Not surprisingly, Texas A&M is hyper-protective of its — trademarked, it should be noted — well-known “12th Man” phrase. The university has vigorously entered into numerous legal squabbles since the moniker was trademarked in the early nineties, including with a pair of NFL clubs: the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills.
A&M ultimately reached a licensing agreement — i.e. licensing fees — with both teams. The latter team, however, is in a roundabout way connected to the latest case of what the SEC program considers trademark infringement.
As you may or may not know, the Buffalo Bills are currently seeking a new owner and could (maybe, but hopefully not) be heading out of Western New York. In an effort to prevent the iconic local franchise from ditching the area, the co-founders of a website at one time titled “12thManThunder.com” — including a double amputee — started a campaign to raise awareness for their cause.
What they raised was the ire of A&M instead. From the Buffalo News:
One of targets is Charles “Chuckie” Sonntag, a double amputee and cancer survivor. He co-founded 12thManThunder.com website to keep the Bills in Buffalo. Texas A&M owns the rights to the term “the 12th man.” Sonntag, who overcame cancer last year, has suffered since childhood from polyostotic fibrous dysplasia, also known as Albright’s disease, He lost his left arm 20 years ago, and his left leg was amputated in March.
“My experience has proven two things: a handicapped person can accomplish just about anything – and Texas A&M will sue just about anybody,” Sonntag said.
The university, which has a $5 billion endowment, was notified by an attorney of Sonntag’s disabilities, but that hasn’t stopped it from playing hardball – and potentially threatening Sonntag, who lives on an $825-a-month Social Security check. Sonntag came up with the idea of starting the website to rally fan support to keep the Bills here after learning of Ralph Wilson’s death. His website associates are three friends: Charles Pellien, Anthony Lynch and Paul Roorda. Since the website was launched, more than 10,000 fans have signed a petition to keep the Bills in Buffalo.
The website has since changed its name to BillsFanThunder.com, but the university, through its attorneys, is still threatening legal action as it doesn’t feel the group has acted with the requisite expediency.
“They said stop using it immediately. I tried to but it takes time. I have one arm, also, so I’m working over my phone because I couldn’t afford the computer service that month,” Sonntag said. “We’ve tried to do it as quickly as possible, but it’s hard to change a group name on Facebook. It’s very time-consuming.”
An A&M spokesperson told the News that this issue has been ongoing for weeks and intimated that it needs to be resolved sooner or later… or else.
“We have been negotiating about a turnover date for several weeks. When it became apparent they would not make that change, we gave them a deadline of last Friday to respond. The domain name still needs to be transferred from their ownership. It is still redirecting to their website. Their use of social media is still in question.”
To that, Sonntag responded…
“I didn’t know they own the name, because I see it all over. It’s on the Bills Wall of Fame. Why would they single out a disabled man?”
When this latest 12th Man pissing match will ultimately be resolved is unclear. What is clear is that this likely won’t be the last time the Aggies, rightly, protect that phrase like you would a newborn.