Baltimore lawyer punts on using Unitas name

Reserved Web slot given Hall of Famer

March 28, 2001|By Andrew Ratner | Andrew Ratner,SUN STAFF

Time for a Johnny U-turn?

After fielding criticism from associates, a Baltimore lawyer said yesterday that he will give the Internet domain name he reserved last fall, "JohnUnitas.com," to the former Colts quarterback.

William M. Chaires said he asked John A. Pica, a former state senator with whom he worked on tobacco litigation, to tell Unitas Management Corp. he was willing to transfer the name to Johnny Unitas for free.

Short of going to court, he would have had little choice: The National Arbitration Forum, a Minneapolis-based network of former judges, lawyers and law professors that was hearing the dispute between Unitas and Chaires, announced a ruling yesterday in favor of Unitas.

CMG Worldwide Inc. of Indianapolis, which markets and licenses the name of the Hall of Fame football player for promotional use, said yesterday that it had been notified of the decision.

CMG initiated legal action last month against Chaires over the Web domain name. It contended that Chaires sought to capitalize on a celebrity name. Chaires' plans to create a football memorabilia auction site with "JohnUnitas.com" could create confusion with Unitas' own "JohnnyUnitas.com," it said.

Unitas launched his Web site five years ago to market his management company, a real estate firm and a college scholarship foundation as well as to sell autographed items.

Jonathan Faber, director of business and legal affairs for CMG, said yesterday that he was surprised by the speed of the arbitration. Absent an appeal by Chaires, domain name "JohnUnitas.com" will likely be transferred to Unitas in about two weeks, Faber said.

National Arbitration Forum officials could not be reached for comment.

Unitas, 67, is regarded as the greatest player in the history of the Baltimore Colts, with whom he played from 1956 to 1972, and one of the most productive quarterbacks in the National Football League's eight decades.

"There are certain things you don't do in life," Pica, an attorney, said he advised Chaires after a story about the dispute appeared in The Sun Sunday. "One is get in a contest with Johnny Unitas."

Chaires, 46, said he would have given it up initially, but was insulted by what he considered "arrogant" tactics by CMG. He purchased the name last year for $100 from a licensed broker of Internet domain names.

He later paid $327 to a Baltimore firm to host and design a Web site based on the name to sell Baltimore Colts and football memorabilia, but hadn't yet launched the site when CMG opposed his using the name.

The attorney said he received some criticism from friends Sunday, but also sympathy for finding himself in the untenable position of fighting a Baltimore sports hero.

"I would have given it in a second to someone like Johnny Unitas," Chaires said.

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