First Affirmative Applauds the US Patent and Trademark Office
By Logan Coffman
A landmark ruling by US Patent and Trademark Office that officially canceled six Federal trademark registrations spanning from 1967 to 1990 associated with the controversial 82-year old Washington Redskins franchise has set the media world aflutter—and warmed the hearts of responsible investors.
The long fight to change the official mascot of the team has historically been fronted by Native American groups such as the NCAI (National Congress of American Indians) and the American Indian Movement (AIM). Other organizations like the United Churches of Christ and many socially aware investors also view the team name as a racial slur indicative of times when native peoples were viewed as “bounty” and were victims of massive cultural genocide.
These groups have been pushing hard for decades—even going as far as to buy a 60-second Super Bowl ad this year supporting the cause. Their efforts have garnered empathy and support across the populace, including many elected officials—49 United States Senators and President Obama himself have voiced support for the change.
The antagonist is team owner, Dan Snyder, who has expressed vehement opposition to any sort of name change: “We'll never change the name," he said. "It's that simple. NEVER—you can use caps."
Unfortunately for Snyder, the only thing that will NEVER happen is his ability to change the hearts and minds of the Native American peoples who are deeply offended by this derogatory team name and mascot.
Snyder has put himself into a lose-lose situation. If he appeals and wins, like he did in 1999, the value of the brand is likely to continue to slowly erode. If his appeal loses in court, the team would keep its name, but other businesses will be free to produce and sell merchandise bearing the team’s name and logo, potentially taking a large chunk of the organization’s profits.
This tussle over words that offend a growing segment of the American public has also begun to focus a negative spotlight on some of team’s largest sponsors, including Sprint-Nextel, Coca-Cola, and Anheuser-Busch.
FedEx, the company to whom the stadium’s naming rights currently belong, has felt the backlash from investors. Shareowners from the Oneida Trust of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin backed with support from various SRI mutual funds and asset managers, including First Affirmative, filed a proxy resolution that asked FedEx to "respond to reputational damage from its association with the Washington, DC NFL franchise team."
Susan White, Director of the Trust for the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin said it best when she stated, at the SRI Annual Conference in 2013 that “as investors we are frustrated that the board and management of FedEx refuse to acknowledge that, through their sponsorship of the Washington NFL franchise, they are complicit in propagating what amounts to hate speech every time a game is broadcast.”
It is time for a change; the US Patent and Trademark Office has spoken, respected sportswriters have spoken, United States Senators have spoken, the President has spoken, shareholders have spoken, and above all, the people most directly offended, the Native American people, have spoken. The name must change.
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Posted: September 4, 2014