In June, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office determined, via its Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, that the trademarks held by the Washington NFL franchise should be cancelled. On Thursday, the team filed its appeal.
Technically a new action filed in federal court, the team hopes for the same outcome that a federal judge reached when considering the same decision made by the USPTO in 1999.
“The Washington Redskins look forward to all of the issues in the case being heard in federal court under the Federal Rules of Evidence. The team is optimistic that the court will correctly and carefully evaluate the proofs, listen to the arguments, and confirm the validity of the Washington Redskins’ federal trademark registrations, just as another federal court has already found in a virtually identical case,” attorney Bob Raskopf said.
The lawyers representing the citizens who filed the attack on the team’s name are equally confident.
“We have been thinking about this stage of the case. We are prepared. And we are prepared with some surprises,” attorney Jesse Witten told USA Today.
The Change the Mascot campaign issued a statement that focuses not on the legalities but on the right-or-wrong question of whether the name should remain in place.
“The National Football League claims it has a no-tolerance policy when it comes to racism, but by continuing to fight a court battle defending its promotion of a dictionary-defined racial slur, the league makes clear it is a proud purveyor of bigotry against Native Americans,” the group said. “If the league genuinely cared about equality, civility and mutual respect, then it would stand on the right side of history with Native American organizations, civil rights groups, religious leaders, sports icons, and Members of Congress from both parties who have called for Washington’s team to change its name. It would not continue deploying its army of lawyers to clog the courts with increasingly desperate defenses of a racial epithet. The real question this latest appeal raises is simple: Why are the NFL and the Washington team so pathologically committed to continuing to slur Native Americans?”
The answer possibly comes from, of all places, TMZ. Based on the court documents obtained by TMZ (and cited nowhere else, as best we can tell), the league and the team believe that “Redskin” and “redskin” are two entirely different terms.
“Even if the term ‘redskin,’ used in singular, lower case form, refers to an ethnic group, the term is not disparaging when employed as a proper noun, as a team name, in the context of professional football,” the team argues in its official filing, according to TMZ.
While that language-based distinction may explain the zealous efforts to defend the ongoing use of the term, that same reasoning would apply to any offensive term that has its first letter capitalized, transforming it from a slur to a proper noun.