Hail and Farewell?
Something rings phony about Dan Snyder’s plan to turn the Redskins’ 2002 season into a commemorative extravaganza, with special “70th Anniversary” uniforms and all-time teams named by expert panels. For starters, the franchise that is now the Washington Redskins has played as the Redskins for only 69 years and in Washington for only 65. Even if the math worked out, anniversary etiquette usually dictates that only multiples of 25 are worth making hay about. And the alleged replica uniforms Snyder recently unveiled don’t replicate anything the team has worn in its history—however long that history may be.
So what’s really going on here? Could Snyder’s antics be intended not as a tribute to his team but a smoke screen to cover the impending demise of the Washington Redskins—and the dawn of the Washington Warriors?
“I think there’s a chance he’ll rename the team,” says Mary Fran Love, a professor at George Mason University Law School. “I think he’s heading toward ‘Warriors.’”
Love’s specialty is trademark law. And in recent school years, she has forced her classes to study the Redskins mark. Not because she’s a longtime fan of the team but because of the 1999 ruling of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, a division of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, in Harjo vs. Pro Football Inc.
That case was brought by Suzan Shown Harjo, a Native American activist who believed that allowing the name “Redskins” federal trademark protections violated a portion of the Lanham Act. That bill, which governs U.S. trademark law and was signed by Harry Truman in 1946, prohibits the registration of 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.”
Harjo contended that “Redskins” was disparaging to a sizable portion of her community, and to back up that claim, she provided the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board with research showing that a sizable portion of the American Indians in her survey were offended by the team’s name. The frequent use of “Redskin” could also bring her people into contempt or disrepute, Harjo further asserted.
The board accepted Harjo’s argument and, rather quietly, voided seven of the trademarks registered by Pro Football Inc., the corporate owner of the Redskins. The team’s name and helmet logo were among the marks canceled. That was the first time a professional sports franchise’s trademark registration had ever been annulled.
The board’s decision didn’t throw the Redskins’ trademarks into the public domain, however. Snyder quickly filed a motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals to have the annulment annulled. A ruling in his appeal isn’t expected anytime soon.
“You tend to think that big money usually wins in these cases, and in this case, Dan Snyder has all the money,” Love says. “But this could be different. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board generally releases opinions that are short and to the point. But the Harjo opinion is 65 pages long, so they clearly wanted to make sure they’d crossed all their T’s, so that if they were reviewed, they would be found to be nonreversible. I think this could be upheld. And then it would go to the Supreme Court, where literally anything can happen.”
And even if Snyder, who has always maintained he’ll never change the Redskins name, loses those trademarks, he’s got others to fall back on. Such as, for example, “Warriors.”
In the spring of 2000, Snyder applied with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to register “Warriors” under Washington Football Inc. The goods and services described in his application were “entertainment services in the nature of professional football games and exhibitions.” (He had registered “Skins” three months earlier.)
The filing appeared innocuous enough at first. “Warriors” is the name that Snyder said he was going to use for a Washington franchise in the Arena Football League, the rights to which he purchased in 1999. That squad, Snyder said when buying into the AFL, would start play in 2003.
Snyder’s push for an arena team, however, sure seems to have petered out since then. Snyder planned at first to house the indoor plaything in a new 12,000-seat arena, to be built on several dozen acres he’d purchased near FedEx Field in 2000. But that venue was never built, and there are no longer any plans to build it. Snyder approached other buildings in the area to see if they’d host his team, but that search didn’t garner any lease. Though Snyder is a University of Maryland alum, the school has announced that its Comcast Center, which opens on campus next year, won’t be interested in having his team as a tenant. And the location that at one time seemed most logical—the Capital Centre (formerly called US Airways Arena, now back to its birth name), which sits on property that Snyder already leases for FedEx Field parking—will likely be torn down soon, as Prince George’s County developers announced last week.
Snyder has made no announcements about his indoor-football plans in a long while, but the Chicago-based AFL now admits that the Washington franchise is not in its plan for next season.
“[Snyder] will not have a team in 2003,” says Tom Goodhines, a spokesperson for the AFL. “I’m not sure of his reasoning for not having a team.”
Goodhines says that Snyder’s franchise agreement allows him an extra year to have the team ready but adds that the league has no indication that the Redskins owner has yet made any moves to set up an organization to accomplish that.
Recently, however, Snyder put some of his arena league efforts to use. The so-called “throwback” logo the Redskins will wear on their helmets for home games this year—a white-and-gold arrow with feathers—is the one Snyder unveiled as the Warriors’ logo when he bought the indoor franchise three years ago.
So could the name soon follow?
“He’s obviously trying to build some good will for that new logo now,” says Love, “and if the other side wins in his legal case, the new logo would make for a smoother transition to a new name, and ‘Warriors’ would be a good fit. His filings with [the Patent and Trademark Office] don’t indicate that ‘Warriors’ is only for an arena team, so it could be transferred to the Redskins. It’s not crazy to think this could happen.”
Until the litigation is resolved, Love intends to keep students abreast of any and all developments. But she’s noticed some flagging interest in Snyder’s travails among her pupils ever since the Supreme Court announced which cases it would hear this session.
“The Supreme Court said it will hear the case where Victoria’s Secret sued a sex shop named Victor’s Little Secret over its trademark,” she says. “And lately, the students would rather beat up on the porn shop than talk about the Redskins.” —Dave McKenna