WITH THEIR FEEBLE 2-6 record, the Washington Redskins have little to brag about this year. But the worst team in the NFC East has an even tougher problem: Gaining ground is an aggressive campaign by seven Native American leaders who find the term "redskins" an ethnic slur.
The Indian leaders want to yank the team's trademark protection, which could allow counterfeiters of Redskins T-shirts, caps, and other memorabilia to run amok, killing a key source of team revenue. "It takes away the economic incentive for them to continue using the mark," says Stephen Baird, the Minneapolis lawyer for the challengers.
Their case centers on a provision in trademark law that bans ethnically disparaging names. Like terms would "never be tolerated" if applied to other ethnic groups, says Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute, a Washington advocacy group. Lawyers for the Redskins counter that the name honors American Indians, celebrating such qualities as bravery.
The case, first filed in 1992 with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, is headed for a full airing next year, perhaps before the next football season. But it already has had an impact. In 1992, the trademark office nixed the name "Redskins" for a sports magazine, citing the complaint on D.C.'s team.