WASHINGTON - The Washington Redskins won another legal victory Friday in a 17-year fight with a group of American Indians who contend the football team’s trademark is racially offensive.
The decision issued Friday by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington doesn’t address the main question of racism at the center of the case. Instead, it upholds the lower court’s decision in favor of the football team on a legal technicality.
Redskins attorney Bob Raskopf said millions have been spent on the Redskins brand and the team would have suffered great economic loss if they lost the trademark registrations. “It’s a great day for the Redskins and their fans and their owner Dan Snyder,” he said.
The court agreed that the seven Native Americans waited too long to challenge the trademark first issued in 1967. They initially won — the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office panel canceled the trademarks in 1999 — but they’ve suffered a series of defeats in the federal courts since then.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly overturned that decision in 2003 in part because the suit was filed decades after the first Redskins trademark was issued. The U.S. Court of Appeals then sent the case back to Kollar-Kotelly, noting that the youngest of the plaintiffs was only 1-year-old in 1967 and therefore could not have taken legal action at the time.
Kollar-Kotelly issued a new ruling last summer that rejected that argument. She wrote that the youngest plaintiff turned 18 in 1984 and therefore waited almost eight years after coming of age to join the lawsuit.
The judge did not address whether the Redskins name is offensive or racist. She wrote that her decision was not based on the larger issue of “the appropriateness of Native American imagery for team names.”
A three-judge panel of the appeals court upheld that decision Friday.
The plaintiffs have a backup plan: A group of six American Indians ranging in age from 18 to 24 filed essentially the same claim two years ago, but the new case has been on hold until this one was resolved.
“We’re hopeful that case will lead us ultimately to a ruling on the merits,” said Philip Mause, attorney for the American Indians. “We’re very confident about our position on the merits. We think this term is disparaging of Native Americans.”
Raskopf said it’s all too late. “The time when the case could have been brought was 1967,” he said. “So it’s not going to get any easier for anybody to bring the case now.”
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