Red­skins clear big hur­dle, but trade­mark war still rages

So­cial, busi­ness pres­sure to change name to con­tinue

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY STEPHEN WHYNO

The Wash­ing­ton Red­skins aren’t in the clear with their team name just yet, even af­ter the Supreme Court ruled Mon­day that the gov­ern­ment can’t block trade­marks on the ba­sis that they’re of­fen­sive.

Supreme Court prece­dent may help the club in its on­go­ing le­gal bat­tle, but the fight over the Red­skins moniker will con­tinue in so­cial and busi­ness realms. The Red­skins, Cleve­land In­di­ans with their “Chief Wa­hoo” logo and other pro­fes­sional and col­lege or­ga­ni­za­tions fea­tur­ing Na­tive Amer­i­can nick­names and mas­cots can­not be cen­sored by the U.S. gov­ern­ment, but that doesn’t take the pres­sure off.

“Just be­cause the Red­skins may be­lieve they’re in the clear or the Cleve­land In­di­ans or even some col­le­giate teams (think) they’re in the clear, that doesn’t mean that those that do busi­ness with the team, in­clud­ing its spon­sors, are go­ing to take their foot off the gas if they be­lieve change is re­ally re­quired,” USC pro­fes­sor of sports busi­ness David Carter said. “A pos­i­tive le­gal rul­ing may not yield ben­e­fi­cial busi­ness im­pacts in and around the sports busi­ness world be­cause we’ve seen a height­ened sen­si­tiv­ity over the years with this topic.”

The Supreme Court found that Si­mon Tam could trade­mark the Slants as the name of his Asian-Amer­i­can rock band be­cause it would be un­con­sti­tu­tional for the U.S. Patent and Trade­mark Of­fice to dis­crim­i­nate against it, cit­ing the First Amend­ment’s free speech pro­tec­tion.

The Red­skins have a sep­a­rate case that had been on hold in fed­eral ap­peals court while the Slants de­ci­sion was ren­dered. Owner Dan Snyder said he was “thrilled” by the rul­ing, and lawyer Lisa Blatt said it re­solves the team’s dis­pute and vin­di­cated its po­si­tion.

St. John’s Univer­sity in­tel­lec­tual

prop­erty law cen­ter di­rec­tor Jeremy Sh­eff said while the Supreme Court has es­sen­tially shut the door on le­gal chal­lenges to the Red­skins name, “there can still be so­cial pres­sure brought to bear.”

The Change the Mas­cot cam­paign re­leased a state­ment say­ing it never be­lieved this would be set­tled in a court­room. But just as the In­di­ans re­ceive blow­back for Chief Wa­hoo and schools like the Univer­sity of North Dakota, Mi­ami of Ohio and oth­ers moved away from Na­tive Amer­i­can mas­cots, pub­lic opin­ion won’t sim­ply sway one di­rec­tion be­cause of the Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion.

“That doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily re­flect what peo­ple in the mar­ket­place feel, so if stu­dents at a univer­sity don’t like their slo­gan, mas­cot or trade­mark and/or the mar­ket­place — those who pur­chase tick­ets or sup­port the ath­letic pro­grams or the univer­sity in gen­eral — I think will still be a driver on what is ac­cept­able and what is not,” said Brian LaCorte, a Phoenix-based lawyer for Bal­lard Spahr. “It will be­come I think a point for the con­sumer mar­ket­place to de­fine pa­ram­e­ters.”

Last Septem­ber, Forbes said the Red­skins were the fifth-most valu­able team in the NFL at $2.95 bil­lion. As Carter pointed out, “The Red­skins are a his­toric, an en­demic brand, a pres­ence” in the Wash­ing­ton area, and nei­ther their name nor their lack of re­cent play­off suc­cess has hurt their pop­u­lar­ity.

A re­cent Wash­ing­ton Post poll found that 90 per­cent of 504 Na­tive Amer­i­cans sur­veyed na­tion­wide did not think the Red­skins name was of­fen­sive, and that likely had more sway on the opin­ions of un­de­cided peo­ple than the Supreme Court rul­ing. The next place for this ar­gu­ment very well may be the team’s ef­fort to get a new sta­dium, and Carter said politi­cians could use it as a part of the ne­go­ti­a­tion if tax­payer money is in­volved.

“If Daniel Snyder wants to get any pub­lic dol­lars for a new sta­dium, the like­li­hood of him be­ing able to ac­com­plish that in this en­vi­ron­ment is re­ally slim un­til or un­less he changes the name of the team,” Carter said. “I think it’s go­ing to boil down to money and what will the trade-offs be.”

If Vir­ginia, the Dis­trict of Columbia or Mary­land ap­prove pub­lic money for a new Red­skins sta­dium, Carter said that would be con­sid­ered “a tacit en­dorse­ment that it is OK to keep the name.”


Wash­ing­ton Red­skins owner Dan Snyder said he was “thrilled” by the Supreme Court rul­ing that the gov­ern­ment can’t block trade­marks on the ba­sis that they’re of­fen­sive.

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