Derogatory and offensive? Hard to dispute

Week two of the NFL season kicks off in a few hours and the Washington Redskins will take on the St. Louis Rams in their home opener at FedEx Field hoping to avoid an 0-2 start after last weekend’s 23-17 defeat against the New York Giants.

More determined than any Rams or Giants however, and possibly the toughest foe that Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder will face this season, is actually a woman by the name of Suzan Harjo.

Who?  Harjo, a Native American, has been challenging the Redskins since 1992 – contending that the Redskins trademark violates the Lanham Act, which bars trademarks that “disparage … persons living or dead … or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.” 

Obviously, Harjo and the Native Americans that she represents believe that “Redskins” is a derogatory term that falls under that umbrella.  And she has been in the news over the last week as the challenge has now reached the Supreme Court.

The logo at the center of the controversy

The logo at the center of the controversy

I have to admit that I have been mostly ambivalent to this argument over the years but time has made it clear, to me at least, that the trademark name and logo have got to go.  Not surprisingly, many ardent Redskins fans have been hoping that this issue would just go away once and for all.  I can appreciate the interest in preserving the history and legacy of a franchise, but actually this is a no-brainer that needs to be rectified as soon as possible.

Media interest has picked up in the last week and, also not surprisingly, sentiment has been very much in favor of Harjo and her consitituents.  Before making any judgments on the topic yourself, be sure to read the recent columns by journalists as varied as Mike Wise of the Washington Post, Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times, and Tim Giago of Native Sun News.  The points addressed by this trio are hard to dispute for almost anyone with a reasonable perspective on the topic.

It is interesting to note that the NFL’s motivation in helping the Redskins fight this lawsuit appears to be mostly financial, as the league and team risk the loss of significant income from licensed sales with the “classic” logo.  Enforcing infringement against its Redskins trademark becomes virtually impossible if they lose this court battle.

The Supreme Court is essentially being asked to review the decision of a lower court to disallow Harjo’s claims due to a defense similar to a statute of limitations.  Harjo’s legal team is arguing that trademark cancellation claims are not time-barred.

Therefore, since no court has actually yet made a ruling on the trademark issue central to the case, expect this incredibly drawn-out court action to continue for years (in the event that the Supreme Court finds favorably for Harjo). 

Of course, Snyder and the NFL could just do the right thing here and abolish the name once and for all.  Considering the Redskins’ recent mediocrity on the field, you’d think a name change might do them some good.

But then again, let’s be real.  Good sense and ethical behavior ahead of finances?  Not likely.  This will be bouncing around the courts for years to come.  Unfortunately.

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~ by acm213 on September 20, 2009.

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