Various activist groups have wanted the Washington Redskins to change their team name for decades but to no avail.
Wednesday, however, marked a step in the right direction, as the United States Patent and Trademark Office stripped the Redskins of six trademark registrations, saying that the team’s nickname is disparaging to Native Americans.
The Redskins will of course appeal this ruling, but do activist groups now have a better chance of getting what they want?
“It’s a good question,” Sports on Earth writer Patrick Hruby said on The MoJo Show. “I actually just spent the day working on this, reading over the full trademark office decision, kind of looking at the precedents here – and I do think that they have a better chance this time around. But the appeals process is aways tough.”
There’s a strong case that the term Redskins is legally disparaging, Hruby said, but it’s not air tight. Heck, only two-thirds of the three-person USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board voted to remove the trademarks.
“A lot of debate in the court centers around the idea of how offensive or disparaging was this?” Hruby said. “When did this term become that way? And really, more importantly, was it disparaging to a critical mass of Native Americans?”
According to history, yes.
“The movement in general to change these Native American nicknames in sports has definitely been ongoing since the ’60s,” Hruby said. “Even the NCAA, they’ve kind of gone to the other side of this years ago and basically (told) all the schools (to) change (their) nicknames. But from one sense, I don’t know if it looks that great for Washington’s NFL team – and for the NFL itself – to be behind the NCAA in anything.”
“The really important thing to note,” Hruby continued, “is no matter what happens with this trademark – whether you have federal protection or not – the team can still use the name. The only difference is that if you or I or someone wants to start bootlegging Redskins merchandise, it’s harder for the team to sue you and win. They actually could still win, but it’s not nearly as easy and it (would) cost them money. And it’s also a huge public-relations black eye.”
In other legal news, NCAA president Mark Emmert will take the stand in the Ed O’Bannon case Thursday.
Hruby is very much looking forward to this.
“The thing about Mark Emmert – as we’ve seen over the last few years especially – he has a habit of sticking his foot in his mouth when he’s publicly speaking about this,” Hruby said. “And by the way, a couple of the NCAA’s other witnesses so far have the same habit of inadvertently making O’Bannon’s case for him.”
“So I’m kind of looking forward to seeing if the (cross-examination) can trip him up, get him flustered, get him to say something stupid that sounds bad to the rest of us, or get him to say something that actually supports O’Bannon’s case in front of the judge. It’ll be pretty interesting.”