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The Georgia lawyer wrote back that the organization he was representing would just be the Wilderness Scouts and that they would redo their letterhead, deleting "of America" from their name. O.K? No. The next letter from the BSA ended with the word "litigation."
The whole controversy might have gone on the shelf had a lawyer for BSA not put his foot squarely in Tom Brokaw's mouth. That was on the evening of Nov. 1, 1988, when the Nightly News segment on the Wilderness Scouts concluded, and viewers heard the irked anchorman add this postscript: "Then a lawyer for the Boy Scouts suggested that Harold Cornwell change the name of his group to something else. Perhaps, he said, the Raccoons. That's what the lawyer suggested."
Two weeks later a friend of mine, a woman who had been mad enough at the Raccoons suggestion to write a note to the Boy Scouts, dropped the BSA's reply in my lap. "Tell me this isn't the most arrogant thing you've ever seen," she said. The letter spoke about this act of Congress that gave the Boy Scouts "sole and exclusive right to emblems, badges, words, marks and phrases associated with BSA." The letter also informed my friend that "if any youth group uses the term 'Scouts' without authorization, then it establishes a precedent which would be detrimental to the Scouting movement."
"Whose authorization?" I wondered. And how did International Harvester escape the wrath of the BSA when all those Scouts were rolling off the assembly line? Or the Lone Ranger when Tonto named his horse Scout?
The next day I called BSA headquarters in Texas. Surely this was all some kind of mix-up. But while the Boy Scouts' oath calls for members to be "brave," it seemed that the BSA's top brass had left one Barclay Bollas, a spokesman, to twist in the wind. To many of my questions Bollas replied, "I can't answer that." He told me the BSA position was based on a charter issued by Congress in 1916.
He couldn't explain how the BSA was interpreting that aged act, which, to many people, seemed pretty vague. He couldn't answer how the controversy began. "But you contacted them, didn't you?" I asked.
"I can't answer that," said Bollas.
"Who could answer these questions?" I asked.
"I suppose our legal counsel could," he said, "but he won't talk to you. All his calls are being referred to me."
"Would that be the gentleman who suggested to Tom Brokaw that the Wilderness Scouts become the Raccoons?" I asked.