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6/21/2014 10:24:00 AM
Navajo woman wins round in fight to end Washington Redskins' trademark
Arizona resident Amanda Blackhorse, in a 2013 photo, was one of five people to file a challenge with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, arguing that the name “Redskins” is derogatory and cannot be trademarked. (Cronkite News Service photo by Michelle Peirano)
Arizona resident Amanda Blackhorse, in a 2013 photo, was one of five people to file a challenge with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, arguing that the name “Redskins” is derogatory and cannot be trademarked. (Cronkite News Service photo by Michelle Peirano)
A board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark office ruled that the Washington Redskins can no longer hold trademarks for the term name, saying the term is offensive to Native Americans. (Photo by Keith Allison via flickr/Creative Commons)
A board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark office ruled that the Washington Redskins can no longer hold trademarks for the term name, saying the term is offensive to Native Americans. (Photo by Keith Allison via flickr/Creative Commons)
BY MATTHEW SEEMAN
Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office agreed Wednesday with a Navajo woman's claim that the Washington Redskins name is offensive to Native Americans, thus canceling the team's right to trademark the name.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal board said that evidence presented by Kayenta resident Amanda Blackhorse and four other plaintiffs showed the word "Redskins" was "disparaging" when it was registered, and the team can no longer hold six different trademarks using the term.

The team vowed to challenge Wednesday's decision, and will continue to hold the trademarks while its appeal is pending. A similar Patent Office decision in 1999 was challenged and successfully appealed by the team then.

If the team loses its appeal it could still use the name, but third parties would be able to sell Redskins merchandise without infringing on any trademarks.

The trademarks are not the main issue, said Rod Smith, director of the sports law and business program at Arizona State University. The team name is losing in the court of public opinion, he said, and Wednesday's ruling is the latest blow.

"The broader brand itself is now in question as being racist," Smith said. "And that's going to be the issue that drives" the controversy.

The team's lawyers argued that the trademarks had existed for a long time and that owners have invested a lot into the Redskins name. But the board said in its opinion that those arguments did not hold any weight.

Campaigns to change the name have been gaining steam, with political leaders, the National Congress of American Indians, the Navajo Nation and other tribes coming out against it.

"We're glad to see that the trademark commission did exactly what we thought they should do," said Jackie Pata, executive director of NCAI, adding that it should be a turning point in the argument against the name.

A letter from 50 U.S. senators in May urged team owner Dan Snyder to change the name, and President Barack Obama said last year he would consider changing it if he were the owner.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, a staunch advocate of changing the name, said on the Senate floor Wednesday that "the writing is on the wall" for a change after the decision was announced.

The Navajo Nation passed a resolution in April opposing the use of Native American imagery as professional sports mascots. Joshua Lavar Butler, a Navajo councilman, said more tribal members are opposing the name and he called the Patent Office decision welcome news.

"It's more prevalent among the younger generation of Navajos, and even more so from the urban Navajos, the ones living in the city," Butler said.

Despite the pressure, Snyder has been adamant about keeping the name, writing last October that the phrase "Redskin" is not meant to offend anyone, but is rather a "badge of honor."

The Patent Office heard a challenge to the team name before, with a board canceling the trademarks in 1999. But a district court overturned that decision in 2003, saying the evidence could not prove the team name was offensive and, because the first trademark was registered in 1967, the plaintiffs waited too long to file.

The latest battle is still far from over. Bob Raskopf, the team's trademark attorney, said in a statement the team's appeal would succeed because this case is identical to the previous one.

"We are confident we will prevail once again, and that the . . . divided ruling will be overturned on appeal," Raskopf's statement said.

But that appeal was won on a technicality, Pata argued, and this latest opinion is very clear about the name being offensive. The public is also changing its mind, she said, and that change will impact business.

"I'm hoping the team will see that," Pata said. "I'm hoping that the sponsors will actually see that."

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Article comment by: Tired of Hypocrisy

I completely agree. If I owned the Washington Redskins I would change the name in a heartbeat. It would be so embarrassing to have the name "Washington" associated with my business.

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Article comment by: What's in a Name?

Wait, isn't her name Blackhorse? How does she think all of the White horses feel about that? I'll pony up to force her to change her name...

Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Article comment by: Come on, Ann

I KNOW you can make that huge interpretive leap between "the word" Redskins being derogatory in one context, and not in another.

But maybe I'm giving more comprehension credit than is due. So in case this really does somehow escape you: First Nations people might use the term casually amongst themselves. That's one thing. Non-First-Nations people using Redskins as a sports team name might also see that as casual and harmless -- but only if they're choosing to be oblivious to how these people were savaged by European immigrants and our government, and thus how that term carries completely different connotations in popular usage.

