San Francisco Arts and Athletics v. United States Olympic Committee

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In San Francisco Arts & Athletics, Inc. v. United States Olympic Comm., 483 U.S. 522 (1987), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the power of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to ban the name "Gay Olympic Games" by the San Francisco Ars & Athletics organization. The Court ruled in favor of the constitutionality of a provision of the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, 36 U.S.C. §§ 371-396, that authorizes the United States Olympic Committee to prohibit certain commercial and promotional uses of the word "Olympic".

Petitioner San Francisco Arts & Athletics, Inc. (SFAA), was a nonprofit California corporation that began to promote the "Gay Olympic Games," using those words on its letterheads and mailings and in local newspapers. The games were to be a 9-day event to begin in August 1982, in San Francisco, California. After a torch relay to imitate the real Olympic torch relay, the final runner would enter the stadium with the "Gay Olympic Torch" and light the "Gay Olympic Flame." To cover the cost of the planned Games, the SFAA sold T-shirts, buttons, bumper stickers, and other merchandise bearing the title "Gay Olympic Games."

Justice Lewis Powell wrote the opinion for the divided Court. He based his ruling on a finding of lack of state action, a rationale with which 4 justices from the liberal side of the Court disagreed. Justice Powell concluded:

The USOC's choice of how to enforce its exclusive right to use the word "Olympic" simply is not a governmental decision. There is no evidence that the Federal Government coerced or encouraged the USOC in the exercise of its right. At most, the Federal Government, by failing to supervise the USOC's use of its rights, can be said to exercise "mere approval of or acquiescence in the initiatives" of the USOC. Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S., at 1004-1005. This is not enough to make the USOC's actions those of the Government. Ibid. See Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks, supra, at 164-165; Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., supra, at 357. 29 Because the USOC is not a governmental actor, the SFAA's claim that the USOC has enforced its rights in a discriminatory manner must fail.