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Victory for Native Americans as Redskins Trademarks Pulled

Federal board rules that team name is 'disparaging' to Native Americans

Protesters denounced what they called the "racist and offensive" team name outside of a Washington Redskins game in Denver. (Photo: Confrontation Media/ cc/ Flickr)

Protesters denounced what they called the "racist and offensive" team name outside of a Washington Redskins game in Denver. (Photo: Confrontation Media/ cc/ Flickr)

In a landmark rebuke of the controversial NFL brand, the federal patent office on Wednesday canceled the Washington Redskins' official trademark registration.

“It is a great victory for Native Americans and for all Americans," said plaintiff Amanda Blackhorse in a statement quoted by Think Progress. "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?”

Blackhorse was one of five Native Americans represented in the suit Blackhorse v. Pro -Football, Inc. who sought the cancellation of six different trademarks associated with the Washington D.C. team, each containing the word "redskin," on the grounds that the term denigrates Native Americans.

In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled that the term violates federal trademark law, which does not permit the registration of trademarks that “may disparage” individuals or groups or “bring them into contempt or disrepute.”

During the trial, prosecuting attorneys with the firm Drinker, Biddle & Reath LLP showed a series of images and otherevidence to convince the court that the term "redskins" both refers to and is "disparaging" toward Native Americans.

Responding to the ruling, the team released an official statement by their trademark attorney saying the board's decision "will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo," and vowed to appeal.

Despite the mounting outcry over the racist overtones of the term, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has vowed that he will "never" change the team's name.

Though the ruling itself will not force such a change, as USA Today sports journalist Erik Brady explained, it may threaten the teams ability to protect their brand or prevent others from selling items with the team's logo.

More significantly, Brady notes, the cancellation of the trademarks "would serve as the latest clarion call in a rising tide of pressure on the team and the league."


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