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Bill Against Racist Washington R-Word Introduced in Congress

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Will a new bill force a name change for Washington, D.C.'s Football Team?

After the U. S. Patent Office’s Trial and Appeal Board heard a trademark challenge just two weeks ago, yesterday H.R. 1278, the “Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons or Peoples in Trademark Registration Act of 2013,” was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. In practice it would cancel the federal trademark protection presently enjoyed by the now widely reviled nickname of the NFL team associated with the nation’s capital. (For general background, see here, updated here and here.)

The bill was authored by Delegate Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa) and co-sponsored by Delegates Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), who has championed changing the team’s name locally, and Donna Christensen (D-Virgins Islands), and the following Representatives:

Karen Bass (D-CA)
Tom Cole (R-OK)
Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ)
Michael “Mike” Honda (D-CA)
John Lewis (D-GA)
Betty McCollum (D-MN)
Gwen Moore (D-WI)

The Government Printing Office has not yet made the text of the bill available, but according to the Samoan website Talanei, it amends a clause in the existing trademark law, the Lanham Act of 1946, which compels refusal of registration to any trademark that “consists of or comprises . . . matter which may disparage . . . persons, living or dead . . . or bring them into contempt, or disrepute,” to explicitly include use of the Washington team’s R-word nickname as constituting such disparagement.

The team’s front office had no comment, perhaps realizing that its standard excuse (that it does not “intend” disparagement) has not gone over well lately.

The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, and the discussions I’ve seen tend to downplay the possibility that the committee will even consider the bill; nonetheless, it would appear that momentum is still building to change the name.

Update 3/26/13: the bill’s text.

Photo by Keith Allison released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.

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