Undoubtedly, October is the most exciting month for every sports fan. Both the NFL and college football are in full session while baseball playoffs are in full swing, with teams competing to make the World Series. Also in October, the NHL and NBA officially start. Even soccer fans are excited this month when their favorite teams are likely to face their most hated rival in October.
In addition to all the attention being paid to the sports themselves, there has been a great deal of focus on particular sports’ teams’ names and logos which are related to Indigenous peoples. Highlighting the focus on Indigenous people, this month President Biden issued a proclamation to observe Oct. 11, 2021, the same day as the observance of Columbus Day, as a day to honor Native Americans, their resilience and their contributions to American society. This proclamation was intended to shift the focus from Columbus Day.
For over 60 years, there have been protests and other actions by Native Americans and their supporters targeting the more prominent use of Indigenous names, images and mascots by professional franchises such as the Cleveland Indians , Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Redskins, Golden State Warriors, Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Braves, the latter two also attracting criticism for “the tomahawk chop” often performed by their fans. To date, the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians are the only teams to have made significant moves to change their team name, although others have changed their logo and retired mascots.
Despite recurrent calls to change the name the “Atlanta Braves,” the Atlanta National League Baseball Club, LLC seems to have no intention of doing so even after the Cleveland Indians revealed their new moniker this past July. Upon the death of Hank Aaron in January, Aaron having played almost his entire career with the Braves, the Braves’ protestors have renewed their cries that the name be changed, with fans even suggesting names like Hammer or Hammerin, Aaron’s nickname.
As the Atlanta Braves lead the NCLS best of seven on the road to the World Series, the tomahawk chop and Cherokee chants of the fans continue and only grow louder. In addition to the name, the tomahawk chop is seen as disparaging to the Cherokee people. In the 2019 playoffs Ryan Helsley, a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals who is part Cherokee, took offense to the “chop” at the Braves’ home games.
To their credit, the Braves have retired their former mascot, Chief Noc-a-Noma and partnered with a tribe of Cherokee Indians for nearly two decades with a link on their website for the sale of Syllabary t-shirts which feature common baseball terms translated into the native Cherokee language in order to garner attention for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Professional Franchises Which Changed Their Name
The first professional franchise which responded to the pressure of indigenous civil right movements was the Washington Redskins. On July 13, 2020 after years of pressure, the Washington NFL franchise team announced that it was retiring the offensive name “Redskins.” That same day, Nike removed all apparel from its website that included the word “Redskins.” Since then, the former Redskins have been using the temporary name the Washington Football Team until a new name is chosen. While there are several options under consideration, the name will not be revealed until 2022 at the earliest.
In the meantime, the following applications were filed in July, 2020 on behalf of the Washington NFL franchise in the name of Pro Football, Inc. (a Maryland corporation) :
|MARK||GOODS/SERVICES||FILING DATE||APPLICATION NO.|
|WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM||Clothing, namely, fleece tops and bottoms, headwear, caps being headwear, knit hats, t-shirts, shirts, turtlenecks, sweatshirts, shorts, tank tops, sweaters, pants, jackets, golf shirts, knit shirts, jerseys, wristbands, warm up suits, gloves, ties, cloth bibs; sleepwear, namely, bathrobes, pajamas; underwear; socks; scarves; swimwear; boxers briefs; bibs not of paper; footwear; sneakers; slippers
Entertainment in the nature of professional football exhibitions and games
|July 23, 2020||90069568|
|Same as above in classes 25 and 41||July 29, 2020||90080449|
|WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM, EST. 1932||Same as above in classes 25 and 41||July 29, 2020||90080458|
In addition to being descriptive marks, all three of Pro Football’s pending applications are being blocked by the mark WASHINGTON FOOTBALL CLUB of an issued registration on the Supplemental Register, owned by the Washington Redwolves LLC. Interestingly, the Washington Redwolves is one of the names being considered by the former Redskins. Pro Football has a deadline of December 18, 2021, to respond to the refusals of its three applications on the grounds of a likelihood of confusion with the mark WASHINGTON FOOTBALL CLUB.
