Although the ruling focused on a technical matter, it could amplify an increasingly partisan dispute at the crossroad of politics, sports and money. Leagues, colleges and high schools continue to revisit the use of their names less because of fear of legal retribution and more out of concern about the potential impact on their brands and pushback from fans and other interest groups.
Still, while those who have resisted name changes might see a symbolic lift from the court, they will have to weigh whether keeping their names hurts their image or even their bottom line.
“What the Supreme Court has said is you don’t have to change your name if you don’t want to, because you can protect it with a federally protected trademark,” said Josh Schiller, a lawyer at Boies Schiller Flexner in New York who specializes in sports and media law. “But culturally, it is important to consider whether the name still offends people, and whether it will build good will around the mark.”
The pressure on some teams continues. In April, the Major League Baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred, said he told the owners of the Cleveland Indians that he hoped the team would abandon its use of the Chief Wahoo logo, a smiling caricature that dates to 1947. Though beloved by many of the team’s fans, many others view the logo as thoroughly outdated.
In the past several decades, hundreds of teams across all levels of sports have changed their names, often under pressure from Native American groups. St. John’s and Stanford were among the many universities to rename their teams. In 2012, North Dakota ended a seven-year battle with the N.C.A.A., which objected to their nickname, the Fighting Sioux.
Some members of Congress, as well as political leaders in the District of Columbia, continue to call on the Redskins to change their name. Native American groups said Monday that they would continue to push for teams to abandon names they consider offensive.
“This is an issue we have always believed will not be solved in a courtroom, and this ruling does not change some very clear facts,” Ray Halbritter, a representative of the Oneida Nation, said in a statement. “Washington’s football team promotes, markets and profits from the use of a word that is not merely offensive — it is a dictionary-defined racial slur designed from the beginning to promote hatred and bigotry against Native Americans.”
The Redskins have said that the name, adopted in 1933, was chosen because American Indians were brave and strong. The N.F.L. commissioner, Roger Goodell, has supported Snyder’s stance that the name is meant as a compliment.
Nevertheless, three years ago, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, part of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, stripped the team of federal protections for six of its trademarks.
The decision was largely symbolic because the team could still use its name and enforce its trademarks, using common-law rights.
The Redskins may still clash with the federal government if the team tries to build a stadium on the land where its former home, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, now sits. That land is owned by the federal government and is controlled by the National Park Service. Now, the ruling has reduced the likelihood that the team’s name would become a bargaining chip in any negotiations with the federal government over the use of that land.
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