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Judge Rules Washington Redskins' Name Disparages Native Americans

Judge Rules Washington Redskins' Name Disparages Native Americans
(Aaron M. Sprecher/CHERA/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Wednesday, 08 July 2015 01:31 PM

The National Football League’s Washington Redskins lost some protection for its controversial name after a federal judge ruled it may be disparaging to Native Americans.

The decision doesn’t bar the team’s commercial use of the trademarked name, but it opens the door to copycats seeking to profit from it. The Redskins won’t be able to add the name to a federal registry, which provides additional protection from such infringement.

The team, founded in 1932 as the Boston Braves, was renamed in 1933 as the Boston Redskins in honor of its head coach, an American Indian. The team moved to Washington in 1937. In 2013, the Redskins ranked 10th in merchandise sales of the National Football League’s 32 teams. Merchandise revenue is shared equally among NFL squads.

The ruling in the two decade-long dispute leaves intact a 2014 decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel six trademarks. The Redskins sued, arguing its free speech rights were infringed.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee disagreed, saying trademark registration is “government speech and is therefore exempt from First Amendment scrutiny.”

Trademarks that may disparage different groups can be canceled, Lee ruled. The determination is made considering the dictionary definitions of the mark in dispute, statements of individuals or group leaders and literary or media references, he said.

“The record evidence shows that the term ‘redskin’ in the context of Native Americans and during the relevant time period, was offensive,” Lee wrote.

The football team, Lee said, has “always associated itself with Native American imagery” including the use of a Native American profile on its helmets.

Redskins lawyer Robert Raskopf didn’t immediately return a call and an e-mail requesting comment.

The case is Pro-Football Inc. v. Blackhorse, 14-cv-01043, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).


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The National Football League's Washington Redskins lost some protection for its controversial name after a federal judge ruled it may be disparaging to Native Americans. The decision doesn't bar the team's commercial use of the trademarked name, but it opens the door to...
redskins, lose, protections, name
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2015-31-08
Wednesday, 08 July 2015 01:31 PM
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