Topic: Sports & Entertainment

Quoth the Ravens: “Sucker!”

The U.S. Supreme Court recently refused to hear an appeal in the case of Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens. This ended a sorry saga in which a large sports franchise cheated and stole from an honest man, and was permitted by the law not only to keep what it stole, but to pay no penalties for its theft.

Frederick Bouchat, a Maryland security guard, was also an amateur graphic artist. In 1995 he designed and submitted a proposed logo for the NFL expansion team, using the name “Ravens,” then one of many candidates to become the team’s permanent identity. The submission was rejected, but lo and behold, when Ravens became the official name of the team, its official logo bore a striking resemblance to Bouchat’s. Like the submitted logo design, the official Ravens logo consisted of:

  • A black bordered shield with a gold field, on which there was a black capital “B” with a wing formation flaring out from its upper left corner

  • Two large raven wings on either side of the shield, with interior white “feathers” surrounded by larger black feathers

  • The legend “RAVENS” in white lettering within the black border of the shield

  • A small white cross in a back area at the bottom point of the shield

Baltimore Ravens Logo

The similarities were so obvious and so striking, in fact, that Bouchat sued for damages, asking for all or part of the approximately 10 million dollars that the Ravens had made selling logo-bearing merchandise. A jury found that the Ravens had stolen his original design, as it should have: the details of the two designs are so similar that they could not have resulted from coincidence, as the Ravens claimed.

Then began the usual string of appeals and retrials, until a second jury concluded that even though the Ravens had stolen the design, any logo, not just Bouchat’s, would have generated the same amount of income. It was this verdict, a highly dubious one at best, that the Supreme Court let stand.

Maybe Bouchat overplayed his legal hand in indignation; maybe he turned down reasonable settlement offers from the Ravens. We don’t know. But if the Baltimore Ravens think justice has been served by this ruling, or that they have been vindicated in any way, they need some ethics education. What the organization did was unconscionable. It stole a man’s work, claimed it as its own, and benefited from its use. The fact that the courts say that legally they owe no damages does not take the team off the hook. It did the wrong thing in 1995, and it is obligated to do the right thing now. It should voluntarily pay Mr. Bouchat’s court costs. It should publicly apologize to him. It should credit him with the design, and pay him a fair designer’s fee for his creation.

The team was caught at cheating. This is professional sports, and sports implies sportsmanship. If the Baltimore Ravens choose to stand for the proposition that cheating is a profitable approach if you can get away with it, the fans and media should loudly condemn that stance.

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