Roller Derby Team Sues Cleveland Guardians Over Name Change

The Cleveland-based Guardians roller derby team sued the baseball club in federal court to block it from taking the name

The new logo of the Cleveland Guardians. The change of the team name has divided fans, often along political lines.
The new logo of the Cleveland Guardians during a press conference.
Jason Miller/Getty

Per a July poll, 37% of U.S. adults approve of the Cleveland baseball team rebranding from the Indians to the Guardians while 28% don’t have an opinion one way or the other and 35% of adults disapprove.

Based on a lawsuit that was filed Wednesday in federal court, it is safe to say the members of the Cleveland-based Guardians roller derby team and the club’s legal representatives are among the 35%.

Cleveland’s baseball team, which announced it was changing its name to the Guardians over the summer after more than a century of using the “Indians” name despite sustained objections from Native American groups and others, was sued in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio by the roller derby team, which is seeking an injunction over alleged trademark and merchandising rights issues.

“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,” said Gary Sweatt, the owner of Guardians Roller Derby. “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.”

In the lawsuit, the roller derby team, which owns the domain name, asserts that the MLB franchise knew the Guardians existed months before announcing the name change and that the baseball club’s lawyers made their trademark filing in the small island nation of Mauritius in an effort to keep their intent to take the name off of the radar.

“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,” said plaintiff lead attorney Christopher Pardo. “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.”

Despite the baseball club being hit with the lawsuit, we’d expect that MLB’s lawyers will knock one out of the park for the home team and the Guardians to take the diamond next year without too much of a struggle.

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