The United States Patent and Trademark Office on Wednesday canceled six federal trademark registrations for the Washington Redskins and referred to the football team's name as "disparaging to Native Americans." As a result, the term cannot be trademarked under federal law that bans the protection of offensive language.
The landmark case was previously filed on behalf of five Native Americans, and was the second time a similar hearing appeared in front of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, according to an article in The Washington Post. The case first arose more than 20 years ago, when a federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled on appeal in favor of the team.
"We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered," the attorneys wrote in the opinion, which was published on Wednesday.
A group of nine Democratic House lawmakers and one Republican last May renewed a decades-old debate about the controversial name when they sent a letter to Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Since the original letter, several other legislators have crafted similar petitions to the two executives. President Barack Obama, as well as civil rights organizations, sports leaders, and members of the general American public, expressed concern about the meaning of the name, "redskin," saying it possesses negative racial connotations.
Bob Raskopf, trademark attorney for the team, said he is confident the decision will be overturned on appeal based on prior hearings.
The trademarks will remain on the federal register of trademarks and not be listed as "canceled" until after judicial review is complete. Pro Football Inc., owner of the involved registrations, will lose legal benefits of the trademarks if an appeal is not filed or if cancellation is affirmed after possible review by a federal court.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a vocal supporter of the name-change, applauded the patent office's cancellation, which he said affects each Native American tribe in the country.
"Every time they hear this name, it is a sad reminder of a long tradition of racism and bigotry," Reid said Wednesday from the Senate floor. "Daniel Snyder says it's about tradition. I ask, 'What tradition?'"
Reid previously took to the Senate floor earlier this year to note the change 17 years ago of the Washington Bullets to what is now the Wizards, a motion made to disassociate the franchise from guns and violence.
Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington noted that this is not the end of the case, but is a significant decision in the fight to remove the controversial name.
"This issue can no longer be a business case for the NFL to use this patent. They will not be able to forcefully exclude other people for having derivatives of this logo or the name, and thereby putting a big dent in the business case that the NFL has," Cantwell, who is a member of the Indian Affairs Committee, said on Wednesday.
Nearly 50 Democratic U.S. senators last month urged Goodell to follow the lead of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who recently fired Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling after recording surfaced of the 80-year-old making racist remarks. The legislators' letter, which did not include one Republican's signature, was the largest congressional effort to replace the term the senators referred to as a racial slur.
Oneida Indian Nation, a federally recognized tribe that has been campaigning vigorously against the team's name, called the patent office's actions "historic."
"If the most basic sense of morality, decency, and civility has not yet convinced the Washington team and the NFL to stop using this hateful slur, then hopefully today's patent ruling will, if only because it imperils the ability of the team's billionaire owner to keep profiting off the denigration and dehumanization of Native Americans," Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter and National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jackie Pata said in a joint statement.
The tribe aired its “Change the Mascot” campaign nationwide through radio advertisements during the previous NFL season.
The New York State Assembly recently passed a unanimous bipartisan resolution denouncing the use of racial slurs as professional sports team names. The state is home to the NFL's headquarters.
The Washington team plays at FedExField, located in Maryland not far from the country’s capital.