|In a bipartisan effort lead by Congressman Faleomavaega, ten Members of Congress recently sent a letter to Mr. Dan Snyder, owner of the National Football League’s (NFL) Washington franchise, urging him to change the franchise’s name, the “Redskins” (hereinafter “R-word”). Similar letters were sent to Mr. Roger Goodell (Commissioner of the NFL), Mr. Frederick Smith (President and CEO of FedEx, a chief sponsor of Mr. Snyder’s franchise), and the owners of the NFL’s other 31 franchises.
The Members of Congress acknowledged that “Native Americans throughout the country consider the ‘R-word’ a racial, derogatory slur akin to the ‘N-word’ among African Americans or the ‘W-word’ among Latinos. Such offensive epithets,” the letter continued, “would no doubt draw wide-spread disapproval among the NFL’s fan base. Yet the national coverage of Washington’s NFL football team profits from a term that is equally disparaging to Native Americans.”
The Members of Congress noted the historical significance associated with the “R-word”:
The current Chairman and Chief of the Penobscot Nation, Chief Kirk Francis, recently expressed in a joint statement that the [R-word] is ‘not just a racial slur or a derogatory term,’ but a painful ‘reminder of one of the most gruesome acts of . . . ethnic cleansing ever committed against the Penobscot people.’ The hunting and killing of Penobscot Indians like animals, as declared by Chief Francis, was ‘a most despicable and disgraceful act of genocide.’
The Members of Congress continued: “We look forward to working with you to find a solution to this important matter.”
The Congressional call to rename Mr. Snyder’s franchise was precipitated by the “Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons or Peoples in Trademark Registration Act of 2013” (H.R. 1278), which was introduced on March 20, 2013 by Congressman Faleomavaega and cosponsored by 19 Members of Congress. This historic legislation seeks to cancel the federal registrations of trademarks using the “R-word” in reference to Native Americans.
The Trademark Act of 1946 requires that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) not register any trademark that “[c]onsists of or comprises . . . matter which may disparage . . . persons, living or dead…or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.” 15 U.S.C. §1502(a). Accordingly, the PTO has rejected four registration applications that Mr. Snyder’s franchise has submitted for trademarks which proposed to use the “R-word” – three times in 1996 and once in 2002. The applications were denied on grounds that the “R-word” is disparaging and a racial slur relative to Native Americans.
Congressman Faleomavaega stated: “Over the course of my time as a Congressman, as a member of the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, and as a member of the Congressional Native American Caucus, I have received an increasing number of calls and letters from both Native American and non-native individuals, tribes, and organizations who abhor this denigrating term.”
“I stand together with our Native American brothers and sisters who fight to eliminate the blatant racism that still exists in this great nation today,” Faleomavaega added. “Whether good intentioned or not, the fact of the matter is that the ‘R-word’ is a racial slur that disparages Native Americans,” Faleomavaega concluded.
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