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Washington Redskins Fight for ‘Offensive’ Nickname

Issued: November 06 2015

The Washington Redskins have been battling a rising chorus of voices calling for the American football team to do away with its nickname, which many in the US say is offensive to Native Americans.


In July, a US federal judge agreed that the name is offensive and ordered the cancellation of the federal trademark. The cancellation, however, does not go into effect until the football team has exhausted the appeals process.


“We are convinced that we will win on appeal as the facts and the law are on the side of our franchise that has proudly used the name Washington Redskins for more than 80 years,” Redskins president Bruce Allen said in a statement in July.


The battle against the Redskins name first began in 1992 when a group of Native Americans filed a petition with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. That case was ultimately thrown out, but another petition was filed in 2006. A year ago, the appeal board ruled against the Redskins and voted to cancel the trademark registrations, saying that “Redskins” is offensive to a large number of Native Americans and is therefore ineligible for trademark registration under the country’s trademark laws.


The football team, led by Lisa Blatt, a Washington-based partner at Arnold & Porter, has now filed its appeal, taking an approach that calls into question other registrations which, while almost certainly offensive to many Americans, retain the support of the US Patent and Trademark Office.


“The PTO has registered hundreds if not thousands of marks that the Team believes are racist, or misogynistic, vulgar or otherwise offensive,” says the brief. “By way of example only, the following marks are registered today: Take Yo Panties Off clothing ... SlutsSeeker dating services ... Dumb Blonde beer ... Baked By A Negro bakery goods ... Big Titty Blend coffee [and] Midget-Man condoms and inflatable sex dolls. These are not isolated instances.”


Maury Lane, a spokesman for the football team, said in a statement: “Since 1870, over 3 million trademarks have been registered, and we have found none that have ever been cancelled for being disparaging.”