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Top Indian footballer contemplates Redskins suit

WASHINGTON – A superstar Native American football player says he won’t pre-emptively turn down any potential draft offers from the Redskins football team. At the same time, a group of Indian litigants is pressing harder to prevent “redskins” trademarks across the nation.

In recent days, much attention in the sports world has focused on Sam Bradford, the University of Oklahoma quarterback who is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and where he might end up when drafted into the National Football League. He’s expected to be a top 10 pick in early April.

Some analysts have predicted that the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner’s prowess on the field will make him especially attractive to the Washington Redskins, since the team has struggled for so many years and is in need of a strong quarterback.

Bradford was asked Feb. 27 by a sports reporter at the NFL scouting combine whether he would have a problem being drafted to the Redskins. The team has been mired in a lawsuit since 1992 brought forth by Indian plaintiffs who’ve argued that the team’s trademark is racist. Bradford is the first Indian to win the Heisman.

“That’s not something I have to worry about right now,” Bradford told the Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg, Va., echoing statements he’s made in the past. “If that’s something I have to face later on down the road, I will.”

When asked whether he would consider asking the Redskins not to draft him, the paper said “he laughed it off and said, ‘Uh, no.’”

To Philip Mause, the lead lawyer of a case involving several Indian plaintiffs suing the owners of the team, Bradford is a person his clients might wish to consider reaching out to.

“He could be a potential advocate,” Mause said. “I would leave it to the plaintiffs to decide if they wish to reach out to him.”

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Richard Guest, a legal expert with the Native American Rights Fund who’s long monitored the case, said it’s reasonable to conclude that Bradford is aware of the controversy, so he may wish to be keep a low profile on the issue – especially when pursuing a lucrative contract.

“He doesn’t want to harm his chances, and we can’t assume he’d want to take on this issue just because he’s Native American,” Guest said.

“No matter what, it could be helpful to have him inside the NFL, interacting with the non-Indian players and coaches, giving them more of a sense of who Indian people are.”

In November, a group of Indian plaintiffs who had been pressing for years to get the trademark removed learned that the Supreme Court would not consider the merits of their case.

To make a stronger case given previous court rulings, six younger Indian plaintiffs who range in age from 18 to 24 have now been assembled and have filed a similar suit, Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, to once again challenge the team’s trademark.

Tribal elders, psychologists, historians and others have presented evidence that the name is harmful, noting that it is a derogatory reference to American Indians, and has been historically used in a similar way that the word “nigger” has been wrongly used toward blacks. Historically, too, the word “redskins” was used by the U.S. government as a way to refer to bounties placed on scalped Indian heads.

Mause said the Bradford situation is one way that this case continues to be noticed by the general public. He said increasing numbers of supporters have come to agree with the Indians’ argument in recent years.

Mause also recently filed letters of protest with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to argue that six trademark applications based on the “redskins” name filed since 1992 should be rejected.