A U.S. District Court judge heard arguments on Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by the Washington Redskins seeking to keep their trademark registration on the team’s nickname.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office canceled six federal trademark registrations for the Redskins in June 2014 saying the nickname is “disparaging to Native Americans” and cannot be trademarked under federal law that prohibits trademark protection on offensive or disparaging language.
The Trademark Trial and Appeals Board said the "Redskins" name is the subject for cancelation for "entertainment services—namely, football exhibitions rendered in stadia and through the media of radio and television broadcasts."
Attorneys for Native Americans who want the name changed say a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling bolsters the chances of the appeal ruling being upheld.
The Supreme Court ruled last week that Texas did not violate the First Amendment when it banned of specialty license plates bearing the Confederate flag, saying that the license plates are the part of the government's speech and protected from First Amendment attacks. Nine states still allow drivers to choose specialty license plates that feature the Confederate flag.
Team officials, including owner Daniel Snyder, say the Redskins name is a term of pride, honor and respect. Snyder has vowed to never change the nickname as long as he is the owner.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sent a letter, which was signed by 49 other Democratic senators, to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last year, calling the Redskins name “racist” and urging them to change it.
He said that Native Americans were "not mascots—they’re human beings" and were "insulted by this cavalier attitude about what they’re being called."
The Redskins wants the appeal ruling thrown out, citing infringement on their First Amendment rights, with Redskins’ counsel adding that losing the trademark would be “severe and manifold” for the team.
U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee wanted to know during Tuesday’s proceedings if the team would be hurt if it lost the appeal and its trademark.
“No one is going to forget the Redskins trademark or team if the registration is canceled,” Lee said, according to the Washington Post.
Jeffrey Lopez, who represents the Native Americans, said that the case is not about preventing the use of the nickname.
“The government issues the registration, and the government has its name all over it ... but the trademark should never have been issued," Lopez said. "The team has improperly benefited from the use of it."
- Scooby Axson