Federal judge forbids use of ‘Redskins’ in court documents

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has canceled the Washington Redskins’ trademark. Federal trademark law does not permit registration of trademarks that "may disparage" individuals or groups. Here's a look at the Redskins' logo and team imagery throughout the years. (Tom LeGro and Natalie Jennings/The Washington Post)

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office isn’t the only federal authority that has taken a stance against the name of the Washington Redskins.

A federal judge in Maryland issued a ruling last week that purposely did not contain the team’s name, which has been described as an offensive slur against Native Americans.

U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte, who is presiding over a lawsuit that former New York Giants linebacker Barrett Green brought against the Redskins, issued a 21-page ruling with this footnote on the first page:

“Pro Football’s team is popularly known as the Washington ‘Redskins,’ but the Court will refrain from using the team name unless reference is made to a direct quote where the name appears.” Instead, he wrote, the team will be referred to as “the Washington Team.”

The note comes months after Messitte ordered attorneys in the case not to use the team’s name in his courtroom, according to one of the lawyers.

Messitte, who was born in the District and attended Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, said he had no comment when reached by phone Monday. “My footnote is what it is,” he said.

Team officials also had no comment.

The backlash against the team’s name has never been more intense. Among those pushing to change it are Native Americans, civil rights groups, lawmakers and religious organizations. Last month, the Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ passed a resolution that calls on its members to boycott the football team. Before that, 50 U.S. senators sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell urging a name change. On Sunday, Attorney General Eric Holder became the latest high-profile official to weigh in on the issue.

“I think the name ought to be changed,” he said during an interview on ABC’s “This Week.” “It’s a team with a storied history that has huge amounts of support in Washington, D.C. And I think in the 21st century they could increase their fan base, increase their level of support, if they did something that is, from my perspective that, so obviously right.”

In June, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled six of the team’s trademark registrations, declaring the name disparaging. The decision doesn’t force the team to change its name but dilutes its legal protection against infringement. The team’s attorney said he plans to appeal the decision, and during that process the registrations will remain effective.

Team owner Daniel Snyder has repeatedly defended the name, calling it “a badge of honor.” He and other team officials point to a decade-old Annenberg Public Policy Center poll that found nine out of 10 Native Americans were not offended by the name.

Messitte’s ruling came in response to a request by the Redskins to dismiss a lawsuit in which Green accuses former Redskins tight end Robert Royal of intentionally injuring his knee during a 2004 game as part of a “bounty” program. Messitte, a Clinton-era appointee, dismissed some of Green’s claims, but not all of them.

In 2012, the NFL punished the New Orleans Saints after concluding that under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, players were rewarded for injuring opponents. At that time, Redskins players said the same bounty program existed when Williams coached for the team between 2004 and 2007. The NFL investigated those allegations but did not punish the Redskins.

Theresa Vargas is a reporter for the Post’s local enterprise team.
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