Whatever happened to the Washington Warriors?
Last Friday, the Arena Football League (AFL) announced its expansion plans. A Utah team was officially introduced and will begin play next season in Salt Lake City under head coach Danny White. Colors, nickname, and logo TBA.
AFL spokesperson Chris McCloskey says another city will soon be named, to give the indoor league an even 20 teams for what will be its 20th season. Kansas City, Boston, Miami, Cleveland, and San Antonio are in the running for the next slot.
D.C., however, isn’t a contender, though McCloskey says this market is a “no-brainer” as far as desirability goes. The territorial rights to put an AFL franchise here are owned by Dan Snyder, who bought them in 1999, shortly after he took over the Redskins.
Snyder even held a press conference to announce his purchase of the territorial rights and divulged the name for his future indoor franchise (the Warriors) and a logo (a white and gold arrow with feathers). And in March 2000, through Washington Football Inc., a corporate name he owns, he filed the appropriate paperwork with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to register trademarks for “Washington Warriors” and “Warriors.” The team paid $975 for each application and affirmed that the corporation “has a bona fide intention to use the mark” while providing “entertainment services in the nature of professional football games and exhibitions” and related goods, such as clothing and programs.
Whether Snyder intended to use the trademarks only for indoor football games, however, is another matter. At the time of the filing, Snyder’s grip on the trademarks for his outdoor team was tenuous. In 1999, the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board, a division of the USPTO, accepted the argument of Indian activist Suzan Shown Harjo that the name “Redskins” shouldn’t be afforded trademark protections.
Harjo had filed a suit against Pro Football Inc., the corporate name of the Redskins, contending such protections violated the Lanham Act, a federal law that outlaws any mark that “may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt or disrepute.” In its ruling, the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board voided seven trademarks, including the team’s name.
Attorneys for the Redskins immediately appealed that ruling to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and Snyder was awaiting the court’s decision when he applied for the Warriors trademark. In September 2003, the federal court ruled that Harjo hadn’t presented enough evidence that “Redskins” was disparaging, reversed the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board decision, and reinstated Snyder’s Redskins trademarks.
Snyder’s lack of movement toward actually establishing an indoor franchise, however, inspired speculation in this column in 2002 that registering “Warriors” might have had nothing to do with arena football and everything to do with having a go-to replacement name ready if the federal court sided with Harjo and voided the “Redskins” protections. The fact that the Redskins used the feathers-and-arrow logo that was allegedly reserved for the Warriors on their throwback helmets in 2002 made things even more curious.
The AFL would seem a perfect place for Snyder. After all, apart from Jerry Jones, he’s probably the only owner in the NFL with a larger public presence than anybody on his team. Such bigfooting is the norm in the indoor league, which counts Jon Bon Jovi, Tim McGraw, John Elway, Mike Ditka, and Jones among its owners. (Upper Deck, the trading-card giant, is releasing its first AFL set this month, and indoor owners get their very own cards. In the manufacturer’s NFL set, owners don’t.)
But since the favorable federal court ruling, Snyder’s done nothing obvious to put the indoor franchise in play, either.
On Jan. 26, the USPTO filed what is called a “no-use statement” in the “Washington Warriors” case file and officially informed Snyder that the registration on that mark was hereby ruled abandoned because of a lack of a presence in the marketplace. Virginia T. Isaacson, the agency’s examining attorney for Snyder’s Warriors applications, says Snyder had 60 days from the issuance of that notice—through March 27—to contest that ruling.
“That deadline’s passed, and they haven’t sent in anything,” Isaacson says.
Snyder’s trademark application on “Warriors,” meanwhile, is alive, but on life support. Following opposition to the application from the pro wrestler known as the Ultimate Warrior and the Golden State Warriors basketball franchise—both of which have registered trademarks—the USPTO refused registration for requested trademark protections for such products as Warriors clothing and game programs. Last year, the government ruled that Snyder’s requested trademark “so resembles” already registered trademarks “as to be likely…to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive.”
The ruling left only Snyder’s registration request for “Warriors” as a team name. But in November, the Golden State Warriors alerted USPTO that it was protesting that. Isaacson says the NBA team has yet to file its official protest, however.
Kathy J. McKnight, the lawyer with the D.C. firm Shaw Pittman who is listed on the trademark applications as the attorney of record for Washington Football Inc., no longer handles Snyder’s legal work and declines to comment on the matter. Karl Swanson, Snyder’s spokesperson, insists the Redskins owner still intends to start an arena team. Not soon, however. “We don’t have it in our plans for this year. Not next year, either,” says Swanson. “Right now we’re focused on this team.”
In a recent interview with the Washington Times, Snyder confessed that he’s looking at putting a roof over FedEx Field, in hopes that such construction would convince the NFL to award his stadium a Super Bowl. The big game’s never going to be played here, of course, but that confession was the closest he’s come yet to giving Washington indoor football.—Dave McKenna