In what is being reported as the biggest legal blow thus far against the contentious Washington D.C. football enterprise, a federal court on Wednesday ruled that the name "Redskins" is disparaging to Native Americans and thus its trademark registration must be revoked.
In the decision (pdf), Judge Gerald Bruce Lee of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Alexandria, Virginia ordered the federal Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the registration. Though it does not forbid use of the name, the ruling threatens the team's ability to protect its brand or prevent others from selling items with the team's logo.
The ruling upholds a previous court decision in a case brought by five Native American plaintiffs, led by Navajo activist Amanda Blackhorse, who argued that the team name is offensive and violates the federal Lanham Act, which prohibits trademarks that denigrate people or bring them into "contempt or disrepute." Last August, Blackhorse and the others were sued by the team before the Department of Justice intervened.
In a statement (pdf), the Change the Mascot campaign celebrated the ruling as victory for Blackhorse and others "at a moment when the country is clearly demanding an end to the bigotry of yore."
The statement continues:
Today’s ruling further highlight s how the Washington NFL team’s insistence on ignoring the will of an increasingly diverse country has become a crisis for the NFL—and the league’s refusal to use its power to change this offensive name turns its silence into active complicity, associating itself with those who believe people of color deserve to be slurred. ...
We have seen incredible bipartisan progress in recent weeks surrounding the effort to end the promotion, marketing and profiting off of the Confederate flag. We have seen the highest court in the land move to protect all people’s right to marry, and we’ve now see two separate courts declare that taxpayers are not obligated to effectively subsidize the Washington team’s racial slur by granting it lucrative patent protections. Now, Dan Snyder and the NFL must face the fact that the R-word is hurtful and wrong, and that it’s time to do the right thing and change the name.
The cancellation would not go into effect until the team have gone through all of their appeals. "But even if the Redskins ultimately take the case to the Supreme Court and lose, the team can still use 'Redskins' and seek trademark protections under state law," the Washington Post reports.