The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office took the first official government action against the Washington Redskins Wednesday, canceling the football team's trademark registration.
The patent office ruled that the team name's is "disparaging to Native Americans" in a landmark case filed on behalf of five Native Americans.
But the ruling doesn't mean the team has to change its name, and because of its unprecedented nature, it might not even take away the team's rights to enforce the trademark against manufacturers of counterfeit goods.
Owner Dan Snyder has refused to consider requests to change the team's name, despite grassroots efforts and Congressional pressure. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., was one of 50 senators (48 Democrats and two Independents) who signed a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell urging him to officially call on Snyder to change the name.
The arguments from Native American tribes urging Snyder to change the name have been similar to those employed by Wisconsin tribes with state politicians.
The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation of California ran a "Proud to Be" commercial in several states during the NBA finals. It showed images of Native Americans with a narrator listing terms they use to describe themselves: mother, father, resilient, underserved, struggling and teacher, among others.
The commercial ended with the narrator saying, "Native Americans call themselves many things. The one thing they don’t..." — and then a Washington Redskins football helmet displayed on the screen. The ad asked viewers to visit Changethemascot.org.
The message is familiar to those who followed the debate in the state Legislature last fall over changes to Wisconsin's Indian mascot law, which was opposed by the state's Native American tribes.
Wisconsin's new law stipulates any complaints must include a petition signed by members of the community equivalent to 10 percent of the district’s student population saying the logo or mascot is offensive, shifting the burden of proof to those filing the complaint.
Gov. Scott Walker said the state's previous law infringed on free speech rights.
Barbara Munson, a spokeswoman with the Wisconsin Indian Education Association “Indian” Logo and Mascot task force, said earlier this month that it will be a matter of time before the Washington Redskins changes its name.
"As the dialogue develops and ripens, people will realize we are talking about a form of discrimination that really hurts our image as a nation," she said.