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Legal battle over Redskins name continues
By BRETT ZONGKER, Associated Press Writer
April 8, 2005
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Major American Indian groups went to court Friday trying to revoke the Washington Redskins' trademark name, calling it a disparaging reference to millions of people.
Four national organizations joined a District of Columbia resident who sued in 1992 to pressure the team to drop the Redskins moniker because they consider it offensive. But a team lawyer argued that the appeal should be dismissed because the legal complaints weren't filed until decades after the name was first adopted in 1933.
``This football team has been on actual notice from 1972 that Native Americans found this name offensive,'' attorney Thomas Morrison, representing the American Indian groups, told the U.S. Court of Appeals. ``I don't think we'd be hearing this debate if it were a different ethnic group.''
Suzan Shown Harjo, one of the original plaintiffs, won the first round in 1999 when a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office panel canceled the Redskins' trademarks. But a federal judge reversed that decision last year, ruling the panel relied on flawed data.
``We should not be the only group that the law allows discrimination against,'' said Harjo, president of the Morningstar Institute, an American Indian rights group.
Team lawyer Robert Raskopf said that ``redskin'' wasn't considered offensive when the trademark was first issued to the football franchise in 1967. He said at that time, there was no substantial evidence that the term was offensive.
But Raskopf maintained that it was important to distinguish between how a dictionary defines a word and the way a word is actually used. He said the team has never used its name in a disparaging way.
The Washington Redskins were originally the Boston Braves, but owner George Preston Marshall changed the name to Redskins in 1933 to avoid confusion with the local baseball team. The team moved to Washington four years later.
For 40 years the team operated without a trademark on its name, and it could go on using the name without a trademark, said Judge A. Raymond Randolph. Trademarks allow the team to control distribution of team merchandise, and Randolph said the consequence of revoking the trademark could be a proliferation of Redskins apparel.
``The effect could be to spread the term even further,'' Randolph said.
A ruling could come at any time, but the three judge panel typically issues a decision before the current term ends in July.
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Name Problems Redskins Name Battle
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