Redskins June 2014

Now that the U.S. Patent Office has canceled the Washington Redskins trademark registration, what does it mean for both sides in one of the hottest debated topics in professional sports?

Most likely, more debates and more legal appeals because this isn’t anywhere near resolved.

What it means for those on the side of this ruling is much more than a moral victory. The Redskins will still be able to use the name, however this ruling potentially hits them right where it hurts: in the pockets.

Calling the football team’s name “disparaging to Native Americans," the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office helped strike a blow in the legal armor of the Washington Redskins.

The case appeared before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board and was filed on behalf of five Native Americans. The ruling pertains to six different trademarks associated with the team, each containing the word “Redskin."

Merchandising is a big deal for the NFL. Federally registered trademarks help to keep others from benefiting financially from selling items that have the team logo on it.

In other words, this ruling potentially makes it easier for anyone and everyone to sell T-shirts with the Redskins logo on it and more difficult for the team to block it.

The Redskins have appealed; this would place the USPTO ruling on hold while it makes its way through the courts. That’s a process that could take years. This also isn’t the first time the federal trademark board has issued an opinion on this case. A similar ruling from 1999 was overturned in 2003.

While the ruling by the USPTO is nothing to ignore, it’s important to note where the NFL may stand on this. They don’t want or need the bad press and pressure from the government that comes with potentially allowing a team to use a derogatory name.

They’ll also want to avoid the financial downfalls that may come from this ruling if it’s upheld. However, until that bridge has to be crossed, they’ll most likely allow Snyder every chance to appeal.

Snyder has already drawn a line in the sand on this debate; he’s refused to change the name. In May 2013, Snyder went so far as to proclaim, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

The USPTO ruling hasn’t appeared to have softened Snyder’s position. The growing support for Native Americans in this crusade to have the name removed hasn’t appeared to have done it either.

What this may come down to for the stubborn Snyder is how far he’s willing to take this fight legally and at what cost?

Snyder is a billionaire who financially can go forward with this battle at the risk of losing money along the way. But doing that would not only cost Snyder money, it would cost other NFL teams and the NFL’s merchandising partners money.

That’s right, that’s potential merchandising profits coming out of the pockets of Snyder’s fellow owners. This would quickly become about more than just the Redskins logo.

Darren Rovell of ESPN notes that from April 1, 2012, to March, 2013, the league said that more jerseys of Redskins starting quarterback Robert Griffin III were sold than of any other player in a single year in NFL history.

At the end of the day, money talks.

Native Americans have not been alone in this battle; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spoke up in support for the USPTO ruling.
“The Redskins no longer have trademarks. They are gone,” the Nevada Democrat said. “Daniel Snyder may be the last person in the world to realize this, but it’s just a matter of time until he is forced to do the right thing and change the name.”

Reid continued:
“Snyder says it’s about tradition. I ask, what tradition? A tradition of racism. That’s all that that name leaves in its wake. The writing is on the wall. It’s on the wall in giant, blinking, neon lights.”

There comes a time when right is right and wrong is wrong. This is about the use of a name that’s no longer socially acceptable.

It’s also about a billionaire owner whose stubbornness, ego and pride are preventing him from seeing the writing on the wall Reid so vividly describes.


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