By: APRIL BOOKER
On June 18, 2014, The Trademark Trial and Appeals Board voted 2-1 to revoke trademark status from six trademarks involving the word “Redskins” (and often a correlating image of or relating to Native Americans).[1. Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc., Cancellation No. 92046185, (T.T.A.B. 2014)] While Petitioners won, the victory is largely metaphorical. The decision does not force the team to change their name or to stop using any of the six cancelled marks. It simply revokes federal protection, though the team retains common law rights. The decision explained that “[t]here is nothing in the record to indicate that respondent’s business decisions regarding investment in its brand and marks has been influenced in any way by the pendency of this cancellation proceeding.”[2. Id. at 81.] So the question remains, is there any legal alternative left to force the team to change their name?
It doesn’t appear so, although the Government has certainly tried. On May 21st 2014, 50 Senators[3. The letter was circulated by Maria Cantwell and endorsed by Harry Reid. It was not circulated among Republicans.] sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, urging him to “push for a name change for the Washington football team”[4. Letter from Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, former Chairwoman of the S. Comm. on Indian Affairs, to Roger Goodell, Comm’r of the National Football League (May 21, 2014) (available online)] The letter cited the NBA’s Sterling debacle as sparking a movement to remove racism from sports.[5. Igor Bobic, ‘Racial Slur’: 50 Senators Urge NFL To Change Washington Redskins’ Name, The Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/22/washington-redskins-senators_n_5371908.html (last updated May 22, 2014, 2:59PM)] In the past, Sen. Cantwell has threatened the NFL’s tax-exempt status as a means of pressuring the league to force a name change.[6. Emmarie Huetteman, Senator Urges N.F.L. to Change Name of Redskins, The New York Times (Apr. 30, 2014), http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/01/sports/football/reid-urges-nfl-to-change-name-of-redskins.html?_r=0]. The Federal Communications Commission has even threatened to bring criminal charges of “Indecency” against the team, and President Obama has said that he would consider changing the name of the team.[7. Id.]
Despite significant Government entanglement with the Redskins, owner Dan Snyder insists he is not changing the name. And for now, there doesn’t seem to be anything anyone can do to make him.