A Battle Worth Fighting

By Gary Norris Gray
Updated: May 21, 2009

CALIFORNIA — In the year 2009, in the year when Americans elected their first African American President, the year when the Speaker of the House is a female and the first lady in the White House is a proud African American, the year when people of color are still fighting the fight for equality in the sports world.

Professional teams are still using derogatory and defaming logos and names for their teams. The National Football League’s Washington D.C. Football Club and Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians are the number one culprits.

The legal battle to change the name of the Washington D.C. Football Club continues. This battle is moving into its third decade. Maybe a boycott of or picketing outside the Washington stadium or wherever they play might influence them to change their minds.

In 1977-79 there was a vain attempt at boycotting the Washington football games but it failed miserably because massive public support could not be generated. The Sports media basically ignored the protesters because they deemed it un-sports news worthy.

That was 35 years ago.

The mood and the times have changed but the Washington Football Club still refuses to move into the future. Last Friday, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly overturned a 2003 court agreement which the seven Native American Indians initially had won.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office cancelled the trademark suit. They then suffered a series of defeats in federal courts with the First Nation- Native American Indian plaintiffs.

In reality, this legal battle has been going on since the late 1970’s, when America opened their eyes to the plight of First Nation – Native American Indians.

Many college and university sports teams changed their Indian logos during that decade in support of the Native American Indian protest nation wide. The national professional sports teams refuse to consider following their collegian brethren.

This suit clearly shows the depth of this resistance to change. This case went to court, on April 2, 1999, just about 10 years ago. It was a highly publicized decision from the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board.

The TTAB issued a cancellation order in which it scheduled the cancellation of the contested trademarks associated with the National Football League’s Washington Football Club.

The district court again found the defense was appropriate and ruled in favor of Pro Football. The district court determined that the seven-year, nine-month “Romero Delay Period” evinced a lack of diligence on Romero’s part.

Following the specific instructions of the District of Colombia Circuit, the district court considered both trial and economic prejudice and found that that delay harmed Pro-Football.

On appeal Romero did not challenge the applicability nor challenged the district court’s finding of unreasonable delay. The DC Circuit, therefore, confined their review only to the question of whether the district court properly found trial and economic prejudice sufficient to support a defense.

In other words the plaintiffs waited too long to win this case. The Judge ruled that the youngest plaintiff who happen to be one year old when they filed the suit and is now 18 years old.

United States Judge Kollar-Kotelly never addressed the issue of the team name being racist or offensive. Instead she stated that it would be an economic burden for the Washington Football Club team tradmark.

Many legal sports professionals state that this might be the end of the road in this epic challenge to the Washington Football Club’s team trademark they also stated that this challenge would not be appealed to the United States Supreme Court because it would not merit the court’s time because it was not an important legal principle.

The NBA’s Golden State Warriors and the MLB’s Atlanta Braves quietly abandoned their Native American logos. While the Cleveland Indians have been playing mental and political games with their Native American Indian logo.

Before moving into the new Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field), the Indians removed the smiling Chief Wahoo on their caps and uniforms. Once the Indians moved into their new ballpark the smiling Indian Chief Wahoo returned on their caps and uniforms.

The Cleveland Baseball Company sites tradition just as the Washington Football Club for their name. These professional teams want to freeze history, stop time. There are reports on this subject by (AISTM) American Indian Sports Team Mascots and The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).

Two years ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball star LeBron James wore a New York Yankee baseball cap to a basketball playoff game. The sports news media mis-interpreted that act and immediately reported that James wanted to be traded to the New York Knicks or New Jersey Nets.

James wore the Yankees baseball cap because he secretly supported First Nation-Native American Indians and their civil rights struggle. James did not want to wear the controversial Cleveland Indian cap with that cartoon grinning image on the front.

This action by James was historic and honorable.

If more prominent African American Sport figures would step up to the plate and support our Native American-First Nation brothers and sisters, the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Football club would rethink their stance.

People of color should support our Native American-First Nation Brothers and Sisters in this battle for respect and honor against the Washington Football Club and the Cleveland Indians baseball club.

This writer refuses to use the word Redskin for any article regarding the National Football League’s Washington D.C. Football Club. For many Native American-First Nation, the name is demeaning and racist.

We need the support and encouragement of Washington football fans to help change this name. Most Native Americans love the logo because it symbolizes pride in the First Nation community.

The colors also are not an issue but the name is still troubling. Since this judge stated that it would be an economic burden for the Washington football club to change it name.

People of color need to make it a burden for the Washington Football club and the Cleveland Indian baseball team. Do not buy trademark merchandise from the Washington Football club or the Cleveland Indian baseball team. Then we will see how much of an economic burden it will be on both teams.

For those who want to know the history of the battle of professional teams with Native American Names please read the article on www.blackathlete.net.