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American Indians urge CBS to not mention ‘the R-word’ during Super Bowl 50

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Ray Halbritter, Oneida Indian Nation Representative, speaks at a press conference after meeting with senior officials of the National Football League about changing the mascot name of the Washington Redskins October 30, 2013 in New York. The Oneida Nation's "Change The Mascot" campaign is pressing the NFL to change the Washington team's name. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The Washington Redskins have a three percent chance of advancing to Super Bowl 50, according to ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight website, the slimmest chances among the NFL’s 12 playoff teams. But it is the fact that the Washington Redskins are even in the playoffs — and have a chance to play in the Super Bowl — that has some Native American groups worried.

Ray Halbritter, of the Oneida Indian Nation, and Jacqueline Pata, of the National Congress of American Indians, sent CBS a letter urging the network to not utter the word Redskins during its February 7 broadcast.

“We are hopeful that CBS will honor its own venerable legacy by doing what it can to make sure the program is respectful and civil — and is not used as a platform to promote bigotry,” the letter stated. “To that end, we are requesting that CBS right now commit to refrain from using the name of the Washington professional football franchise in its broadcast, because that name is a dictionary defined racial slur.”

The letter highlighted stands taken by CBS’s own football crew during broadcasts.

Phil Simms has vowed not to use the R-word during broadcasts, Greg Gumbel said he has not used the team’s name in years, and James Brown has said the team should “do the right thing and change the name.”

“America is working to promote itself as a tolerant, pluralistic society in the face of detractors who seek to portray our country as a haven of bigotry,” the letter continued. “During one of the biggest worldwide media events of the year, we as a nation should not be providing fodder for America’s foes. Instead, we should be doing everything we can to make sure that — at minimum — we are not deliberately promoting across the globe hateful slurs against indigenous peoples.”

CBS Network has not yet commented on the letter. The Super Bowl airs Sunday, February 7, on CBS.

Washington Redskins may be able to trademark their ‘disparaging’ name

The Washington Redskins may be able to trademark their controversial name after all. A federal appeals court ruled late last year that the government was wrong to reject trademarks of names that are deemed offensive.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had ruled in June 2014 that because the Redskins name is offensive to Native Americans, the team could not trademark its name. It cited federal law that prohibited “registering scandalous, immoral, or disparaging” trademarks.

The team and the NFL have been fighting to keep the trademark in place ever since. The Redskins never actually lost their trademark — those protections were kept in place during the appeals process.

The Court of Appeals ruling did not directly involve the Redskins. It ruled that an Asian American rock band called The Slants had the right to trademark protections even if some people were offended by the name.

“The government enacted this law – and defends it today – because it disapproves of the messages conveyed by disparaging marks,” wrote the court in its decision. “It is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment that the government may not penalize private speech merely because it disapproves of the message it conveys.”

The NFL filed a statement to the court supporting The Slants.

“This freewheeling ability to deprive trademark owners of significant benefits because of what they say through their marks strikes at the very heart of the First Amendment values this country holds dear,” the league argued.

Redskins team owner Daniel Snyder has insisted the name is not offensive to Native Americans, but many Native American groups dispute that and have fought the trademark in court. Some politicians, including President Obama, have urged the team to change its name.

Native Americans who are fighting the Redskins over the team’s trademark filed motions in the case asking the court to uphold the prohibition of issuing government protections for trademarks that are considered offensive. It argued that the trademark owners could continue to use the name even without the government issuing legal protections.

“The refusal to register a trademark does not impair the applicant’s free speech rights under the First Amendment,” they argued.

Losing protection would have allowed anyone to sell goods with the Redskins name or logo without paying the league as they now must do.

The CNN Wire contributed to this report

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