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Indian Country Celebrates Redskins Trademark Revocation; Snyder Resists Name Change

Rob Capriccioso
6/18/14

Celebration spread throughout Indian country June 18 given a ruling from the United States Patent and Trademark Office canceling the Washington Redskins trademark registration.

The revocation of six of the team’s trademarks was necessary, the USPTO ruled, because the football team’s name is “disparaging to Native Americans.”

Amanda Blackhorse, the lead plaintiff in the case against the team, was “elated” by the news, according to her lawyer, Jesse Witten, of the Drinker Biddle firm.

“It is a great victory for Native Americans and for all Americans,” Blackhorse said in a statement. “We filed our petition eight years ago, and it has been a tough battle ever since.”

Blackhorse hopes this ruling “brings us a step closer to the inevitable day when the name of the Washington football team will be changed.

“The team’s name is racist and derogatory,” Blackhorse added. “I’ve said it before, and I will say it again – if people wouldn’t dare call a Native American a ‘redskin’ because they know it is offensive, how can an NFL football team have this name?”

Witten noted that the fight has been long for Blackhorse and several other Indians who have sued the team, trying to have the name revoked over the course of two decades and counting.

“We hope that the litigation is now over,” Witten said. “It has been ongoing for 22 years before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board and the federal courts.”

RELATED: A New Generation Takes on the Redskins; Asks Team’s Lawyers to Buy New Dictionaries

Suzan Shown Harjo, a Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee citizen who has been battling against the team’s name for decades, noted that this is the second time the trademark judges have ruled that the Washington franchise name disparages Native Americans. They first did so in 1999, but the team fought the ruling on a technicality, which eventually led to the Blackhorse case. The Supreme Court declined to take on Harjo’s case in 2009. 

Harjo is taking the latest development in stride, and she suspects it will be another step toward ultimately getting rid of the name once and for all. “It’s a good day to win!” she said. “I could not be more delighted about their decision today.”

RELATED: 50 US Senators Tell NFL ‘Now Is the Time’ to Act on ‘Redskins’

But, Snyder is again keen to fight, releasing a statement from a lawyer indicating that this ruling will not change the team’s name.

“We’ve seen this story before,” Bob Raskopf, a trademark lawyer for the Washington Redskins, said in a statement. 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.

“This ruling – which of course we will appeal – simply addresses the team’s federal trademark registrations, and the team will continue to own and be able to protect its marks without the registrations,” added Raskopf. “The registrations will remain effective while the case is on appeal.”

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