Washington Redskins lose trademark on name/logos. Could Chief Wahoo be next?

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Could today's ruling speed up the phasing out of Chief Wahoo???


The United State Patent and Trademark Office has rescinded a number of trademark registrations from the NFL's Washington Redskins, due to them being "disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered."

This decision was the end result of case filed in 2006 by five Native Americans who sought to have trademark protection removed due to the illegality of trademarks under federal law, as stated in code 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), which prohibits "the registration of marks that may disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute."

Washington owner Dan Snyder will surely appeal, so it may be a while before this ruling goes into effect, but it's only a matter of time. At that point, the team can continue to use the name if they like, but they will no longer be able to prevent any person or company that wants from using/profitting from the name and/or logos. At that point, it will become a financial decision, and as with many social issues over the years, the dollar will almost certainly speak louder to the powers that be than any sense of morality does.

I am not a legal expert, so I cannot say how likely this decision is to spill into the front office in Cleveland. The name "Indians" would almost certainly not be considered disparaging (inaccurate as its original use may have been), but Chief Wahoo would seem to be an entirely different story.

Feelings about Wahoo run deep on both sides, but it should be noted that this ruling specifically says the sense of disparagement need not be unanimous, or even felt by a majority:

Respondent has introduced evidence that some in the Native American community do not find the term "Redskin" disparaging when it is used in connection with professional football. While this may reveal differing opinions within the community, it does not negate the opinions of those who find it disparaging.

...and later (emphasis mine)...

Section 2(a) prohibits registration of matter that disparages a substantial composite, which need not be a majority, of the referenced group. Thirty percent is without doubt a substantial composite. To determine otherwise means it is acceptable to subject to disparagement 1 out of every 3 individuals.

The potential sticking point on whether or not this ruling could lead to a similar one pertaining to Chief Wahoo is that in order to be illegal, the trademarks must be found to have been disparaging "at the respective times they were registered."

Chief Wahoo was created in 1947, and originally had yellow skin. The red-faced design was put into place in 1951. I don't know how "disparagement" is legally determined, but I can't imagine there wasn't anyone at that time who found the logo troublesome.

Like it or not, the day will almost certainly come when Chief Wahoo is no longer an official part of the Indians. The team already seems to be slowly phasing him out, having removed him almost entirely from the spring training facilities and declared the block C their primary logo going forward.

Today's ruling may or may not speed up the process of pushing Chief Wahoo out the door. My guess is that if keeping him starts to cut into the team's revenue, he'll be gone sooner rather than later.

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