It was a year ago when the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office refused to renew trademarks held by the NFL’s Washington Redskins. Citing federal law that blocks such protective ownership of logos deemed disrespectful or discriminatory, USPTO noted that the terms and images used in the trademarks “were disparaging to Native Americans(.)”
And 13 months later on July 1, President Obama’s Secretary of the Interior one-upped USPTO. The Redskins cannot build a new stadium in the District of Columbia unless the team comes up with a new name.
The Washington Post reports that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell recently told D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser that plans to build a new stadium would be rejected, and due to objection from the National Park Service over the team’s mascot. NPS owns the land occupied by RFK Stadium, where the Washington franchise played until 1996. A new stadium in that same location has been proposed to lure the team back from FedEx stadium in Maryland, about which team management has regularly complained.
Appointed Interior Secretary in April 2013, Jewell’s one decision on this matter is relevant to both of the ordinarily separate fields under her authority. Her office oversees all national parks, and is also responsible for maintaining relations between the federal government and all Native American and Alaskan tribes.
Jewell’s decision was easily predictable, too. She told ABC News last year:
Personally, I think we would never consider naming a team the ‘Blackskins’ or the ‘Brownskins’ or the ‘Whiteskins.’ So, personally, I find it surprising that in this day and age, the name is not different.
The president holds the same sentiment, telling media in October 2013 that the team name was “offending a sizeable group of people.”
Last year Native Americans contested renewal of six team trademarks, arguing they violated U.S. law. In June 2014 USPTO agreed, ruling that the term “Redskins” was blatantly derogatory, unlike similar mascot names such as Braves, Chiefs, and Indians.
Also last year, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) composed a letter, co-signed by 49 other senators, asking the NFL to stop using the name and images of its Redskins franchise.
First playing as the Boston Braves in 1932, the team name changed to “Redskins” the very next year. The teams’ owners of that time said the change was to avoid use of the same mascot as the city’s baseball team, and to also to honor the football team’s coach (William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz) who claimed to be part Sioux Indian. According to U.S. Census records, though, Dietz declared himself to be solely Caucasian.
Team attorneys threatened to contest USPTO’s ruling last year, just as had been done successfully in 1992 regarding the same trademarks. No filings have been made to date, however.
Adding to the franchise’s woes on this same matter, George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf filed petition with the Federal Communications Commission in September 2014, requesting that a Washington, D.C. television station not be allowed to broadcast the team’s home games with any use of the mascot name, which Banzhaf labeled “profanity” in his filing.
Featured image of the Washington Redskins via NFL