Baseball: Major League's Cleveland Indian sued by local roller derby team over Guardians name change

Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians, who are changing their name to the Guardians, are being sued for trademark infringement by a local roller derby team with the same name.

The lawsuit was filed three months after the Indians announced they would change their name after the 2021 season in response to years of pressure from Native American groups and human rights activists that viewed the Indians name as racist and degrading.

"Two sports teams in the same city cannot have identical names," the roller derby team's lawyers say in the complaint filed in Cleveland federal court.

"There cannot be two 'Cleveland Guardians' teams in Cleveland and, to be blunt, the plaintiff was here first."

The Indians did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Baseball: Major League's Cleveland Indian sued by local roller derby team over Guardians name change
Photo credit: Cleveland Guardians

The co-ed roller derby team say they have used the Guardians name since 2013 and registered it with Ohio in 2017. They want an injunction and damages for the alleged confusion and loss of goodwill.

Teams in the same city have occasionally shared names, even at the professional level.

New York had baseball and football teams named the Giants from 1925-57, while St Louis had teams in those sports named the Cardinals from 1960-87.

Trademark lawyers say the lawsuit is not frivolous, but would likely be settled, with the Indians paying money to the roller derby team to use the Guardians name.

"There is no blanket rule in trademark law that two teams, even in professional sports, cannot have the same name," says Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders partner Michael Hobbs.

Mintz law firm partner Andrew Skale says, for the Indians, "an advisable move would be to buy the roller derby team's name from them".

Talks to resolve the dispute broke down earlier this week.

"As a nonprofit organisation 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," says roller derby team owner Gary Sweatt.