We Could Change The Name Of The Lions, But I Doubt That Would Do Any Good

Robert Barnes in WaPo:

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to revive a lawsuit on behalf of Native American activists who claimed that the Washington Redskins’ team name is so offensive that it does not deserve trademark protection.

The court without comment refused to get involved in the long-running dispute. The decision essentially lets stand a lower court ruling that the activists waited too long to bring the challenge.

The team has been known as the Redskins since 1933, when the name was changed from the Boston Braves. It became the Washington Redskins in 1937, when the team moved south.

The lawsuit was filed in 1992, when seven activists challenged a Redskins trademark issued in 1967. They won seven years later in a decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, which said the name could be interpreted as offensive to Native Americans. The case is Harjo v. Pro-Football Inc.

Trademark law prohibits registration of a name that “may disparage . . . persons, living or dead, . . . or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.”

The team appealed to federal court.

Judges at the district and circuit levels said the activists’ trademark cancellation claim was barred by the doctrine of laches, which serves as a defense against claims that should have been made long ago.

Law Blog at WSJ:

The Miami Dolphins for years have sported the most confusing logo in the NFL: a picture of a leaping dolphin wearing a football helmet that features an M. It’s the “M” that confuses us. It’s not what the Dolphins wear on their helmets, which, in our minds, is confusing and raises the possibility that the little leaping dolphin plays for a different team — possibly the University of Minnesota or Miami of Ohio.

Silliness aside, at least the ‘Fins have this going for them: they don’t need lawyers to protect their logo from claims that it’s too offensive to warrant trademark protection. No, that distinction belongs to the Washington Redskins, whose logo (pictured) has struck groups of Native Americans as, at best, derogatory and at worst, outright racist.

The Redskins on Monday got a bit of good news from the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined cert filed by Native American activists who claim the Redskins’ team name is so offensive that it does not deserve trademark protection. The ruling essentially lets stand a lower court ruling that the activists waited too long to bring the challenge. Click here for the WaPo story.

According to the Post, the team has been known as the Redskins since 1933, when the name was changed from the Boston Braves. It became the Washington Redskins in 1937, when the team moved south.

The lawsuit was filed in 1992, when seven activists challenged a Redskins trademark issued in 1967. They won seven years later in a decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, which said the name could be interpreted as offensive to Native Americans.

The team appealed to federal court. Judges at the district and circuit levels said the activists’ trademark cancellation claim was barred by the doctrine of laches, which serves as a defense against claims that should have been made long ago.

The activists argued that disparaging trademarks can be challenged at any time, citing a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. The decision was written by then-judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., who now sits on the Supreme Court.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said that was merely a “suggestion” of how to interpret the law.

Wlady Pleszczynski at American Spectator:

In exciting news Washington Redskins’ faithful have been awaiting as eagerly as they do an extra-point try, the Supreme Court has declined to look into a case that alleges the NFL team’s name is offensive to Native Americans. Now maybe the high court will do something about the name of the once-feared New England team, which after last night’s el-foldo against Peyton Manning no longer deserves to be known as the Patriots.

Eva Rodriguez at WaPo:

Now it’s up to Redskins owner Dan Snyder to do the right thing. Try not to guffaw.

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear a case in which Native Americans challenged a trademark on the Redskins name, saying it was offensive and didn’t deserve legal protection. I thought the Native Americans had a good basis for prevailing, given that current law prohibits giving legal blessing to a trademark that includes “matter which may disparage…persons, living or dead…or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.”

I just don’t see how the name Redskins passes this test. Imagine the uproar if a team adopted other racially, ethnically or culturally questionable monikers. San Antonio Spics, anyone? How about California Coolies? Unimaginable.

The justices didn’t reach the question of whether the Redskins name met with trademark standards, instead letting stand lower court rulings that concluded that the Native Americans filed their challenge too late.

Redskins management no doubt is whooping it up. What they should be doing is following the example of Abe Pollin, the owner of Washington’s professional men’s basketball team. Pollin changed the name of the team from the violence-tinged Bullets to the Wizards in the late 1990′s, to no discernible harm. In fact, the Wizards probably profited from sales of jerseys, jackets, caps and other merchandise emblazoned with the new team logo and name.

But don’t expect a miracle like the one we witnessed on Sunday with the Redskins’ victory over the Broncos. Snyder is tone deaf when it comes to doing the right thing. (Don’t forget that this is the guy who sicced his lawyers on financially devastated longtime Redskins fans who could no longer afford to honor their season ticket contracts.) More pressure or persuasion on the name change probably won’t make a difference now, even if we argue till we’re red in the face.

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Filed under Race, Sports, Supreme Court

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