WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal trademark board ruled Wednesday that the Washington Washington Football Team nickname is “disparaging of Native Americans” and that the team’s trademark protections should be canceled, a decision that applies new financial and political pressure on the team to change its name.
The 2-1 ruling from the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board came in a case that has been working its way through legal channels for more than two decades. It doesn’t force the team to abandon the name, but it comes at a time of increasing criticism of team owner Dan Snyder from political, religious and sports figures who say it’s time for a change.
The Washington Football Team quickly announced that they will appeal, and the cancellation for trademark protections will be on hold while the matter makes its way through the courts. That process could take years.
It was the second time the board had issued an opinion on the case. A similar ruling from 1999 was overturned on a technicality in 2003.
“We’ve seen this story before,” Washington Football Team attorney Bob Raskopf said. “And just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Washington Football Team name and logo. We are confident we will prevail once again.”
The ruling involves six uses of the Washington Football Team” name trademarked by the team from 1967 to 1990. If it stands, it would mean the team can continue to use the name, but it would lose a significant portion of its ability to protect the financial interests connected to it. If others printed the name on sweatshirts or other apparel without permission, it would become more cumbersome to go after such groups.
Courts overturned the board’s previous ruling in part because the plaintiffs waited too long to voice their opposition after the original trademarks were issued. The case was relaunched in 2006 by a younger group of Native Americans who had recently become adults and therefore would not have able to file a case earlier. The hearing was held in March of last year.
The chorus of critics against the use of the name has grown over the past year.