WASHINGTON — As someone who has spent nearly a third of her life fighting the Washington Redskins nickname, Suzan Shown Harjo had a good laugh when asked about the team’s latest line of defense.
Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said last month that it is “ludicrous” to think that the team is “trying to upset anybody” with its nickname, which many Native Americans consider to be offensive.
That’s beside the point, according to Harjo. She’s never suggested that the Redskins deliberately set out to offend anyone. But that doesn’t mean that people aren’t offended.
The long-running battle over the name gets a restart today, when a group of Native Americans goes before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to argue that the Redskins should lose their federal trademark protection, based on a law that prohibits registered names that disparaging, scandalous, contemptuous or disreputable.
Harjo has won this round before. She was one of the plaintiffs when the board stripped the Redskins of the trademark in 1999, but the ruling was overturned in 2003 in large part on a technicality. Essentially, the courts decided that the plaintiffs were too old, that they should have filed their complaint soon after the Redskins registered their nickname in 1967.
So this new case was begun in 2006 by a different group of Native Americans, with ages ranging from 18 to 24 at the time it was filed. For various reasons, it’s taken seven years for it to get this far. It’s now been 21 years since Harjo, now 67, filed the original case.
The motive is to force Redskins owner Dan Snyder into a change by weakening him financially.