Federal judge bans 'Redskins' from his courtroom

GREENBELT, Md. (WUSA 9) -- A federal judge has banned the Washington Redskins' controversial nickname from being spoken in his courtroom or written in his opinions.

Senior District Judge Peter J. Messitte, chambered in Greenbelt, Maryland, made his position - if not his reasoning - clear on the front page of a recent decision in a lawsuit against the team that's unrelated to the name.

In a page-one footnote of a July 8 opinion in Barrett Green v. The Washington Redskins, Messitte wrote, "Pro Football's team is popularly known as the Washington "Redskins," but the Court will refrain from using the team name unless reference is made to a direct quote where the name appears. Pro Football's team will be referred to hereafter simply as 'the Washington Team.'"

The judge did not write an explaination as to how he reached his decision.

But during a hearing in November, Messitte was slightly more blunt. According to a transcript, the judge brought up the issue after a lawyer introduced the team's general counsel.

"We're going to call them the Washington Football team hear (sic) in this court," Messitte was recorded as saying. "Have (sic) a local rule that tell (sic) us about the way words are used. No need to get into a big political issue with you on that. For now, that's what we'll call them."

Reached by phone Monday afternoon, Messitte's judicial assistant told WUSA 9 the judge would not be commenting on his linguistic decision.

"So far as I know," explained John Banzhaf, a George Washington University law professor, "this is the first federal judge to ban the use of the word."

Banzhaf, who thinks the nickname should be changed, says while the judge's decision has no weight in the trademark fight, it does add to public arguments.

"The very fact that he singled this word out - not Atlanta Braves, or the Vikings, or the Fighting Irish - as a slur, a racial slur, says the 'R' word is different," said Banzhaf.

The team is appealing a ruling by the US Patent and Trademark Office that found the nickname is disparaging.

In March, team owner Dan Snyder launched a foundation to support Native Americans, funding more than 40 projects across the country so far, the team said.

Snyder has vowed not to change the team's name; the team has said an "overwhelming majority" of Native Americans do not find the nickname offensive.

"We did our homework, unlike a lot of people," Snyder told reporters in April. "And we understand the issues out there and we're not an issue. The real issues are real life issues, real life needs and I think it's time that people focus on the reality."

In a letter to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in May, team president Bruce Allen wrote that a majority of Americans are in favor of keeping the name.

A team spokesman Monday told WUSA 9 the team would have no comment about Judge Messitte's nickname ban.


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