On July 23, 2021, the Cleveland MLB franchise announced its change of name from the Cleveland Indians to the Cleveland Guardians along with filing several applications of the marks CLEVELAND GUARDIANS, CLEVELAND and GUARDIANS with the USPTO in the name of the Cleveland Indians Baseball Company, LLC. Although filed with the USPTO on July 23, 2021, all eight applications were initially filed in the tiny island of Mauritius in April, allowing them to claim the earlier April filing date in the U.S. application. Presumably, this was done to reserve the names in the hopes of preventing squatters from filing before them in the U.S. The following applications were filed on behalf of the Cleveland Indians Baseball Company, LLC in the USPTO on July 23, 2021.
|MARK||GOOD/SERVICES||FILING DATE||APPLICATION NO.|
|CLEVELAND GUARDIANS||Clothing, footwear, headwear; clothing, namely, headwear; shirts; sweaters; vests; bottoms; dresses; skirts; athletic uniforms; jerseys; underwear; undergarments; sleepwear; robes; swimwear; jackets; sweatshirts; ponchos; aprons; clothing wraps; infant wear; cloth bibs; ties; belts; footwear; socks; hosiery; scarves; gloves; mittens; headbands; wristbands; Halloween and masquerade costumes
Education; providing of training; entertainment; sporting and cultural activities; entertainment services, namely, baseball games and baseball exhibitions; organizing and conducting an array of athletic events rendered live and recorded for distribution through broadcast media; entertainment services, namely, conducting contests and sweepstakes; entertainment media production services, namely, production of on-going television, internet and radio programs in the field of sports; providing news, information, pod casts, web casts and all in the field of sports; organizing community sporting and cultural events; entertainment in the nature of live performances by costumed mascots, cheerleaders, dance groups, and musical groups; entertainment, namely, live music concerts; fan clubs; providing sports facilities; rental of stadium facilities; conducting guided tours of a baseball stadium
|July 23, 2021
Priority date April 8, 2021
|GUARDIANS||Same as above in classes 25 and 41||July 23, 2021 Priority date April 7, 2021||
|Same as above in classes 25 and 41||July 23, 2021 Priority date June 7, 2021||90844550|
|Same as above in classes 25 and 41||July 23, 2021 Priority date June 7, 2021||90844548|
|Same as above in classes 25 and 41
|July 23, 2021 Priority date July 8, 2021||90844542|
|GUARDIANS||Scientific, research, navigation, surveying, photographic, cinematographic, audiovisual, optical, weighing, measuring, signalling, detecting, testing, inspecting, life-saving and teaching apparatus and instruments; apparatus and instruments for conducting, switching, transforming, accumulating, regulating or controlling the distribution or use of electricity; apparatus and instruments for recording, transmitting, reproducing or processing sound, images or data; recorded and downloadable media, computer software, blank digital or analogue recording and storage media; mechanisms for coin-operated apparatus; cash registers, calculating devices; computers and computer peripheral devices; diving suits, divers’ masks, ear plugs for divers, nose clips for divers and swimmers, gloves for divers, breathing apparatus for underwater swimming; fire-extinguishing apparatus; Electrical and scientific apparatus, namely, headphones, ear buds, audio speakers; pre-recorded CDs relating to baseball, pre-recorded DVDs relating to baseball; magnetically encoded credit cards; calculators; decorative switch plate covers; luminous signs, neon signs; sunglasses, sunglass cases; decorative magnets; protective clothing, protective padded clothing, protective helmets for sports, protective gloves; graduated rulers; computer game programs, interactive game programs; computer accessories, namely, computer mouse, mouse pads; carrying cases for hand-held computers, tablet computers, digital audio and video recorders and players, smart phones, global positioning systems, cameras; fitted plastic films known as skins for covering and providing a scratch proof barrier or protection for electronic devices, namely, digital audio and video recorders and players, portable audio players, portable music players, smart phones, audio speakers, computer game consoles, video game consoles, handheld game consoles, controllers for game consoles, tablet computers, laptop computers, headphones, earbuds, power banks for charging, USB charging ports, USB flash drives; cell phone accessories, namely, cases and face plate covers, decorative charms for cell phones, blank USB flash drives; power banks for charging cell phones, mobile phones, tablet computers; audio speakers; headphones; protective covers and cases for tablet computers; computer keyboards; computer application software for mobile phones; computer software for viewing databases of information, statistical information, and multimedia files in the field of baseball, video clips, sound clips, text and multimedia files
