Lawyer who challenged Washington’s NFL team calls name change ‘vital’ to franchise’s future

A lawyer who worked on a trademark case against the Washington NFL team said the recent news surrounding the team’s name has renewed people’s thinking about other team names and images that may be racially insensitive.

Michael Lindsay, a partner at the firm Dorsey & Whitney, and co-chair of its Commercial Litigation and Antitrust practices, worked on a case more than a decade ago in which the court ruled that the Washington NFL team’s trademark was disparaging to Native Americans.

“The fact that a racial slur has been used for a long time just means that you’ve been insulting people for a long time,” Lindsay said.

Owner Daniel Snyder’s organization announced earlier this week it will no longer use the team’s old name and the process has begun to find a new nickname for the franchise, which has been linked with Washington since the late 1930s.

While the Supreme Court ultimately ruled that it prohibits the U.S. Trademark Office from canceling a mark on the basis that it is disparaging, Lindsay said that it was an important part in the fight to change the name.

“One of the things that the Washington team has responded to was the changed culture. The team wants to remain vital and a part of their fans’ lives,” he said.

Lindsay said while the move was culturally appropriate, it is also an economic move.

“The team wants to encourage their fans to embrace that new name and with that evolution in identity, fans are going to have to buy all new merchandise. There’s a nice economic opportunity for teams to be considering,” Lindsay said.

Sports franchises in Cleveland, Chicago and Atlanta, along with some major universities, are all in the spotlight related to their teams’ names, imagery and traditions including the “tomahawk chop.”

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