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Updated Apr 30, 2015 - 8:38 pm

Trademark board rules against Redskins name

WASHINGTON — A federal trademark board ruled Wednesday that the Washington
Redskins nickname is “disparaging of Native Americans” and that the team’s
trademark protections should be canceled, a decision that applies new financial
and political pressure on the team to change its name.

The 2-1 ruling from the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board came in a case that
has been working its way through legal channels for more than two decades. It
doesn’t force the team to abandon the name, but it comes at a time of increasing
criticism of team owner Dan Snyder from political, religious and sports figures
who say it’s time for a change.

The Redskins quickly announced that they will appeal, and the cancellation for
trademark protections will be on hold while the matter makes its way through the
courts. That process could take years.

It was the second time the board had issued an opinion on the case. A similar
ruling from 1999 was overturned on a technicality in 2003.

“We’ve seen this story before,” Redskins attorney Bob Raskopf said. “And
just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s
ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo. We are confident we
will prevail once again.”

The ruling involves six uses of the “Redskins” name trademarked by the team
from 1967 to 1990. If it stands, it would mean the team can continue to use the
name, but it would lose a significant portion of its ability to protect the
financial interests connected to it. If others printed the name on sweatshirts
or other apparel without permission, it would become more cumbersome to go after
such groups.

Courts overturned the board’s previous ruling in part because the plaintiffs
waited too long to voice their opposition after the original trademarks were
issued. The case was relaunched in 2006 by a younger group of Native Americans
who had recently become adults and therefore would not have able to file a case
earlier. The hearing was held in March of last year.

The chorus of critics against the use of the name has grown over the past year.

On Saturday, a major sector of the United Church of Christ voted to urge its
40,000 members to boycott the Redskins. Half of the U.S. Senate recently wrote
letters to the NFL urging a change, one of the letters stating that “racism and
bigotry have no place in professional sports.” D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray
suggested Wednesday the name will almost certainly have to change if the team
ever wants to build a new stadium in the city.

Snyder, who has vowed repeatedly never to change the name, declined comment as
he walked off the field after a minicamp practice Wednesday. Redskins players
have mostly avoided the topic, aware of a potential conflict because they are
employed by the team.

“Our job as players is to focus on what we can on this field day-in and
day-out and let the legal people take care of that stuff,” quarterback Robert
Griffin III said after practice. “And when it’s the right time, then we can
voice whatever it is we know about the situation.”

The Redskins have responded to critics by creating an Original Americans
Foundation to give financial support to Native American tribes. Suzan Shown
Harjo, a lead figure in the trademark case, called the foundation “somewhere
between a PR assault and bribery.”

Supporters of a name change quickly hailed the decision.

“Daniel Snyder may be the last person in the world to realize this,” Senate
Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor, “but it is just a matter
of time until he is forced to do the right thing.”

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