Fans of the Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves probably shouldn’t be concerned about their teams’ nicknames.
Those franchises probably wouldn’t lose their trademark protection as the Washington Redskins did because “Chiefs,” “Indians” and “Braves” are probably seen as more generic than offensive, said Jim Rosini, a trademark lawyer with Kenyon & Kenyon in Washington who helped Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays change their nickname from the Devil Rays.
“Where should the line be drawn?” Rosini asked. “Does it disparage Native Americans?” Dictionaries uniformly list “redskins” as offensive.
Yesterday’s ruling by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board doesn’t prevent the National Football League’s Redskins from using the nickname, and the team’s trademark protection remains in effect pending appeal. Should it lose the appeal, the team couldn’t use the federal registration symbol and would be unable to register with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Service to prevent the import of counterfeit goods. The team could still argue that it has common-law rights to the name.
Redskins trademark attorney Bob Raskopf said the team is confident the ruling by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s appeal board will be overturned. Team owner Daniel Snyder has said repeatedly that he won’t change the name of the team because its intent is to honor Native Americans. In March he announced the creation of a foundation to aid Native Americans after the team visited dozens of reservations.
St. John’s University in New York, which said it had named its players after its red uniforms, in 1994 changed its name from the Redmen to the Red Storm. Miami University of Ohio in 1997 changed from Redskins to RedHawks.
In 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association adopted a policy prohibiting the use of hostile and abusive American Indian imagery at its championship events.