The Washington Redskins will no longer have exclusive rights to the team's name and logo after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the trademark due to it being disparaging to Native Americans, the federal agency announced Wednesday.
The decision follows mounting criticism over the use of the word “Redskins” by the NFL team. It will affect the team’s ability to turn a profit from merchandising items like T-shirts and beer mugs bearing the logo of one of the league’s most valuable franchises.
The ruling does not force a change to the team’s name in itself, but represents a significant blow to Redskins team owner Daniel Snyder.
Some Native American groups consider the term deeply offensive, while Snyder asserts it honors their heritage. The office’s decision is still subject to appeal, according to the Washington Post.
Looking at the evidence, the tribunal found that "Redskins" violated the rules of trademarks by insulting Native Americans, the office said in a statement.
"Thus, the federal registrations for the 'Redskins' trademarks involved in this proceeding must be canceled."
The evidence presented to the board included images of Redskins mascots and cheerleaders wearing mock-headdresses and clothing associated with Native American culture.
A 1962 photograph of cheerleaders was also presented with the caption reading: “Here are the Redskinettes all decked out in their Indian garb and carrying Burgundy and Gold pom-poms.”
Although challenged by Native groups for more than 20 years, the petition considered by the board referred to a 2006 filing by several people of Native American descent who find the team’s name offensive. One of the petitioners, activist and author Amanda Blackhorse, hailed today’s decision.
“It is a great victory for Native Americans and for all Americans,” Blackhorse said in a statement, the Post reported.
“I hope this ruling brings us a step closer to that inevitable day when the name of the Washington football team will be changed.”
Suzan Shown Harjo, another plaintiff who testified at last year's hearing, said she was "thrilled and delighted" with the decision.
Snyder declined to speak to reporters as he walked off the practice field.
In a statement, an attorney for the team said he was sure that the Redskins would retain rights to their trademark on appeal, as they did 11 years ago — in 2003, a federal court overruled a similar patent office decision.
“The evidence in the current claim is virtually identical to the evidence a federal judge decided was insufficient more than 10 years ago,” attorney Bob Raskopf said, adding that the team will be able to defend its trademark while it appeals the ruling.
“We expect the same ultimate outcome here.”