Minnesota is familiar turf for NFL’s Redskins mascot battle

Washington Redskins helmets on the ground during their Sept. 29 game against the Raiders in Oakland.
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Opponents of the name of the Washington, D.C. NFL franchise are asking the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority to take a stand against the controversial nickname. Critics want the Redskins name bannned in the new stadium.

It’s a chance provided by the once-in-a-generation handoff from one stadium to another, and to rewrite the “house rules” in the process. Minnesota happens to be going through that change right now, just as the Oneida Nation in upstate New York  began a campaign against the Redskins name.

But it isn’t the first time Minneapolis has  played a role in the controversy. Back in the mid 1990s, the Minneapolis-based Dorsey and Whitney law firm battled the team before Washington’s D.C.s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. And won.

At least at first.

Attorney Michael Lindsay

Dorsey and Whitney attorney Michael Lindsay was one of the lead attorneys on the pro-bono case. They challenged the team’s trademark on its name cancelled, arguing that “Redskins” violated the prohibition on a trademark for anything that “disparages or may be scandalous.”

Lindsay said the legal team brought together trademark experts, a linguist, a historian, a psychologist and even a film scholar to survey the use and meaning of the word in popular culture.

“We pulled together all these various different perspectives, all to arrive at the proposition that this term is disparaging. The mark should be canceled. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board unanimously agreed, and ordered that the marks be cancelled,” Lindsay said in an interview.

That was back in 1999. The finding was appealed to the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The judge there reversed the trademark decision, and the D.C. Circuit appeals court affirmed it.  Lindsay said the case turned on the delay — the time it took for opponents to bring their case against the decades-old team name.

The NFL and its Washington franchise have been defending the use of the term, as recently as Wednesday, when owner Dan Snyder sent a letter to fans saying he intended to keep then name. “As some of you may know, our team began 81 years ago — in 1932 — with the name ‘Boston Braves.'” Synder wrote. “The following year, the franchise name was changed to the “Boston Redskins.” On that inaugural Redskins team, four players and our Head Coach were Native Americans. The name was never a label. It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor.”

Lindsay is chair of Dorsey and Whitney’s commercial litigation group and says the firm is no longer involved in the team name controversy. Another of the firm’s lawyers, Jay Lindgren, is actually the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority’s attorney now.

But Lindsay says other legal experts are still working on the same issue in Washington, using the same evidence to press the case that the Redskins name at the very least shouldn’t get trademark protection.

  • http://www.wedobleachers.com/ Bleecher Creeper

    This conversation is just getting started. They are hammering the cleveland indians as well.

  • Sue de Nim

    I have yet to hear a convincing reason why they should not be paid. The current system exploits young men’s lust for glory to rake in revenue for educational institutions without justly compensating the people responsible for the profits, often leaving them with permanent damage to their bodies as well.

    I’d like to see intercollegiate sports abolished. In the mean time, not only should athletes in revenue generating sports be paid, they should also have a union, and the union should press for good disability insurance, so that those who aren’t lucky enough to survive college athletics intact are taken care of.

  • Khatti

    James Michener had the best idea. When college athletes are playing their sport it should be the only concern for them, when they retire from sports they should be guaranteed an education. This would be the time in their lives when they can concentrate on academics.

    At the very least they should receive a stipend for playing college sports. The demands are such that playing football at Michigan is not really conducive to keeping a job at a Seven/Eleven

  • reggie

    No, college athletes should not be paid, but they should be much better protected. The NCAA could and should place strict limits on the amount of time teams can practice and athletes can be engaged in related activities. If the total time available was held to, say, 20 hours per week, plus game day, it would be more likely the athlete would also be able to take advantage of the education with which he (mostly he) is supposedly being compensated. All scholarships should be guaranteed for up to six years, so athletes can complete their education. All athletes should have full health insurance coverage for the entire time they are enrolled, and some form of trailing insurance to protect against long-term consequences. A package like this would be fair compensation.

    We should also find a way to limit the ridiculous salaries paid to coaches, the number of coaches and assistants, and spent on programs. And if you really wanted to put a dent in the current system, require all contributions from athletic boosters go to the university for general use (one of which might be the athletic program), rather than to a specific sport or team. (Yes, that would dry up some donations, but, as in politics, we’d all be better off if there was less money involved.)

  • davehoug

    A college will give a better education if it drops all revenue sports. The effort to win means the resources needed are huge. College revenue sports are NOT about the local players doing well. It is about recruiting across the country and spending to put on a splendid team. NOT part of education at the level needed to participate today.

    HOW is college sports any different from a pure private for-profit team? They represent the locals no more than an Enron team would.

  • PaulJ

    Sure, they pay other students that work for the college. They’d have to net out the infrastructure costs and do something to prevent the alumni (donors) from losing their esprit de corps.

  • Lisa J

    I think tuition & a stipend for living expenses should be provided because the demand on their time isn’t conducive for holding a job. The school is benefitting financially from these students, so that’s the least they should do for them. I would hope these players are playing for love of the game & using their gift of athleticism to obtain a good education. I do think they need to be held highly accountable in all arenas for the privilege of playing at this level & representing the institution. Typically when athletes get paid, they have turned professional. Let’s keep college sports, college sports. It makes it a lot more fun to watch when you know these guys are making huge sacrifices to do something they love.

  • Chuck

    Absolutely, if the athlete is playing in a sport that is making revenue for the college / university they should be paid.

    It is silly to consider paying players for sports that do not make revenue for the school. Isn’t that what scholarships are for?

    • Max

      So you are going to pay male basketball athletes, a program that generates revenue, and not female basketball athletes, a program that typically doesn’t? How is that going to work?
      Revenue generating sports subsidize non-revenue generating sports. Why is everyone so concerned if a university makes money off of a sport? The money goes back into the university. It’s not like they are paying shareholders.

      • Chuck

        Right. Colleges and universities can reward athletes with scholarships — whether or not these programs produce revenue.

        If schools are making millions from a sports programs based on the talents of its players, reward these players with a slice of the revenue. in addition to scholarships. It’s not like successful college coaches are turning down million dollar contracts, when they owe their success in large part to their players.

        • Max

          Revenue generating sports are almost exclusively men’s team sports, football, basketball, hockey. You cannot pay male athletes and not pay female athletes. It’s a Title VII violation.

  • Paul

    Don’t most schools lose money on sports? Maybe instead we should do away with the education part of college (that would save huge amounts of money) and focus on what is most important- making more money and our entertainment.

  • Nolan

    I think the injury thing is mute, because what about the dance major who blows out their knee?? Should they be compensated, injury will e there when older, your able to choose as a student athlete so too a dance major, those are the breaks…

  • karathatha

    they should get paid

  • michael

    yes they should as the schools make a huge amount of money from the major sports especially football. and even worse the NCAA makes over 12 billion for doing nothing.

  • pinelakelinda

    No!

  • David P.

    At the very least a player should be paid when they (or their image) is used to market and sell. They should also be able to major in the sport, and earn credits for their participation.

  • kelly r

    If they do end up getting paid to attend a school where the rest of the student body must pay, they should no longer be eligible for student aid or scholarships. Why attend school? Just hand them a diploma and be done with it. Which athletes are going to get this pay? It better include female teams as well!

  • davehoug

    Sure they should be paid…….Because we don’t coddle our football stars enough :)