The NFL illustrates our point, again.
A couple of days ago we ran our annual alert about the fact that some folks – large professional sports organizations in particular – seem to be trying to take control of our language by registering as trademarks just about every word or phrase in sight . . . and then telling us we have to pay to use those words and phrases. For those who may not have believed us, check this out: reports out of New Orleans indicate that the NFL is claiming that “Who Dat” – long the catch-phrase of the Super Bowl-bound (oops, make that Super Bowl ®-bound) Saints, and before that a staple of minstrel shows and vaudeville acts back into the 1800s – is a registered NFL trademark.
According to those reports, the NFL has gone after local Big Easy tee-shirt vendors, trying to get them to stop selling their own home-grown “Who Dat” tees. Seems a bit heavy-handed, particularly in view of the hard times folks in N’awlins have suffered in recent years. (That’s what Senator David Vitter thought, at least. He fired off a letter to the NFL advising that he is printing up, for sale, a bunch of tee shirts emblazoned with the message “WHO DAT say we can’t print Who Dat!” His message to the NFL: “Please either drop your present ridiculous position [asserting control of “Who Dat”] or sue me.”)
“Ridiculous” seems about right to describe the NFL’s practice of going after local business owners for something like this. That’s especially so when any rational person would understand that this is one of those situations where you're better off cultivating support for one of your more hard-luck franchises, even if it costs you a few bucks here or there.
But for our purposes here at CommLawBlog.com, it helps us make our point: if the NFL is willing to swim against the tide of goodwill that’s flowed into New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, you should figure that the NFL will be perfectly happy to go after you for misuse of “Super Bowl” – darn, we messed up again – “Super Bowl ®”. Who dat ® say you haven’t been warned?