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Cantwell, Cole Letter to NFL Says That The League Is 'On the Wrong Side of History'

Thursday, February 13, 2014
By Anandashankar Mazumdar

Feb. 11 --The National Football League “is on the wrong side of history,” for supporting the Washington Redskins' refusal to change the team nickname according to a letter dated Feb. 10 from Sen. Maria E. Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Rep. Thomas J. Cole (R-Okla.) to Roger Goodell, the NFL's commissioner.

The letter took objection to Goodell's statement at a Jan. 31 press conference stating that the Redskins name represented an honor to Native Americans.

“It is, in fact, an insult to Native Americans,” the letter said, calling on Goodell to pressure the club to change its name.

As of Feb. 11, the NFL had not responded to the letter from the legislators, stating that it would respond “in an appropriate manner” after reviewing it. However, the Washington Redskins did respond, with a press statement laced with sarcasm:

Senator Cantwell should be aware that there are many challenges facing Native Americans, including an extremely cold winter with high energy bills, high unemployment, life threatening health problems, inadequate education and many other issues more pressing than the name of a football team which has received strong support from Native Americans. Surely, with all the issues Congress is supposed to work on such as the economy, jobs, war and health care, the Senator must have more important things to do.  

Cantwell is the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and Cole, according to her website, is “ an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation.” Cole and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) are currently the only two Native Americans in Congress.

Certain Native American interest groups have tried for years to find a way to persuade or force the Washington Redskins to change the team's name. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board currently has before it a petition to cancel the club's federal trademark legislation for being disparaging under Section 14(3) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §1064(3) (45 PTD, 3/7/13).

The TTAB actually ordered cancellation of the registrations in 1999, but the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that there was insufficient evidence that the term was disparaging. Additionally, the court said that the cancellation proceeding was barred by the doctrine of laches, because the petition had been filed 45 years after the team's first use of the name.

The petition was re-filed by new, younger petitioners, in the hope that laches would be tolled for the period of their status as minors.

A year ago, the Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons or People in Trademark Registration Act (H.R. 1278) was introduced in the House of Representatives. The bill would make explicit that the use of the term “redskin” as a trademark was disparaging and thus was not eligible for registration, but the House Committee on the Judiciary has taken no action on the bill as of yet (59 PTD, 3/27/13).

To contact the reporter on this story: Anandashankar Mazumdar in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Naresh Sritharan at

The senator's letter is available at

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