In July, the Cleveland Indians announced that the franchise would be called the Cleveland Guardians following the conclusion of the 2021 MLB season. On Wednesday, a Cleveland-based roller derby team, also named the Cleveland Guardians, sued the MLB franchise in federal court in an effort to block their use of the name.
"Major League Baseball would never let someone name their lacrosse team the 'Chicago Cubs' if the team was in Chicago, or their soccer team the 'New York Yankees' if that team was in New York – nor should they," Hunton Andrew Kurth lead attorney Christopher Pardo said in a statement on behalf of the plaintiff. "The same laws that protect Major League Baseball from the brand confusion that would occur in those examples also operate in reverse to prevent what the Indians are trying to do here.
"By taking the name 'Cleveland Guardians' overnight, the Indians knowingly and willfully eviscerated the rights of the original owner of that name – the real Cleveland Guardians."
The Cleveland baseball franchise used the name for over 100 years before deciding to change it -- a decision that was rooted in the team name being offensive to Native American groups. As a result, the team announced that they would be transitioning to the Guardians following the 2021 season.
According to the lawsuit, the Indians knew that the Guardians roller derby team already had the same name months before announcing the name change. The lawsuit also alleges that the Cleveland Indians' lawyers made secret trademark filings on the small island of Mauritius "in an effort to hide its intent to take the Guardians' name, and then reached out to tell the roller derby team of its plans."
"As a nonprofit organization that loves sports and the city of Cleveland, we are saddened that the Indians have forced us into having to protect the name we have used here for years," Cleveland Guardians roller derby owner Gary Sweatt added. "We know we are in the right, however, and just like our athletes do on the track, we will put everything into this effort at the courthouse."
The lawsuit, Guardians Roller Derby v. Cleveland Guardians Baseball Company LLC, was filed in United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.