February 01, 2010
Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna claim trademark rights over a two-word phrase popularized by beleaguered fans of one of the teams playing in this week's Super Bowl?
The NFL, apparently.
The "who dat" chant popularized by New Orleans Saints fans is under siege this week from the NFL. The Wall Street Journal explains:
The NFL asserted rights to ["who dat"] earlier this week through the Florida Department of State, and it has issued cease-and-desist orders against New Orleans vendors who sell Saints memorabilia adorned with the wording. It informed vendors that using the phrase is likely to "confuse the purchasing public into believing that your items" are sponsored by the NFL.
New Orleans locals are outraged and suspicious. The NFL, they contend, never cared about the quirky chant when the football team was dubbed the 'Aints a few decades ago, or after it was ousted from its home stadium in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina and finished 3-13.
There are two ways to react to this news:
1. Once again, the man is sticking it to the little guy: The big, bad NFL doesn't care about its fans, it just cares about making money. Why should a corporate behemoth that rakes in billions annually care that some shopkeeper in Jefferson Parish is selling a T-shirt for $13.95? Is this really going to put the NFL in the red? And what about some compassion for the people of New Orleans and everything that they've been through?
2. Yes, it's lame. But the NFL has to protect its trademarks: You can't sell a "Just Do It" T-shirt for long without getting a letter from Nike lawyers or open up a place called "Mick E. Mouse" and not draw the wrath of Disney. What's different about "Who Dat"? Sure, today it's New Orleans but tomorrow it's vendors in 32 NFL cities. Futhermore, the reason people in New Orleans didn't know that they weren't allowed to sell "Who Dat" T-shirts is because nobody wanted them until the team went to the Super Bowl. (Note: You can't write it on your bandwagon either.) And the phrase was sort of poached from the Cincinnati Bengals who, in turn, had actually adapted it from a cringe-worthy source.
Look, I take shots at Roger Goodell's NFL more than most. I've written here many times that I believe the league's greed will eventually lead to its demise. Stuff like this only feeds that perception. But the NFL isn't wrong here. You can't sell NFL-related merchandise without a licensing agreement. This isn't up for debate.
It's not like the league is saying that it owns the phrase "who dat." That's the attractive story and headline, but not the truth. The NFL is contending that vendors can't sell already-illegal Saints gear with the phrase "who dat" written on it. Call it parsing if you want, but there's a legitimate difference. Both are greedy. Only one is unjustifiably so.
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