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Native Americans Say Supreme Court Endorsed Their Suit Against Redskins

Updated on June 26, 2015

The football team's name leads to lawsuit against Redskins' trademark

Native Americans suing to force the Washington Redskins to change their name say the Supreme Court indirectly endorsed their legal position by granting Texas a right to ban license plates displaying the Confederate flag.

The Supreme Court ruled in June 2015 that Texas' Confederate flag ban did not violate the First Amendment. Instead, it is a lawful means of avoiding the image of racism associated with the Confederacy.

A group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans said their free speech rights should allow them to put specialty license plate showing the Confederate flag on their vehicles, but Texas officials rejected the proposal.

Similarly, the Washington Redskins football team says their choice of a name is a matter of their First Amendment free speech rights.

Native Americans filed a lawsuit in 2014 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria to get the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to revoke the team's trademark. The Native Americans say the name and trademark are racist.

Jeffrey Lopez, attorney for the Native Americans, said the trademark implies the government supports the racism associated with the name Redskins.

The government issues the registration, and the government has its name all over it, Lopez said. But the trademark should never have been issued. The team has improperly benefited from the use of it.

The government grants trademarks under authority of the Lanham Act. However, the act forbids issuing trademarks for names that may disparage or bring people into contempt or disrepute.
Attorneys for the Redskins say their name honors Native Americans. Team owner Dan Snyder has refused to change the name.

Robert Raskopf, the Redskins' lead attorney, argued the Supreme Court ruling on Texas license plates touches on a different issue. Redskins is a brand name, similar to a Coca-Cola trademark, that does not raise issues of government endorsement, he said.

A Coke can is not a license plate, Raskopf said. This is pure private speech.
In addition, the football team could suffer severe and manifold damage if it loses its federal trademark, he said.

The judge said he would rule on whether the case should go to trial or be dismissed.

Washington Redskins' Name Prompts Racism Charges

The Washington Redskins are embroiled in a trademark dispute over whether their team name and logo are racist.
The Washington Redskins are embroiled in a trademark dispute over whether their team name and logo are racist.

Is the Redskins' name a matter of free speech?

Should the Washington Redskins be forced to change their name?

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    • Tom Ramstack profile image

      Tom Ramstack 2 years ago from Washington, D.C.

      I agree. Tradition is fine but not when it comes at the cost of trampling other people's dignity.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 2 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Even as a kid, I thought it was a weird name, at the very least (but I'm a Giants fan, so ...). They should change it. Just from a PR standpoint, they could earn goodwill, develop new marketing opportunities and probably end up making more money in the long run. Voted up.