The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

He stockpiled Washington NFL trademarks for years. Now he faces backlash online.

Martin McCaulay wears a “Washington Red-Tailed Hawks” T-shirt while posing for a photograph in 2015. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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For years, Martin McCaulay, a longtime fan of Washington’s NFL team, has owned a variety of trademarks in virtual anonymity. He laid claim to a variety of potential team names — Washington Americans, Veterans, Pandas and Monuments among them — and no one batted an eye because those teams didn’t really exist.

They still don’t exist, but in the days since Washington’s NFL team announced it was abandoning the controversial Redskins name and people familiar with the situation said trademark issues were holding up the unveiling of a new one, McCaulay, a 61-year old actuary from Alexandria, has faced a backlash of online abuse. He has heard from fellow fans who fear he’s blocking the team from adopting a new name or are upset someone might be seeking to profit off the controversy.

Washington’s NFL team announced that it was reviewing options for a new team name and logo on July 13. (Video: The Washington Post)

One person likened him to “Costco toilet paper hoarders during the pandemic.” Another said he should be banned from the team’s games, and another offered to punch him. He was called a jerk, a worthless troll, a gold digger, a self-serving liberal and a variety of expletives.

“Speculate on prior motives all you want … now I just want this albatross around my neck gone,” McCaulay wrote on Twitter this week.

Washington’s name change happened fast, but it was decades in the making

McCaulay on Wednesday retained a lawyer who is planning to send a letter to team owner Daniel Snyder offering “to open the door to discussions so that, if the franchise is at all concerned about Mr. McCaulay’s trademark registrations or pending applications, the team is aware that there is nothing to fear.”

McCaulay “has no intention to stand in the way of the Washington NFL team,” says the letter, signed by Florida attorney Darren Heitner.

“Mr. McCaulay will gladly do whatever is in his power to clear a path for the Washington NFL team to rebrand itself without the need to incur substantial legal fees,” Heitner wrote.

Still, it’s not clear Snyder covets any of McCaulay’s trademarks, and neither the team nor the league has reached out to him to discuss any of the names. Heitner’s letter to Snyder, which will be sent to the team’s Ashburn headquarters this week, notes that McCaulay has registered trademarks for Red-Tailed Hawks, Americans and Washington Football Club and pending applications for Red Wolves, Redtails, Monuments, Veterans, Renegades and Warriors.

“There’s so much speculation regarding the name change that it’s caused people to look into others who’ve filed trademark applications. Mr. McCaulay has been really singled out,” Heitner said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Accusations and threats have been made towards him.”

In a 2015 interview with The Washington Post, McCaulay said he had spent more than $20,000 on trademarks applications and considered it a “high-risk investment.” He said this week, though, that if the team wants to pursue a name he has laid claim to, he would be willing to hand it over at no cost. (Though in another tweet Tuesday, McCaulay said his offer to the NFL had lingered for 10 days with no response and he would now “entertain any offer they want to make.”)

“I want them to change the name and am embarrassed if I did anything that slows that down,” he tweeted this week. “I thought if I hoarded all the good names that would keep someone else who might be a pain in the neck from getting them.”

The Washington organization has given no hints as to which names it has zeroed in on. The names popularly debated by fans in recent weeks — Warriors, Red Wolves and Red Tails, among them — have either been trademarked or have pending applications. The team hasn’t sought any new trademarks under its corporate name as of July 10, the most recent date available in the U.S. Patent and Trademark online database.

“He’s not looking to be a thorn in the side of the Washington NFL organization,” Heitner said of McCaulay. “He will do whatever is necessary to step aside and provide the team with whatever rights it needs, if it’s interested in any of the names he’s applied for or registered.”

Last week McCaulay filed a trademark application for “Washington Red Wolves,” a popular choice on social media, but that name is already subject to multiple claims. Arkansas State University, whose athletic teams are called “Red Wolves,” is battling the Chattanooga Red Wolves pro soccer team in court over the trademark. An attorney for Arkansas State told The Post this week the school system has not been contacted by anyone from the Redskins’ organization or the NFL.

Trademark attorneys have said any registered or pending trademarked team names would be ripe for challenge. Trademark holders must be able to show that they have been using the name in a legitimate commercial manner. While McCaulay has sold merchandise featuring some of his team names online, he acknowledged in a tweet that his trademarks would be “worthless to me because selling 10 shirts in 6 years is a weak defense.”

“This is an expensive hobby for him,” Heitner said. “He’s not intending to be a troll. He’s not intending to cause harm to the organization. And to the extent the organization wants to utilize any of the names he’s applied for, he wants to open the door to those communications.”