Photo: Courtesy of The Washington Redskins.
The controversy surrounding the Washington Redskins took an unexpected turn today, when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the team's trademark registration on the grounds that the name is disparaging toward Native Americans.
"The recognition that this racial designation based on skin color is disparaging to Native Americans is also demonstrated by the near complete drop-off in usage of 'redskins' as a reference to Native Americans beginning in the 1960s," the decision reads.
While the landmark ruling won't force Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to change his team's name, it will certainly intensify the pressure he's been feeling over the last year. If Snyder loses his appeal, which could take years to play out, he will no longer own the rights to the Redskins logo and colors, meaning that anyone can produce and sell team merchandise without facing legal repercussions. This poses a huge problem for Snyder's fellow NFL owners, who split merchandising royalties 31 ways. While Snyder has been stubborn as a mule about changing his team's name, he might have little choice with the NFL and 30 other team owners breathing down his neck.
That notwithstanding, the team plans to stay its course, as evidenced by a defiant statement released following the ruling: "We’ve seen this story before. 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 Redskins name and logo."
Why is Snyder so adamant on not changing a name that many deem a racial slur? The 49-year-old billionaire grew up worshipping the Redskins and believes that if they lost the team's name, they would also lose the history and tradition that it's steeped in.