TIME

7 Ridiculous Exhibits the Redskins Invoked in Their Trademark Defense

Detroit Lions v Washington Redskins
A Washington Redskins flag on the field before the game against the Detroit Lions at FedExField on September 22, 2013 in Landover, Maryland. G Fiume—Getty Images

How do you defend the seemingly indefensible? The Washington Redskins' heavyweight lawyers tried everything from Philip Rahv to Lou Diamond Phillips

A decision on Wednesday from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board stripped Pro-Football Inc. (d/b/a the Washington Redskins) of its Redskins-related trademarks. This is not the first time Pro-Football Inc. has lost in this venue: The TTAB cancelled all Redskins trademarks in 1999, too. (A federal court later overturned that decision on procedural grounds.)

The board held both times that “Redskins” disparaged Native Americans and as such, under federal law, could not be trademarked. But the standard for disparagement isn’t what one would immediately expect. Wrote the Board, “[T]hese registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered…”

In other words, it’s not a question of whether “Redskins” is disparaging in 2014—a recent survey from Cal State-San Bernadino’s Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies reported that 67 percent of American Indians considered the team’s name racist—but whether the word was disparaging in 1967, 1974, 1978, and 1990 (this last year, for what it’s worth, concerns a registration for “Redskinettes,” which is kind of comprehensively tasteless). Asking the question that way introduces a bit of lightness to the proceedings, primarily into the appendix containing the defense’s exhibits.

After all, not only does the trademark case concern good taste in usage (a magnet for pedantry if ever there were one) but it does so for usage in the 1960s and 70s. The Redskins’ file, then, cooked up by the legal minds at Quinn Emanuel, teems with low and high culture. It’s Billy Jack meets the English departments of the mid-20th century. Below we’ve plucked a handful of highlights, ones we imagine had never before landed in federal records together until the first time the TTAB heard the case.

A two-page selection from James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). The relevant sentence: “Their mudcabins and their shielings by the roadside were laid low by the batteringram and the Times rubbed its hands and told the whitelivered Saxons there would soon be as few Irish in Ireland as redskins in America.” And then the following sentences: “Even the Grand Turk sent us his piastres. But the Sassenach tried to starve the nation at home while the land was full of crops that the British hyenas bought and sold in Rio de Janeiro. Ay, they drove out the peasants in hordes. Twenty thousand of them died in the coffinships. But those that came to the land of the free remember the land of bondage. And they will come again and with a vengeance, no cravens, the sons of Granuaile, the champions of Kathleen ni Houlihan.”

• This Land O’Lakes carton.

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Mary McCarthy’s 1974 New York Times Book Review remembrance of Philip Rahv. Rahv (1908-73) was a critic and editor for Partisan Review during the ’40s and ’50s heyday of the literary left. McCarthy, the novelist and critic, ran in the same circles, and was once Rahv’s lover. Were they big football fans? Presumably not. We imagine it’s in there because Rahv wrote “Paleface and Redskin,” a celebrated 1939 essay on the American literary oeuvre, which turns up in Pro-Football Inc.’s exhibits too. Does the essay concern the appropriateness of the term, or the role of Native Americans in American fiction? It does not. But it does have a lot to say about a fundamental schism between Mark Twain’s school and Henry James’s, if that’s your bag.

A scene from Courage Under Fire (1996). The film stars Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, a young Matt Damon and, most importantly, a young Lou Diamond Phillips. Why is it relevant? We’re not really sure. For what it’s worth, the appendix represents it like so:

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A selection from Neo-Realism in Contemporary American Fiction. (Again, Rahv’s doing. An included essay from Sanford Pinsker, a now-emeritus professor of English at Franklin and Marshall College, riffs on Rahv.)

This Argo Corn Starch box. According to Argo’s website, the lady on there is a “corn maiden.”

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A flyer for a Duke University campus event with then-Harvard president Derek Bok. Ronald R. Butters, who is now a professor emeritus of English at Duke, was retained by the team in 1996 as an expert witness on the English language. He produced many documents for the defense (at a cool $150 per hour, or $220 per in 2014 money). But somewhere along the line he must have run out of paper, resulting in the appearance of this flyer in evidence. So much time has passed since Bok’s talk that Duke now has a “new old chemistry” building, owing to the French Family Science Center, which opened in 2006.

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Did we miss something silly? You can view the entire case file here.

TIME Football

This Powerful Anti-Redskins Ad Will Play During the NBA Finals

The California tribe Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation paid to run the minute-long commercial during the NBA Finals

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Sports fans will see more than ads for fast food, cars and beer during commercial breaks in Tuesday night’s NBA Finals. An anti-Washington Redskins ad will run during the game’s halftime, in the hope that the NFL will force the team to change its name from what many consider a racial slur.

The California tribe Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation paid to run the minute-long ad, an edited version of the commercial above, which was created by the National Congress of American Indians. Adweek reports that a 30-second ad slot cost advertisers $460,000 in the 2013 NBA Finals.

The ad, called “Proud to be,” highlights tribes across the country. The final voiceover says, “Native Americans call themselves many things. The one thing they don’t…” before flashing to an image of a Redskins helmet.

While the Redskins name and logo has been a source of controversy for decades, it received particular bad press after Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned from the NBA for life after his racist rant was leaked to the public. NFL player Richard Sherman told TIME’s Sean Gregory that he didn’t think the NFL would have the same response.

