It’s been well over a year since pressure began mounting on the Washington Redskins professional football team to change its name and mascot, with Native American groups noting that the term is a demeaning and offensive racial stereotype. Now, a new ruling from the federal regulatory agencies may have finally pushed the team’s owners past the point of no return in a way that the court of public opinion has so far been unable to.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office has officially rejected the patents on the team’s name, citing the fact that the term is “disparaging to Native Americans.” According to the Washington Post, federal trademark law forbids the registration of trademarks that “may disparage” any groups or individuals or “bring them into contempt or disrepute.”
The name has been the center of massive controversy that has grown fever pitched in recent months, as team owner Dan Snyder has publicly and repeatedly refused to change the name of the team despite increasing sentiment that the name was hurtful and offensive. “We will never change the name of the team,” Snyder told USA TODAY Sports. “As a lifelong Redskins fan, and I think that the Redskins fans understand the great tradition and what it’s all about and what it means, so we feel pretty fortunate to be just working on next season…We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
Even Congress has taken a swing at removing the team’s name, approaching the NFL commissioner to ask for its involvement in the matter. In May half of the sitting senators signed onto a letter NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to intervene, even bringing on a few GOP members to make it a bipartisan effort.
The Senate’s involvement didn’t stop there, either. Just this last week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced his intentions to not attend a game until the team name was changed, even after being invited by the owners. “I will not stand idly by while a professional sports team promotes a racial slur as a team name and disparages the American people,” Sen. Reid wrote in response to the invitation. ”Nor will I consider your invitation to attend a home game until your organization chooses to do the right thing and change its offensive name.
The offensive nature of the name goes beyond the racial stereotype that it evokes about the Native American people and culture. As Esquire Magazine reports, “redskin” is more than just racist nickname, but a term of violence and dehumanization as well, and refers not to their skin color but the practice of genocide against them when colonialists came to America. “They paid well – 50 pounds for adult male scalps; 25 for adult female scalps; and 20 for scalps of boys and girls under age 12. These bloody scalps were known as ‘redskins,’” writes Baxter Holmes. ”The mascot of the Washington Redskins, if the team desired accuracy, would be a gory, bloodied crown from the head of a butchered Native American.”
Opponents of the name are hoping that this means victory is in reach. “We are extraordinarily gratified to have prevailed in this case,” said Alfred Putnam Jr., the chairman of Drinker Biddle & Reath, whose firm has represented five Native Americans challenging the team over its name. “The dedication and professionalism of our attorneys and the determination of our clients have resulted in a milestone victory that will serve as an historic precedent.”
The football team, on the other hand, has already vowed to appeal.
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