• The (Gold) Gloves Are Off
  • April 30, 2013
  • Law Firm: Proskauer Rose LLP - New York Office
  • Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips has a lot to say. He's well-known for being outspoken, and he's a prolific tweeter on his @DatDudeBP account, which boasts over 650,000 followers. But he's also got the goods, as reflected in the six-year, multimillion dollar contract he signed with the Reds last year. Among his other accomplishments, he has been the recipient of a  Rawlings Gold Glove Award in 2008, 2010 and 2011.

    Rawlings created the award in 1957 to recognize excellence in fielding by professional baseball players. The Gold Glove is annually awarded to the nine most distinguished fielders (one at each position) in both the National and American Leagues. Gold Glove recipients are selected by the Major Leagues' managers and coaches.

    The relationship between Phillips and Rawlings got a bit tarnished, however, when Rawlings took issue with Phillips's endorsement agreement with Rawlings's competitor, Wilson Sporting Goods. Phillips endorsed Wilson's metallic gold-colored glove, which Rawlings claimed is a little too similar in appearance to the glove featured in the Gold Glove Award trophy. Rawlings initially brought suit against only Wilson, but later amended its complaint to name Phillips as well.

    In the Amended Complaint filed on December 3, 2012 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Rawlings alleged that Wilson manufactured and issued to Phillips a baseball glove with metallicgold design details, and that Phillips has since been wearing the glove during practice, warm-ups, and games.  Rawlings alleged that it owns registered and common law trademarks for the phrases "Rawlings Gold Glove Award," "Gold Glove Award," and "Gold Glove," as well as rights in the common law trade dress embodied in the physical award. 

    Rawlings did not claim that Wilson or Phillips used the actual words "Gold Glove."  Rather, Rawlings maintained that Wilson's use of the metallic gold color hits a little too close to home and, because Rawlings's trademark rights extend to the visual depictions embodied by those words, defendants' actions constitute trademark infringement, unfair competition, dilution, and false advertising under both the Lanham Act (the federal Trademark Act) and Missouri law.  Rawlings sought monetary damages and an injunction prohibiting defendants' further use of baseball gloves featuring metallic gold design details.

    Both Wilson and Phillips filed Motions to Dismiss Rawlings's Amended Complaint. Both claimed that the allegations were nothing more than a backdoor attempt to assert ownership over the use of the metallic gold color on baseball gloves.  This, defendants argue, Rawlings could not do unless Rawlings demonstrated that its use of the color had acquired secondary meaning—i.e., that consumers think of Rawlings when they see a baseball glove with metallic gold design details.  According to Wilson and Phillips, because Rawlings failed to allege facts to support exclusive ownership of the metallic gold color on baseball gloves, and because Rawlings did not claim that defendants used the actual phrases in any way, Rawlings failed to state a claim.

    Earlier this year, the referees took over (mediators, actually), and in March the dispute was settled on undisclosed terms.

    During the period in which the litigation was pending, Brandon Phillips had a few things to say about the Gold Glove Award. When he learned that he lost out on winning a fourth Gold Glove in October 2012, he famously declared that he was surprised and thought he had been "punk'd." He was still peeved about the loss a few months ago, when he attributed the loss of the award to his "flair." More recently, though, he's stepped back a bit from those comments, attributing his statements about the award to his role as an entertainer: "I entertain the fans out here. I don't try to show people that I'm the best player or the best defensive second baseman or the best offensive second baseman. I don't go out there showing people that. I entertain people."

    We'll see next fall if Phillips can entertain his way to that coveted fourth Gold Glove award.