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Trademark Board Throws DC Football Team Under The Bus

A federal panel just told the Washington Redskins what many people have argued for years… their team name is racially offensive.The U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board handed down a ruling Wednesday that aims to cancel six trademarks related to the team because they are disparaging to Native Americans. The board said that at the time the team applied for the trademarks, the term “Redskins” was already damaging enough to a group of Native Americans when the trademarks were approved in the 1960’s, ’70s, and 80’s. Our own Matt Michaels had a similar view of why owner Daniel Snyder should change the name.

If it holds up, the ruling won’t stop Washington’s NFL team from using the name… but it will stop it from getting trademark protection for merchandise and use of the name and logo. You can read the entire ruling below, but here’s the most important part:

The recognition that this racial designation based on skin color is disparaging to Native Americans is also demonstrated by the near complete drop-off in usage of “redskins” as a reference to Native Americans beginning in the 1960’s.

The record establishes that, at a minimum, approximately thirty percent of Native Americans found the term REDSKINS used in connection with respondent’s services to be disparaging at all times including 1967, 1972, 1974, 1978 and 1990. Section 2(a) prohibits registration of matter that disparages a substantial composite, which need not be a majority, of the referenced group. Thirty percent is without doubt a substantial composite. To determine otherwise means it is acceptable to subject to disparagement 1 out of every 3 individuals, or as in this case approximately 626,095 out of 1,878,285 in 1990. There is nothing in the Trademark Act, which expressly prohibits registration of disparaging terms, or in its legislative history, to permit that level of disparagement of a group and, therefore, we find this showing of thirty percent to be more than substantial.

Respondent has introduced evidence that some in the Native American community do not find the term “Redskin” disparaging when it is used in connection with professional football. While this may reveal differing opinions within the community, it does not negate the opinions of those who find it disparaging. The ultimate decision is based on whether the evidence shows that a substantial composite of the Native American population found the term “Redskins” to be disparaging when the respective registrations issued. Therefore, once a substantial composite has been found, the mere existence of differing opinions cannot change the conclusion.

In view of the above, petitioners have shown by a preponderance of the evidence that a substantial composite of Native Americans found the term REDSKINS to be disparaging in connection with respondent’s services during the relevant time frame of 1967-1990. Accordingly, the six registrations must be cancelled as required under Sections 2(a) and 14(3) of the Trademark Act.

It remains to be seen how that language holds up in appeals, but it’s still notable that someone has stood up to Washington owner Daniel Snyder and said: This name is wrong.

Redskins Opinion Page1

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