 4th Circuit to fight the June 2014 ruling in Blackhorse v. Pro Football, Inc but instead chose to file a lawsuit in federal court in Virginia. It took another year but a judge sided with the youth in a July 2015 decision.

"The record contains several dictionaries defining 'redskins' as a term referring to North American Indians and characterizing 'redskins' as offensive or contemptuous," Judge Gerald Bruce Lee wrote in a 70-page ruling.

The team's strategy has effectively delayed resolution of the case for more than two years even though it told the Supreme Court that further delays are damaging to its brand. Forbes has estimated the team's value at $2.95 billion.

"The government cannot retroactively cancel decades-old registrations for exceptionally valuable marks without respecting procedural due process," the team's petition to the Supreme Court stated.

The team's case is being closely watched across Indian Country. The Navajo Nation, the National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Education Association, the United South and Eastern Tribes and dozens of Indian organizations and Native student groups have filed or joined briefs in support of the Native youth.

Lee v. Tam, the other trademark case, is also being watched closely. It arose when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office refused to register marks for a musical group known as The Slants because they would be disparaging to Asian people.

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the group and invalidated a portion of the Lanham Act that prohibits the registration of symbols that "disparage" people or bring them into "contempt" or "disrepute." The same law is at issue in the NFL team's case.

Oral arguments have not been scheduled in the Lee v. Tam.

Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
In Re Simon Shiao Tam (December 22, 2015)

Related Stories:
Supreme Court accepts case linked to NFL team's racist mascot (9/29)
Supreme Court weighs petition in case tied to racist NFL mascot (09/20)
Kiowa player Kendal Thompson lands spot on Washington NFL team's practice squad (09/05)
White House official hires attorney as powwow fight story heats up (08/19)
White House official got into fight at powwow over offensive jersey (08/10)
Football player from Kiowa Tribe not bothered by NFL team's name (08/09)
Unofficial NFL team mascot 'Chief Zee' passes away at age 75 (07/20)
Editorial: Washington school bans NFL team's apparel on campus (06/22)
Amanda Blackhorse: Mascot opponents won't stop despite poll (06/02)
William Ledford: Native support for racist mascot is news to me (06/02)
Peter d'Errico: Mascot poll reflects realities of historical genocide (6/1)
Courtland Milloy: Let's celebrate NFL team's truly offensive past (6/1)
Harlan McKosato: Let's conduct new poll on the racist NFL mascot (5/31)
Raymond Foxworth: Tribal opposition to racist names still matters (5/31)
Jacqueline Keeler: Shameful and skewed poll on racist NFL name (05/26)
Billy Mills: Flawed poll can't justify use of team's racist mascot (5/24)
Richard King: Mascot poll reflects pervasive anti-Indian racism (5/24)
Tara Houska: Mascots hurt Native youth despite results of poll (5/23)
Vincent Schilling: Mascot poll doesn't reflect true Indian voices (5/23)
Washington Post conducts poll on Native views of racist mascot (5/20)
Room for Debate: Trademarks for racist and disparaging names (05/04)
Amanda Blackhorse to deliver Haskell University commencement keynote (04/27)
Washington team asks Supreme Court to hear trademark appeal (4/26)
Original Americans Foundation discloses $3.7M in gifts to tribes (01/15)
Washington mayor courts NFL team but won't use racist name (01/14)
Gregg Easterbrook: Fans shout racial slur on national television (12/08)
Carla Fredericks: Racial slur tied to Sand Creek Massacre (11/16)
Judith LeBlanc: Racial slurs have no place in our society (11/13)
Mary Pember: A confusing and disappointing mascot exhibit (11/11)
Obama takes aim at racist mascots and harmful stereotypes (11/6)
Transcript: President Obama at Tribal Nations Conference (11/6)
Adidas launches effort to help schools with Indian mascots (11/5)
James Giago Davies: Why the R-word controversy won't die (11/04)
Wenona Singel: Racist mascot found at schools in many states (10/16)
New book provides insight into owner of Washington NFL team (10/15)
Tara Houska: A symbol of racism lives on in our nation's capital (10/13)
Editorial: Another loss for Washington NFL team's racist mascot (10/13)
California governor signs bill to outlaw racist mascot in schools (10/12)
Donald Trump doesn't think NFL team's racist mascot should go (10/06)
Republican Jeb Bush defends racist name of Washington NFL team (10/1)
Indian National Finals Rodeo requested $527K from NFL team (09/17)
Harlan McKosato: Another season to fight team's racist mascot (09/14)
Eastern Cherokees disavow any ties to Washington NFL team (09/11)
Indian National Finals Rodeo won't take money from NFL team (09/10)
DC council member doesn't want racist name tied to stadium deal (08/26)
NFL team won't give up racist name in exchange for stadium (08/18)
TV show set in future comes up with new name for NFL team (08/07)
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe rejects $25K check from NFL team (8/5)
Native Sun News Editorial: No honor in being called 'Redskin' (07/23)
Virginia governor seems less interested in hosting NFL team (07/22)
Washington NFL team plans to appeal decision in trademark case (07/09)
Judge backs Native youth in battle over NFL team's racist mascot (07/08)