Precious metals and their alloys; jewellery, precious and semi-precious stones; horological and chronometric instruments; Jewelry, namely, bracelets; charms; earrings; rings; necklaces; pendants; watches; costume jewelry; medallions; ornamental pins; lapel pins; cuff links; key chains; key rings; key fobs; clocks; trophies of precious metal; and non-monetary coins
Paper and cardboard; printed matter; bookbinding material; photographs; stationery and office requisites, except furniture; adhesives for stationery or household purposes; drawing materials and materials for artists; paintbrushes; instructional and teaching materials; plastic sheets, films and bags for wrapping and packaging; printers’ type, printing blocks; Paper goods and printed matter, namely, trading cards; posters; stickers; decals; temporary tattoos transfers; bumper stickers; score books; scorecards; printed baseball game programs; magazines and books featuring baseball; brochures and pamphlets featuring baseball; writing pads; note paper; notebooks; stationery folders; preprinted agenda organizers; memo boards; scrapbooks; autograph books; bookends; calendars; greeting cards; postcards; printed bank checkbooks; checkbook covers; commemorative stamps; gift wrapping paper; paper gift and party bags; paper party goods in the nature of paper party decorations; paper coasters; paper napkins; paper tablecloths; mounted and un-mounted photographs; photograph albums; lithographs; money clips; paperweights; letter openers; pens; pencils; crayons, markers; non-electric erasers; pencil cases; paper ticket holders; non-metal lanyards for paper ticket holders sold as a unit specially adapted for holding paper tickets; art pictures; art prints; framed photographs; printed tickets; entry ticketsbags; toy vehicles; puzzles; yo-yo’s; toy banks; toy figures; dolls and doll accessories; bobbing head dolls; decorative wind socks; mini batting helmet replicas; toy necklaces; baseballs; holders for baseballs; autographed baseballs; playground balls; beach balls; golf balls; golf club head covers; golf club bags; golf putters; golf putter grips; golf tees; golf ball markers; golf divot repair tools; golf gloves; billiard accessories, namely, cues, billiard balls and cue cases; baseball bases; baseball bats; miniature baseball bats; batting gloves; pet toys; inflatable toys; snow globes; Christmas tree ornaments and decorations; Christmas stockings; fidget spinners; action figures; balls for games; gaming equipment, namely, poker chips; game tables; bowling balls; bowling bags; and lottery tickets
|July 23, 2021 Priority date June 7, 2021||
|CLEVELAND GUARDIANS||Same as above in classes 9, 14, 16 and 28||July 23, 2021 Priority date June 7, 2021||90844546|
|Same as above in classes 9, 14, 16, 25, 28 and 41||July 23, 2021 Priority date June 7, 2021||90844543|
Despite this move to safeguard the name until the announcement was made in the summer of 2021 on the part of the Cleveland Indians, a third party nevertheless filed applications of the selected name CLEVELAND GUARDIANS well prior to the clandestine Mauritius filing. Exactly a year earlier, two applications were filed in July, 2020 for the mark CLEVELAND GUARDIANS with the USPTO. These applications, collectively covering athletic apparel (class 25), entertainment in the nature of baseball games (class 41) and licensing of intellectual property rights (class 45), were filed in the name of Bryant Street Sports LLC (of New York). Both applications were published for opposition in the USPTO: one prior to Cleveland’s name reveal and the other on July 23, 2021, the exact day that the CLEVELAND GUARDIANS name was announced. For reasons unknown, these applications were both expressly abandoned by Bryant Street Sports shortly thereafter.
In addition to the Atlanta Braves, the remaining professional sports teams with indigenous names which have not changed their names are:
- GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (NBA)
- CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (NHL)
- KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (NFL)
Although these teams seemingly have no plans to change their name in the near future, the Chiefs did recently retire their longtime mascot, a horse named Warpaint this past July.
As an avid sports fan, I am looking forward to an exciting division championship and World Series. Whether the Braves ultimately win the Series is yet to be determined, but it is more than likely that they will be sticking with their name as the fans continue to do their tomahawk chop.
Donna L. Mirman, a New York Yankees’ fan is of counsel at Gottlieb, Rackman & Reisman, P.C. specializing in all areas of trademark law and is formerly an attorney advisor with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.