The League

Michael Oriard

Michael Oriard

An English professor at Oregon State University and the author of several books on football, including Brand NFL Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport and The End of Autumn Reflections on My Life in Football

NFL bully


You have to hand it to the NFL for being ever-vigilant in protecting its interests. Major initiatives on the legal front (asking the Supreme Court to declare the 32 franchises a "single entity" so that they can do whatever they want) and on the labor front (threatening to blow up two decades of peace with the Players Association if the players won't take an 18 percent pay cut) haven't distracted the league's brand police from going after a couple of tee-shirt shops.

I'm not close to this issue; I don't know how Saints fans feel about this fight over ownership of their chant. But I would think that it slightly sours what has otherwise felt like a five-month-long Mardi Gras. When Saints fans started chanting, "Who Dat?" in the early 1980s, they were apparently appropriating it from fans at LSU, who apparently appropriated it from fans either at Southern University or a couple of local African-American high schools, who appropriated it from various musicians dating back to the early years of jazz and then to minstrel shows in the late nineteenth century. (I didn't know any of this, but I have access to the Internet.) No one owned the phrase until the NFL made its claim this week.

Simple reason might suggest that a shirt in Saints colors with a fleur-de-lis as well as "Who Dat" infringes on an NFL right, while "Who Dat" alone is in the public domain. If the shops have the resources to defy the NFL, the courts will eventually decide if the league's ownership is real. Simple reason and the law, of course, are not necessarily the same.

Whatever the outcome, the NFL seems like a bully in such a petty case, and not for the first time, but it does have an enormously profitable brand to protect. What's strange is that, at the same time, it would contemplate putting this brand seriously at risk by locking out Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and the rest of the players in 2011. The NFL should be as vigilant in protecting its own main product as it is in stamping out rogue T-shirts.

By Michael Oriard  |  January 29, 2010; 8:42 AM ET  | Category:  New Orleans Saints Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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You said, "I'm not close to this issue; I don't know how Saints fans feel about this fight over ownership of their chant."

Many Who Dats think they should keep there nose out of the bayou.

See for yourself

Posted by: WHODATGeauxSaints | January 29, 2010 4:10 PM

I guess one could ask if the NFL is paying the French government for the use of the fleur-de-lis. The crown of France used the fleur-de-lis on their coat of arms long before football was ever invented much less the incorporation of the NFL. The fleur-de-lis was also used by the kings of England to show their claim to the French crown. Makes one wonder how the our Federal Courts would handle the case? I am sure heraldic badges, centuries old, could be produced of a black and gold fleur-de-lis. Public domain or private logo of the NFL???

Posted by: Tullus | January 29, 2010 9:27 PM

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