Eight years after a group of Native Americans filed a lawsuit seeking to repeal the Washington Redskins trademark, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has done just that. The team’s name, the ruling says, is “disparaging to Native Americans” and trademarks that “disparage” or engender “contempt or disrepute” are prohibited by federal law.
The ruling doesn’t require the Redskins to change their name, but if it’s upheld after the inevitable appeals, the team may decide to do so anyway since its name will no longer be protected. If anything, the ruling should settle the debate over whether redskin is a slur or an honorific. Here’s everything the plaintiffs did to prove their case, according to a press release:
“We presented a wide variety of evidence – including dictionary definitions and other reference works, newspaper clippings, movie clips, scholarly articles, expert linguist testimony, and evidence of the historic opposition by Native American groups – to demonstrate that the word ‘redskin’ is an ethnic slur.
Ultimately, it was proof that around 30 percent of Native Americans find the word disparaging that seemed to sway Administrative Trademark Judge Karen Kuhlke. As Deadspin points out, her ruling says, “Section 2(a) prohibits registration of matter that disparages a substantial composite, which need not be a majority, of the referenced group. Thirty percent is without doubt a substantial composite.” The ruling also addresses the two thirds of Native Americans who don’t find the term offensive. “While this may reveal differing opinions within the community, it does not negate the opinions of those who find it disparaging,” Kuhkle wrote.
Before getting too excited about the potential righting of a wrong, remember that Daniel Snyder would be responsible for any name change. Last year when USA Today asked him what he would do if he lost this case he said, “We’ll never change it. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”