Federal Judge Finds Redskins’ Name May Be Disparaging

Judge rules against the NFL team, ordering the cancellation of its trademark

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On Wednesday, a federal judge decided against the NFL’s Washington Redskins, ruling that “the team’s name may be disparaging to Native Americans.” The NFL released the results of the ruling via a press release, stating:

“The ruling by Judge Gerald Bruce Lee affirms an earlier finding by an administrative appeal board. Bruce ordered the federal Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the registration. Lee emphasized in his 70-page ruling that the organization is still free to use the name if it wishes — the team would just lose some legal protections that go along with federal registration of a trademark.”

[Related: NFL Owners Approve New Rule and Patriots Won’t Appeal Punishment]

In response, Washington Redskins team president, Bruce Allen, said in a statement, “I am surprised by the judge’s decision to prevent us from presenting our evidence in an open trial. We look forward to winning on appeal after a fair and impartial review of the case. We are convinced that we will win because the facts and the law are on the side of our franchise that has proudly used the name Redskins for more than 80 years.”

Per ESPN, Ray Halbritter, Oneida Indian Nation Representative and the leader of the Change the Mascot campaign, which works to educate the public on the damaging nature of the “redskin” moniker, issued the following statement:

“If something happening decades ago was reason alone to continue doing it, then America would still have Jim Crow laws and Confederate flags would still be flying on top of state capitol buildings. Bruce Allen’s comments perfectly illustrate why the NFL has a crisis on its hands: at a time when America is demanding an end to outdated symbols of bigotry, one of the league’s teams insists on continuing to promote, market and profit off an offensive and racist symbol. The NFL must take action against an owner and his team, which have clearly lost control of themselves to the point where they are going to court to try to continue slurring people of color.”

Established in 1932, the Washington Redskins are just one of many professional teams that still use controversial names, depictions, and mascots of Native Americans. Other teams include the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, MLB’s Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians, and the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks. Many social justice groups have called for change regarding team names, perhaps none more than the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), and in 2005 the NCAA began an initiative against similarly hostile and abusive names.

Jeff Lopez, the lawyer representing the Native Americans who challenged the team’s name, said he expects the Redskins to appeal the ruling, but he said that Lee’s ruling was an across-the-board victory for his clients and that he is confident it will be upheld. He said his clients are hopeful that the team will take heed of the decision and change its name.

As part of his 70-page ruling, Judge Lee also said that the legal standard for canceling the registration is whether the name “may disparage” a substantial composite of the Native American community. Though the team has maintained that the name honors Native Americans, Lee said there is ample evidence that the name may be perceived as disparaging. He cited the fact that Native American leaders have been objecting to the name for decades, along with dictionary citations that the word is typically considered offensive.’

Yesterday, the day after Judge Lee made his historic ruling, the team celebrated its 83rd birthday, posting this to Twitter:


On this day in 1932 the Washington #Redskins franchise was born! Happy 83rd to the burgundy & gold! #HTTR #HBD pic.twitter.com/lLNg82UgiR

– Washington Redskins (@Redskins) July 9, 2015

  • Greg Mundy


    I am so proud to see my fellow Americans in the South and of
    the Republican Party standing up against racism by asking that the Confederate
    flag be removed from the state capitol. I am glad to see that many stores and
    businesses are pulling these flags off their shelves. I only wish that they understood not only
    black racism, but Native American racism as well.

    Football season will soon be starting and all over America,
    the racist “REDSKIN” word will be broadcast from coast to coast in this
    country. Not due to just one man named
    Dan Snyder, but due to many corporations and businesses who will promote this
    racist “REDSKIN” word by sponsoring this team.

    Many do not know how this name came about. It has nothing to
    do with the color of someone. For most
    people have not even seen a Native American, but I assure you they are not
    red. The name “REDSKIN” came about when
    the government paid people a bounty to hunt down and massacre Native Americans.

    Instead of having to bring in the entire body, they allow
    people to just bring in the bloody red scalp of each Native American, including
    women and innocent children and they would pay them their bounty. The church people was offended, not by the
    murdering of Native Americans, but the name bloody red scalp. For a scalp refer to the top of a human
    being’s head and since they did not see these people as humans, but only as
    animals, the same way they viewed black people, they said it was wrong to use
    the name scalp.

    They then suggested that just like all other animals who are
    killed and skinned like rabbits, deer, beavers, etc. They decided that they would use a name more
    common to the dead skin of an animal. So
    just like the dead carcass of an animal as refer to as rabbit skin, deerskin, beaver
    skin, etc. They came up with the word
    “REDSKIN” to be used in place of bloody red scalp of a dead murdered Native

    Every football season Native Americans and all Americans
    must be reminded of the terrible past that these people suffered as they were
    killed off like animals, and put on reservations, as their land was taken from
    them. People like Dan Snyder and
    especially those sponsors of his, feel that it is honorable to bring up this
    tragic past every football season. Like
    the confederate flag is honorable to remain us of how we treated black people
    in the country as animals that we enslaved.

    I am glad that people are finally realizing how black people
    feel when they see the Confederate flag that reminds them of their tragic
    past. I hope one day, they will
    understand how Native Americans feel every football season when this name is
    not flown over a single state capital building, but broadcast all over our land.

    Native Americans are a small minority due to the
    slaughtering of them when their land was taken.
    However, one day I hope that not only larger minorities, but all
    Americans will wake up and put an end to this tragic reminder of the past, as
    we are trying to do for black people with the removal of the Confederate
    flag. America it is way past time for us,


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