Photo courtesy Gregg Deal
Protesters march outside FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, in December 2014 at the Washington football team's last game of the season. On Wednesday, a federal judge in Northern Virginia ordered the cancellation of six of the team’s seven trademark registrations.

Washington Football Team Suffers Heavy Blow as Judge Upholds Trademark Cancellation

Simon Moya-Smith

Were this a boxing match, this would be one of those stunning uppercuts that immediately prompt the naysayers to rethink the underdog.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Northern Virginia ordered the cancellation of six of the Washington football team’s seven trademark registrations. The decision comes more than a year after the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board found the name of the team to be “disparaging to Native Americans.” Federal law – specifically the Lanham Act – prohibits trademarks that denigrate people or bring them into “contempt or disrepute.”

Wednesday’s decision does not require that Washington football team owner Dan Snyder change the name of his team, which is defined in the dictionary as a “contemptuous term used to refer to a North American Indian.” Instead, it simply would allow for copycats to produce and profit from the team’s current logo and name.

RELATED: Change the Name: Obama Administration Reiterates Opposition to Washington Football Team Mascot

But, according to reporter Ian Shapira of The Washington Post, the cancellations will not go into effect until the team has exhausted every legal avenue to see the decision is overturned and the team’s trademark protection reinstated. A spokesperson for the team told Shapira that they are reviewing the decision and considering its legal options.

In August, the Washington football team sued the five Native American plaintiffs who brought the trademark case against them and eventually won, but the Department of Justice has since stepped in to support the Lanham Act, which lawyers for the team have argued is unconstitutional, citing a freedom of speech violation.

“The Department of Justice is dedicated to defending the constitutionality of the important statute ensuring that trademark issues involving disparaging and derogatory language are dealt with fairly,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda said.

On Wednesday, activists and organizations who oppose the team name began celebrating the decision to cancel the trademarks. The Change the Mascot campaign, helmed by both the National Congress of American Indians and the Oneida Indian Nation, admonished NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about Dan Snyder, saying he is “out of control.”

“We congratulate Amanda Blackhorse and all of those who have worked tirelessly to achieve today’s historic victory,” a press release by the organization reads. “Today’s ruling further highlights how the Washington NFL team’s insistence on ignoring the will of an increasingly diverse country has become a crisis for the NFL – and the league’s refusal to use its power to change this offensive name turns its silence into active complicity, associating itself with those who believe people of color deserve to be slurred. The owners and Commissioner Goodell have a clear problem on their hands: one of their fellow owners is out of control – creating a national spectacle by defending racial slurs at a moment when the country is clearly demanding an end to the bigotry of yore.”

Diné activist Amanda Blackhorse, who was the lead plaintiff in the case against the team last year, told ICTMN that Wednesday's decision is “not just a victory of Natives in the case, but for all indigenous people.”

“I feel justice has been done,” she said.

Dan Snyder said he will “NEVER” change the team name.

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