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Roller derby team sues baseball club over Cleveland Guardians name change

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The Cleveland Guardians roller derby team on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit in the Ohio Northern District Court seeking an injunction against the city's baseball team as it attempts to switch team names from the Indians to the Guardians.

The lawsuit, Guardians Roller Derby v. Cleveland Guardians Baseball Company LLC, is alleging that the baseball team violated the rights of the roller derby squad regarding the former's name change. WKYC was the first to report on the lawsuit.

The Guardians roller derby team has operated under that name for years, maintained a social media presence and owns the clevelandguardians.com domain name. There appears to be a roughly three-year gap between posts on the website, with one being posted on July 24, the day after the baseball team announced it was changing its franchise name to the Guardians. That July 24 post was the first since March 31, 2018.

The roller derby team is alleging that the Major League Baseball club circumvented their squad's rights when undergoing the process of legally changing the franchise's name this past summer. The lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by the Akron Beacon Journal, details alleged issues with trademark and merchandising rights.

"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 Christopher Pardo, a lawyer for the roller derby team, in a statement. "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."

Paul J. Dolan, Chairman/CEO of the Cleveland Indians, speaks during a press conference during the club's announcement of the name change to the Cleveland Guardians  at Progressive Field Friday, July 23, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Paul J. Dolan, Chairman/CEO of the Cleveland Indians, speaks during a press conference during the club's announcement of the name change to the Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field Friday, July 23, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio.

The lawsuit alleges that after a trademark application was filed on April 8 in the East African island nation of Mauritius, "effectively hiding the application unless one knew where to look," the baseball team's lawyers reached out to the roller derby team in June. Gary Sweatt, the owner of the roller derby team, then allegedly offered to sell the intellectual property and rename his own squad and asked the baseball team to make an offer. That offer, according to the lawsuit, was nominal and exceedingly low. The lawsuit alleges that Sweatt made a counteroffer but never heard back from the baseball club.

"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," Sweatt said in a statement. "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 goes on to allege that the baseball team made two additional federal trademark applications on the day before the name change was announced via a Tom Hanks-narrated video posted online, claiming that no other person or entity had been using the Cleveland Guardians name for merchandise or business.

Cleveland's MLB team has not yet released any statement in response the lawsuit.

Follow Ryan Lewis on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cleveland Guardians roller derby team sues baseball club over name