Cleveland baseball will share ‘guardians’ name with roller derby team
By Neil Vigdor
Call it a shared guardianship.
Cleveland’s Major League Baseball franchise and a local roller derby team announced earlier this week that they had reached a settlement in a naming dispute that had escalated to a federal lawsuit. They will both be called the Guardians.
The roller derby Cleveland Guardians sued the baseball team last month in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, accusing it of infringing on its trademark rights and identity as part of a renaming effort that made headlines.
The lawsuit contended that the roller derby team had called itself the Cleveland Guardians since 2013 and had registered the name with the Ohio secretary of state in 2017, well before the baseball franchise’s long-standing name, the Indians, was thrust into the middle of a nationwide reckoning over symbols of racism.
In a joint statement issued Tuesday, the two sides said that they were pleased to announce an “amicable resolution” of the lawsuit.
The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but the compromise is expected to allow the baseball team to move forward with its renaming process, which it announced last December.
In July, the franchise said that it had chosen the name the Guardians, a nod to a set of winged art deco sculptures known as the Guardians of Traffic on the Hope Memorial Bridge that crosses the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland. The iconic sculptures, meant to symbolize progress, have gained reverence among residents of the area. The new name was unveiled in a video narrated by Tom Hanks, a longtime fan of the baseball team.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for the baseball team declined to answer questions about further aspects of the name change, one that is expected to be completed by the 2022 season, and the release of licensed merchandise with the new name.
At Progressive Field, the team’s ballpark in downtown Cleveland, workers removed an expansive script sign with the team’s former name from above the left-field scoreboard earlier this month.
As of Tuesday, the ClevelandGuardians.com website still featured the roller derby team’s content, as did Facebook.com/ClevelandGuardians. The baseball team was still using Indians.com and MLB.com/Indians as its website, and the Twitter handle @indians.
Christopher M. Pardo, a lawyer for the roller derby organization and the team itself, declined to comment further on the settlement on Tuesday.
In the lawsuit, the roller derby team, which is based in the Cleveland suburb of Parma, said it was “inconceivable” that a baseball franchise worth more than $1 billion would not have performed a Google search for the name Cleveland Guardians. If it did, the lawsuit said, it would have found the website for the roller derby team, which operates as a nonprofit organization.
“Economic might, however, does not make legal right,” the lawsuit said. “There cannot be two ‘Cleveland Guardians’ teams in Cleveland, and, to be blunt, plaintiff was here first.”
The lawsuit accused the baseball team of surreptitiously filing a trademark application in April for the Cleveland Guardians name in Mauritius, a small East African island nation, to hide the paperwork.
In June, the lawsuit said, the owner of the roller derby team was presented with a “nominal” offer by the baseball franchise after he said that he would consider selling the naming rights and the domain name for ClevelandGuardians.com. The baseball team never responded to his counteroffer, according to the lawsuit.