The Washington Redskins lost their biggest battle yet over their controversial name, after a federal judge upheld a ruling that ordered the removal of the football team’s trademark registrations because they were offensive to Native Americans.
US district judge Gerald Lee on Wednesday agreed with the US Patent and Trademark Office’s decision from last year that the trademarks “may disparage” Native Americans. Washington had tried to overturn the appeal board’s original ruling by claiming their first amendment rights were being infringed, but Wednesday’s decision represents a significant setback for the NFL franchise.
A spokesperson told the Washington Post the team is reviewing the decision and considering legal options.
Jesse Witten, one of the attorneys for the Native American activists who brought the case before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, said:
“This is a huge victory. Getting this ruling from a US district judge is a watershed event.
“The team has been fighting this case so hard, and leaving no stone unturned, and scorching every square inch of earth that it’s hard to imagine they will not appeal.”
The tribunal’s decision put more pressure on the Washington team to change its name following decades of condemnation by Native Americans. Critics say the “Redskins” name perpetuates negative stereotypes of Native American people, and insults many centuries of traditions and rituals. The National Congress of American Indians has declared the name racist.
“our name represents a tradition, passion and heritage that honors Native Americans”
and have so far rejected attempts to change their moniker. Dan Snyder, the team’s owner, has vowed that he will never abandon the name, and says a cancellation of its trademarks would taint its brand and lead to billions in lost revenue. Washington says polls show that most fans want to retain the “Redskins” name.
Washington filed the lawsuit against the five Native Americans in August 2014, after the quintet convinced the trademark agency to void the team’s registrations. The agency said a substantial number of Native Americans found the trademarks to be offensive, but Washington said the decision was unconstitutional and had taken away a valuable commodity “without just compensation”.
A canceled trademark deprives the club of the ability to use the federal trademark symbol and block import and sale of counterfeit team goods. However, Washington can still use the “Redskins” name.
The judge’s ruling would not take effect until Washington has exhausted the appeals process in the federal court system.