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Bruce Allen: 'Redskins' Team Name Not Offensive

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Lawyers for the plaintiffs hope to take away the exclusive rights to the Washington Redskins name.
Keith Allison:
Lawyers for the plaintiffs hope to take away the exclusive rights to the Washington Redskins name.

Twenty-one years after the original case was filed, Native American groups once again are arguing that the Washington Redskins should lose their federal trademark protection.

The case comes down to this: is the nickname "Redskins" disparaging, scandalous, contemptuous, or disreputable? If the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board determines it is, the NFL franchise may lose its exclusive trademark of its name and logo, potentially hurting its bottom line.

The board stripped the Redskins of the trademark in 1999, but the ruling was overturned in large part on a technicality. The same technicality doesn't apply to the new group of plaintiffs. Suzan Harjo brought the original case more than two decades ago.

"They can call themselves any old racist thing they want," Harjo says. "The issue before the court is whether the federal government should subsidize with the exclusive right of making money that racism. We think not."

What is a racial slur to Harjo is an honorable nickname to Redskins general manager Bruce Allen, who says the team will not change its name because, in his view, it's not offensive.

"If you look at everything that we represent, you will find that the Washington Redskins has a positive image, and much more positive this year with a winning season," Allen says.

Allen says the football franchise has a great history spanning 81 years. It's the history of the term "Redskins" that concerns the petitioners in this case. But they have to convince the board that enough Native Americans find the nickname offensive.

"The precedent is that a substantial composite of Native Americans needs to find the term disparaging," says attorney Jesse Witten. "Clearly that standard is met. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board hasn't yet clarified what a substantial composite is in any of its case law, except to say it can be less than a majority."

For Navajo Indian Amanda Blackhorse, the case is simple. To anyone who doesn't understand why her people are so offended, she asks: "Would you call me a Redskin?"


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