“Because we have an NFL team called the Redskins,” Sherman said. “I don’t think the NFL really is as concerned as they show. The NFL is more of a bottom line league. If it doesn’t affect their bottom line, they’re not as concerned.”

The Redskins is preparing for a political fight over its name, hiring a lobbying firm in May after 50 Democratic senators sent the NFL a letter asking for a name change.

The National Congress of American Indians praised the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation for airing the ad during the NBA finals, and said it would send a “loud and clear” message to the league and the team.

“Contrary to the team’s absurd claims, this dictionary-defined racial epithet does not honor our heritage. The Change the Mascot campaign continues to gather strength every time that people are educated about the origin of the R-word and its damaging impact on Native peoples,” NCAI Executive Director Jackie Pata and Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter said in a statement. “By airing this ad during the NBA Championships, the message will be brought into the living rooms of millions of American all across the country.”

TIME NFL

Redskins to Reid: Come Catch a Game, Harry

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins
Washington Redskins home game against the Dallas Cowboys at FedExField on Dec. 22, 2013 in Landover, Maryland. Larry French—Getty Images

Bruce Allen hopes the Senate Majority Leader will enjoy the team's "positive, unifying force" in person after the lawmaker asked the NFL to call for a name change

The president of the Washington Redskins told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Friday to come a game after Reid wrote a letter to the National Football League urging the league to change the D.C.-area’s team’s name.

“I hope you will attend one of our home games, where you would witness first-hand that the Washington Redskins are a positive, unifying force for our community in a city and a region that is divided on so many levels,” Bruce Allen told the Democratic senator in a letter posted on the team’s website Friday.

Allen’s letter is a response to a letter signed by 50 U.S. senators and sent to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Thursday asking him to recommend a name change for the Washington Redskins. The senators say the Redskins’ name is disrespectful towards Native American culture. Reid and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) wrote the letter, which 47 colleagues signed (Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla., sent a separate letter).

Allen’s respose defends the Redskins’ name. He argues that a national survey found most Native Americans do not find the name offensive, that the logo was approved by Native American leaders and that the team’s use of the name “has always been respectful of and shown reverence toward the proud legacy and traditions of Native Americans.”

TIME Redskins

NFL Investigating Redskins-Themed AR-15 Rifle

The league doesn’t license trademarks to gun makers

The National Football League is investigating a Washington Redskins-themed AR-15 rifle that turned up at a gun show near Washington, D.C. over the weekend.

The rifle could be a trademark violation, as the league does not license its trademarks to gun manufacturers, CBS-DC reports.

A Virginia-based gun retailer’s product description of the rifle says:

Angels will be heard singing ‘Hail to the Redskins’ in the background as you feast your eyes on this one of a kind tribute to our nation’s capitol home team … Decked out in burgundy and gold, this weapon system is a must for the Redskin fan that has everything … As with all of our projects, this firearm is 5.56/.223 made with all American parts by American gunsmiths right here in Virginia.

[CBS-DC]

 

 

TIME Football

A Setback for Redskin Potatoes Won’t Hurt The Washington Redskins

The rejection of a trademark for a brand deeming the name "redskin" derogatory doesn't mean much for the football team

The United States government said the word “redskin” is derogatory this week. But that doesn’t mean the Washington Redskins have to worry about Uncle Sam tearing down their name from FedExField.

The latest development in the years-long war over whether the capital’s football team sports an offensive name came Monday, when the U.S. Patent Office rejected the trademark of Washington Redskin Potatoes, partly because of the inclusion of the term “redskin.” The patent office made a similar move against a pork rinds distributor late last year, and Monday’s judgement gave hope to Native American groups who have long railed against Redskins owner Dan Snyder and his team’s name.

“It is heartening to see this latest step in the right direction,” Oneida Indian Nation spokesman Ray Halbritter said in a statement. “We hope that the Washington NFL team will heed the clear calls for change and place itself on the right side of history by changing the team’s disparaging name.”

They shouldn’t hold their breath. Snyder has long refused to budge on the issue, and legal experts said the rejection of the two trademark applications won’t have a major impact on an ongoing fight over the team name.

“The crux of the [issue] is whether the term ‘redskin’ was disparaging in the ’60s and ’70s when the team acquired most of these registrations,” New York copyright attorney Kristen McCallion said. “One’s current views of the mark, whether it’s disparaging or not, are largely irrelevant with respect solely to [the current fight].”

While the Oneida Indian Nation has waged a public relations battle against Snyder and the NFL in recent months, another group has revisited a decades-old legal dispute against the team. In 1999, the Patent Office’s Trademark Appeal Board revoked the Washington Redskins’ registration for being disparaging, but a federal court reversed that decision in 2003, saying the plaintiffs failed to provide adequate proof of disparagement. In 2012 a group of five Native Americans filed a petition to the trademark appeal board to have the team’s trademarks cancelled for using a disparaging term. That petition is currently pending.

Even if they prevail, McCallion said, revoking the team’s trademark registration wouldn’t have a huge impact on the team or the name. The team could still sell merchandise and use the name, although some of the legal protection afforded by a registered trademark would be lost.

“If they lost federal registration that would hurt their branding,” said Patricia Rehfield, a Maryland-based copyright attorney.

Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie said in a statement that “no matter what the ruling is this year, we expect no change that will impact the Redskins.”

“Even a negative ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s use of the Redskins name and logo,” he said. “That’s how the process works given our right to appeal.”

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