Monopolistic NFL should not pass go in latest Colts theft

May 02, 1994|By John Steadman

What the National Football League now demonstrates, beyond any reasonable doubt, is that it is a monopoly and engaging in restraint of trade.

The definitive proof has been made available, in writing, as it tries to claim rights to the name Baltimore Colts. Such an attempt is illegal, monopolistic and violates every rule associated with fair business practices.

Obviously, the NFL wizards of buffoonery are ignorant of the facts as they exist. The team was given the name Colts in 1947 while playing in another league. This was three years before the city joined the NFL.

Senators Barbara Mikulski, a former season-ticket holder, and Paul Sarbanes have to act. They need to institute federal charges against the NFL, subpoena records and put the commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, on the witness stand to quiz him in an open congressional hearing relative to violations of the Sherman antitrust laws.

It was sorry enough when Bob Irsay stole the franchise away from Baltimore, like a common thief operating under the cover of darkness, and absconded to a place called Indianapolis.

The name Baltimore Colts belongs to Baltimore; not Indianapolis or the NFL.

There are high school teams all over the country known as the Colts, one in Camp Hill, Pa. There are junior colleges in New Jersey and California and universities in Canada whose athletic teams are called Colts. In professional baseball, over the last 100 years, there have been exactly 57 cities that formerly called their teams the Colts, including Richmond of the Piedmont League and Rochester of the International League.

Will the NFL try to go back in time and lay claim to those names and ask for damages?

Mayor Kurt Schmoke made a pertinent point by saying there was no protest when the British Columbia team of the Canadian Football League adopted Lions as a nickname. The Detroit Lions of the NFL had been using it for 30 years, after originally being known as the Panthers.

As for Panthers, the NFL took the name for its Carolina expansion team after it was earlier utilized by the Miami franchise of the National Hockey League. Does the NFL believe it has the prerogative of lifting names from other leagues, as with Panthers, but preventing Baltimore from using its own name Colts in the Canadian Football League.

How can the NFL abandon Baltimore, ignore it after it applied for an expansion team, and then try to say the city can't use the name it developed when it was first a member of the All-America Conference 47 years ago?

The man who selected the name in a contest, Charles Evans, said, "I intended the name only to be used for the Baltimore team. You would have thought Indianapolis would have wanted its own identity and come up with a name of its own."

Actually, after two years in Indianapolis, the team considered dropping Colts and changing to another name created by an advertising agency.

Baltimore joined the Canadian Football League in February, after being rejected by the NFL, and public response was overwhelming to call the team Colts. The NFL attempted to talk owner Jim Speros out of it, even though NFL Properties let the patent lease expire. Furthermore, NFL Properties tried to make a deal on another name it said it would relinquish -- Stallions or Bombers.

Neither name shows any imagination, which tells you all you need to know about the NFL under Tagliabue. If he didn't have a wise assistant, a holdover from the Pete Rozelle administration, explaining the rules, he wouldn't know a kickoff from a jump ball.

One of the names NFL Properties wanted to dump on Baltimore, specifically Bombers, is in bad taste because of its modern connotation that suggests such terrorist activity as blowing up airplanes and the World Trade Center to kill innocent people.

That the NFL would try to sue Baltimore from using the name CFL Colts could be suicidal. The one thing the league doesn't want is to be charged as a monopoly. But it is admitting by its course of action that it is a monopoly in a heavy-handed, dictatorial attempt to tell a city in another league what it must do.

This is where Senators Mikulski and Sarbanes should center their congressional fire. The NFL and Tagliabue have gotten away with being a bully, of doing whatever their greedy, selfish motives desire.

Their attempt to eradicate the name Baltimore CFL Colts could become a public relations disaster for the NFL, but, more importantly from a legal standpoint, reveals what a monster of a monopoly it has become.

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