Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder said last year that he would change the name of his team “over his dead body.” It might be time to rethink that.
In a 2-1 ruling issued today by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, an independent tribunal within the United States Trade Protection Office, the office canceled the team’s trademarks on the basis that it is “disparaging to Native Americans.” This ruling has long been sought by Native American organizations who have maintained that the name “Redskins” is an ethnic slur.
The 50 Democratic Senators who signed a petition last month calling on the Redskins to change the team name can also claim victory after today’s ruling. This must be particularly gratifying for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) because he now one day may be able to attend a game at FedEx Field.
The Redskins, of course, now find themselves in an untenable situation. While the team will be able to retain the name during appeal and not immediately lose trademark protection, the writing is now on the wall. Should this ruling stand, any fan will be permitted to produce and sell Washington Redskins gear without having to pay the league or the team. Imagine how Snyder must feel at the thought of missing out on significant money. This is the same man who allegedly tried to ban pedestrian traffic on game days in 2000 to increase parking revenue and was the first owner to charge fans to attend the team workouts.
Snyder also wants to host a Super Bowl one day but almost certainly will not get his chance as long as the name remains the same. Does anyone think that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose stated goal is to “protect the shield,” i.e. preserving the NFL’s integrity, is going to want to see major protests throughout Super Bowl week and during the game? Of course he’s not.
The NFL itself is also a loser with this ruling. No longer will the NFL be able to use several benefits of federal registration of the trademark, the biggest being use of the federal registration symbol. In addition, since NFL teams split merchandise royalties 31 ways with the Dallas Cowboys being the exception, owners not named Jerry Jones stand to lose a lot of money. Count on them pounding the table to make sure this does not happen should the ruling stand and Goodell, who works for the owners, to follow suit.
In the end, though, this will ultimately come down to whether Snyder’s money or ego is more important to him. Snyder’s history suggests that the most important thing to him is making money so count on the Washington Redskins being no more. But it will only happen once the controversy has quieted somewhat and he selects a name that he thinks will appeal to the fans. This will allow him to maximize his profits and appear like he is not completely caving.
So say goodbye to the Washington Redskins and say hello to the Washington Hogs. Or Warriors. Or Bravehearts. Sentinels also sounds kind of cool as well and was the name of the Washington team is this football classic.