For instance: Would you really see it as appropriate for a sports team in a predominantly black area to be called the "Niggers"? Though black folk often use the term with one another affectionately with no disrespect?

Do you get the difference now?


Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Article comment by: Just Sayin'

The Redskins name should be embraced like the Washington franchise and fan base has done since 1938. When the owner named his team the “Boston Redskins”, the name reflected power, control, authority, muscle and was to be feared when spoken. But today, some folks have forgotten that their fore-fathers fought other indigenous people and the white man to receive the name “Redskins”. As a person of color myself, I’m proud of my brown skin. My people also fought and made thier history of being fierce fighters to the bitter end. I’m a Washington Redskins fan and have been since 1972. My Redskins team at times still instills fear in other teams with such names as Giants, Raiders, Titans, Saints, Vikings and of course all your other run of the mill animal names. My wish would be that there was an NFL team named The “Brownskins”, but of course it would offend someone who has nothing better to do than make a name for themselves. So in parting, let me just say, Hail to the Redskins! Hail to Victory! Braves on the warpath! Fight for old D.C.! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!

Posted: Monday, June 23, 2014
Article comment by: Ann Rant

From the article: "..evidence presented by Kayenta resident Amanda Blackhorse and four other plaintiffs showed the word "Redskins" was "disparaging" ..."

The plaintiffs claim the WORD "Redskins" is disparaging (derogatory).

Thank you for playing.


Posted: Monday, June 23, 2014
Article comment by: Tom not-a-peeper

My name is Tom and I have never "peeped" but to be associated with those who do, well, it upsets me. Call them peeping watchers or peeping eyes or something other than Toms. OMG. It is sooooo upsetting to me.

Posted: Sunday, June 22, 2014
Article comment by: Shades of pale

I am VERY offended at being referred to as "white." I am NOT WHITE!

To prove this, I referred to the MARTHA STEWART LIVING™ Complete Paint Palette and compared my skin color to the paint chips.

Clearly, skin color is not uniform. But I can nevertheless now say with authority that I am a mottling of Wood Putty, Lunch Bag, and Nasturtium, with veins of Winter's Day.

I DEMAND that this option appear on the next census form.


Posted: Sunday, June 22, 2014
Article comment by: @ Ann Rant

Oh I don't know Ann -- just a guess here, but, couldn't be because the team from Red Mesa actually ARE Redskins -- could it?

I'm joining the Stating the Obvious club, myself.


Posted: Sunday, June 22, 2014
Article comment by: 30% is the new majority

The bureaucrats at the Patent Office used 30% as the threshold to determine if the name was derogatory. In their view, if 70% think it's OK, that's not good enough.

This is the way of the Obama progressives that are doing so much damage to the majority of the country.


Posted: Sunday, June 22, 2014
Article comment by: Wacka Wacka

Privileged people moaning and groaning.

Hows this ..
We will invade you land.
We will kill your young men, woman and children.
We will ruin you way of life.
We will steal you children.
We will sell you poison for food.
We will march you off your land.
We will steal everything you own.

For 500 years.

And then we will call it even.
And you can use our sacred objects for profit.

OK?


Posted: Saturday, June 21, 2014
Article comment by: Ann Rant

@Thank You Somuch
That's sarcasm, right?... please?

.


Posted: Saturday, June 21, 2014
Article comment by: Jus' Askin'

How about the Tuba City Warriors? They are here in AZ and part of the Navajo Res.

Posted: Saturday, June 21, 2014
Article comment by: It seems to me:

This outrage only occurs when the team isn't winning pennants.

Posted: Saturday, June 21, 2014
Article comment by: Thank You Somuch...

...for being pro active in fighting to end this travesty.

My issue is similar. Being of Norwegian descent, I have for some time now, been offended by the Minnesota Team's co-option of the term "Vikings." Additionally, there were several beer commercials years ago which depicted Vikings as drunken fools.

It is now time for anyone who is offended by anything to stand up, stomp their feet, scream bloody murder, and hire a bunch of attorney's to shove their agenda down everyone else's throats.

It's the American Way.


Posted: Saturday, June 21, 2014
Article comment by: Ann Rant

If the term 'Redskins' is so offensive, why did Red Mesa HS in Teec Nos Pos (Navajo Nation, about an hour from Amanda Blackhorse) name its football team the 'Redskins'?

What is next? Will it be anti-PC to call a Caucasian 'white'? You all do know that is in reference to skin color, right? Would it be more offensive if it were 'white skins'? I think not.

I'm going into the panty-unbunching business. Expect I'll make millions.




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