Special Olympics sues to end the use of its name by Special Children’s Charities in Chicago

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A dispute that has seemingly simmered for decades over the Special Olympics brand in Chicago boiled over in federal court on Wednesday when the global organization sued a local group – despite half a century of support – to force it to stop operating. use this name.

The lawsuit filed by Special Olympics Inc. alleges that Special Children’s Charities of Chicago, which recently celebrated its Polar Plunge benefit and is run by a member of the Daley family, mistakenly “passed off online” as “Special Olympics Chicago,” even though all permission he once had to use that name ended in December 2020.

“Indeed, there is no entity called ‘Special Olympics Chicago,'” the lawsuit said.

The dispute is potentially sensitive given the history of the Special Olympics here, involving Eunice Kennedy Shriver and current Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Burke. But during an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Special Olympics CEO Mary Davis said her organization just wanted to protect its name and brand.

“They are illegally used as ‘Special Olympics Chicago’ by Special Children’s Charity, and we have repeatedly asked them to refrain,” Davis said.

The trademark infringement lawsuit asks a federal judge to bar the Chicago organization from using the name “Special Olympics” or “Special Olympics Chicago.”

A representative for Special Children’s Charities did not immediately comment Wednesday morning. The group’s president is Carolyn Daley, niece of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

The lawsuit says Special Children’s Charities falsely told donors it was a Special Olympics entity. The complaint does not allege any misappropriation of funds. On the contrary, he says the Chicago band are doing a great job and that their 50+ years of support “are appreciated.”

The complaint also details the history of the Special Olympics, including how Shriver, sister of President John F. Kennedy, started a camp at her home in suburban Washington, D.C., for children with special needs in the 1960s. He doesn’t mention Burke, then a physical education teacher at the Chicago Park District, who was looking to organize an athletic meet for kids with disabilities.

Burke is Ald’s wife. Edward M. Burke (14th), who for years faced unrelated federal racketeering charges.

A partnership with Shriver developed in the 1960s with support from then-Mayor Richard J. Daley and the Chicago Park District. The first Special Olympics International Summer Games were held on July 20, 1968 at Soldier Field.

But the lawsuit also exposes years of back-and-forth over the Chicago organization’s use of the “Special Olympics” name, dating back to 1983. It notes that the word “Olympics” is used by the parent organization with special approval. of the United States Olympic Committee, and that Special Olympics Illinois is the only accredited branch of the largest organization in that state.

The U.S. Olympic Committee even intervened in a dispute with the Chicago organization over the name in 1986, according to the lawsuit.

Eventually, he says, all parties reached an agreement in 1994 that gave special children’s charities a limited right to use the “Special Olympics” name in fundraising. It was reaffirmed in 2017 before the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics.

Still, frustrated that Special Children’s Charities “increasingly blurs the line between program sponsor and potential rogue actor,” Special Olympics Illinois ultimately terminated the 1994 agreement, effective December 2020, according to the lawsuit. .

Therefore, he said, “effective January 1, 2021, Special Children’s Charities has not been granted permission to use the Special Olympics name as a trademark, including in fundraising activities.”

A “Special Olympics Chicago” logo could be seen at the top of the Special Children’s Charities website as recently as Wednesday morning. The website also thanked for the support received by this month’s Polar Plunge, which it said benefited “Special Olympics Chicago” as well as Special Children’s Charities.

Several items bearing the “Special Olympics Chicago” logo were also available for purchase on the website, including face masks, water bottles, umbrellas, mugs and license plate holders.

Tax forms available online for Special Children’s Charities for the year 2019 describe the organization as “the fundraising arm of Special Olympics Chicago.” The 1994 agreement would have been in effect at the time, according to the lawsuit. But similar language could be found Wednesday on the organization’s website.

Speaking to the Sun-Times, Davis said there was also a safety issue to consider for Special Olympics athletes. She said the parent organization has several procedures and protocols in place to protect athletes.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit says some of the activities of special children’s charities violated those protocols.

Contributor: Tim Novak


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