Washington Redskins owner suing five Native Americans over successful trademark petition

NFL team owner Dan Snyder refuses to change the name despite protests

Lamiat Sabin
Monday 03 November 2014 17:39
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Dan Snyder, the Washington Redskins owner, has led the way with exclusive media deals
Dan Snyder, the Washington Redskins owner, has led the way with exclusive media deals

Five Native Americans who successfully petitioned against the "hateful" Washington Redskins' name are asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought to court by the US football team.

Lawyers argued the validity of the case on Friday in Alexandria, Virginia, following the group's victory in June when a US Patent and Trademark Office board ruled that six team trademark registrations should be cancelled because they were "disparaging to Native Americans".

Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder said he would never change the name as losing trademark protections would cost them tens of millions of dollars per year, while the group, led by Navajo psychiatric social worker Amanda Blackhorse, have tirelessly fought their side for eight years.

She said in a Huffington Post blog last year: "I find the casual use of the term r*dsk*ns disparaging, racist, and hateful.

"The use of the name and symbols used by the Washington football team perpetuate stereotypes of Native American people and it disgusts me to know that the Washington NFL team uses a racial slur for its name."

An upsetting experience at a Washington Redskins game in 2005 with fans being "aggressive, very racist and hostile" was what made Ms Blackhorse launch the petition, she told Al Jazeera last month.

The NFL team, who has used the name since 1933, are arguing that their trademarks are valid because they were not deemed offensive when they were each first registered between 1967 and 1990.

The team also claimed to Judge Gerald Bruce Lee, who indicated that the team have a right to sue and will issue a formal ruling at a later date, that cancelling the trademarks would violate the Constitutional value of free speech.

But the Native Americans' lawyer Jesse Witten said that the football team's lawsuit should be thrown out because the team's real dispute is with the patent office and not the people.

The team's lawyer Robert Raskopf counter-argued that the lawsuit against the Native Americans is an appropriate method of appealing the board's decision as the group were the ones who filed the petition that initiated action.

The team's trademark protection remains in place and, if the ruling stands, the team will still be able to use the name but they will find it more difficult to challenge those who use it on clothing and merchandise without permission.

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