Legislation has now been introduced in the House of Representatives that would strip the Washington Redskins of federal trademark protection for the word "redskin."
The trademark for the name "Redskins" was already under attack. A group of Native Americans has asked a three-judge panel at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to lift federal trademark protections on the grounds that the name is ethnically insulting. Team officials, at a hearing in early March, disagreed, characterizing the term as simply descriptive of Native Americans.
The latest attack on the team's name is coming from a new direction: the U.S. Congress. Legislation that was introduced Wednesday says the word "redskin" is a "disparaging epithet insulting to Native American[s]..."
The law orders federal officials to cancel any trademark registrations using the word "redskin" (if the reference is to Native Americans.) All future registrations will also be denied.
D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) is a co-sponsor of the legislation. And even though D.C. is a majority black city, its representative in Congress believes residents ought to care about this issue.
"African Americans know what it means to be called by a derogatory name," Norton said in an interview. "We ought to be the first to stand up for American Indians who are only less than two percent of the population. We're ten percent. Nobody would dare do that to us anymore. We shouldn't let them do it to American Indians either."
What do fans of the Washington Redskins think of Congressional intervention on trademark status for the team's name? The first three we interviewed didn't like the idea.
"I don't think Congress should intervene," firmly declared Erika Witherspoon of Southeast D.C. "It's a sports-business matter. I mean, I think we have bigger issues in our nation than to worry about trademarking a name."
Charles Nathan, of Upper Marlboro, Md., has mixed feeling on Congressional intervention in the trademark dispute.
"[Congress shouldn't] make the decision," said Nathan. "But maybe get involved in pushing [the team to change names] a little bit. That'd be OK."
Richard Hellman, of Northwest D.C. dismissed the proposed bill: "The legislation is just feel-good stuff. The Congress has other things to do. They're not going to do anything about that."
Delegate Norton concedes passage in this Congress is unlikely, but points out that legislation sometimes needs time to gather support.
The press office for the Washington Redskins said the team has no comment on the proposed legislation.
A decision from the three-judge panel at the Patent and Trademark Office is expected sometime this year.