Ohio State Tries To Trademark The Word “THE”… Michigan Counters By Licensing “OF”

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Bitter Buckeyes are reeling.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has denied Ohio State University’s petition to trademark the word “The” as in, “The Ohio State University” (pronounced Thee Ohio State University) , contending that the word” the” is critical to much of the university’s merchandising all sorts of athletic gear and commemorative souvenirs.  Unwary shoppers, the Patent Office was told, could mistake a sweatshirt from Ohio University or Miami University of Ohio for the genuine and more celebrated Ohio State brand, which does cast some shade on Buckeye Nation as one might assume that a fan knows the difference between teams even if their names contain many similar letters.  Michigan/Michigan State, Colorado/Colorado State … not a lot of their fans out there proudly flying the wrong flag.

There are some interesting questions raised by the university’s claim to ownership, however, and those conversations may bring us to a higher plane of linguistic sensitivity.  And, it should be noted, there may be opportunities to suggest that although there may be method in Ohio State’s application, yet there is madness in’t. So, let’s press on.

We’ll get terribly confused in trying to speak about the not-yet-trademarked word and the word we have been tossing around for centuries, primarily because t-h-e  means different things to differing people. Henceforth, in order to avoid confusion, the word as used by the university will be emboldened (THE) to identify its distance from its more commonly used, and apparently, commonly owned cousin, the functional word.

The is a good word, a darned good word.  We use it all the time, hardly noticing its graceful utility, just tossing it around as if we owned it.   Maybe we’ve taken it for granted, assumed it would always be there when we needed it. Without it, we seem impetuous, imperious, reductive.  Declaration of Independence. Gettysburg Address.

The (see?) evolution of Ohio State’s fixation on the word, its determination to achieve exclusive ownership of the word THE,  begins with its position in the state’s birth order.  Ohio University in Athens was founded in 1804. The two landmark liberal arts colleges in the State of Ohio, Kenyon and Oberlin, were founded in 1824 and 1833 respectively.  THE Ohio State University was founded in 1870 as Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, taking the name The Ohio State University in 1870 when then Governor Rutheford B. Hayes, a graduate of Kenyon, authorized the development of a comprehensive university.

THE University of Michigan, founded in 1817, THE University of Virginia, founded in 1819, and THE University of Pennsylvania, founded in 1740, might have jumped into the fray, were the fray not an exercise in absurdity.  Virginia is secure enough to hang around without assuring its celebrants that it is the University of Virginia even though THE College of William and Mary, equally funded by the Commonwealth of Virginia  is conspicuously older, founded in 1693. In tribute to THE Ohio State University’s initiative, THE University of Michigan has offered to trademark the word OF.

Lest a wary Buckeye dither over other attributes claimed by the university, be assured that applications for trademark protection of the names URBAN MEYER and WOODY HAYES are also under consideration.  The resources of a gigantic enterprise such as THE Ohio State University demands specialized sets of skill, so it should come as no surprise that the Urban Meyer registration was handled by Ohio State’s Director of Trademark and Licensing Services, Rick Van Brimmer.  Van Brimmer is not simply keeping an eye on names and articles; he’s currently working on trademarking The Oval, The Shoe, and OSU.  Already trademarked are Brutus Buckeye, Script Ohio, Gold Pants, and Block O, the Buckeye Stripe, the helmet leaf, and their home and away uniforms,

The OSU issue is a bit tricky in that Oklahoma State University and Oregon State University suggest that their claim on the initials is as legitimate as Ohio State’s.  At the moment, the trademark is licensed on a state by state, i.e. regional, basis. The greater complication, an innocent observer might note, is that by registering THE, Ohio’s state university should actually be represented as TOSU.  Please call Van Brimmer at home to raise that point.

Trademarking and licensing belong in the nether reaches of marketing and finance, areas not commonly discussed in polite society.  TOSU is not alone in having grasped the importance of keeping a stranglehold on an asset that might become commercially viable.  Verizon holds a trademark on the scent they pump into their retail stores. “Flowery Musk Scent” sets the Verizon experience apart from others and must be protected.  Tiffany Blue is a protected color, as is T-Mobile Magenta, Barbie Pink, and Wiffleball Bat Yellow.

As Kurt Vonnegut, a Midwesterner with an eye for the absurd might have said in encountering the trademark that UPS holds on its shade of brown, “So it goes.”

And the Prize for Inconceivable Arrogance goes to ….

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Ah, Autumn!  Leaves are falling, footballs are sailing, and the mascots no longer smell like mothballs.  Bright college years with pleasures rife, the shortest, gladdest years of life – what better Saturday afternoon than sitting in the stands amid the pomp and pageantry of Division I football?  The band is pumping out the fight songs; the cheerfolk are tumbling and screaming. A rumble as the first players burst from the tunnel, then a roar as they stampede, more than a hundred superbly conditioned young men, moving as one, a blur of helmeted color.

Sweet, Jesus.  All’s right with the world!

Except that this is Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  It’s 92 degrees in the shade at 3 PM as the Aggies of New Mexico State scurry to the sideline, rushing like a man pulled from a brothel into church, aware at a cellular level that they don’t belong and will soon face the wrath of an unforgiving God.  Their mascot, Pistol Pete, twirls a pair of unloaded six guns in front of the four or five New Mexico Tech rooters.  

Pistol Pete is one of the few mascots drawn from the pages of history.  Frank Boardman “PIstol Pete” Eaton, born in Hartford, Connecticut, was a scout, indian fighter, and cowboy, famous for his skill as a gunman and for his relentless pursuit of the men who killed his father.  Eaton’s ability to kill people was much admired, and over the course of several decades, his mustached likeness was trotted out as the embodiment of all things admired in the Old West. Think of a young(er) Tom Selleck.  In any case, students at what was then known as Oklahoma A and M, now Oklahoma State, petitioned the administration for a change of mascot, aware that their claim to be the Princeton of the Prairie hardly entitled them to joint custody of the tiger as a mascot.  As the former New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in Las Cruces, New Mexico took its place in Division I football, it too had need of an inspirational figurehead, adopting Pistol Pete as their own.

Except that he wasn’t.  At the outset, in the 1950’s, NMSU paid Oklahoma State a royalty of ten dollars a year for the logo and mascot.  Times changed, conversation between the two institutions of higher learning grew testy, and in 2005, New Mexico State folded, changing the mascot’s name to “Lasso Larry”, arming him with a coiled rope.  Outraged students asked, “Who brings a lasso to a gunfight?”, a not unreasonable question if athletic competition is seen as war, and Pistol Pete returned to the sidelines, prompting OSU to sue NMSU.  

That suit settled  (NMSU can only sell 3000 articles featuring the cowboy and the royalty is to be paid in perpetuity), It’s September 7th in Tuscaloosa, the temperature is rising, and Alabama’s Crimson Tide sweeps onto the field accompanied by their mascot, Big Al, a rumpled but enthusiastic grey elephant.  ‘’Bama’s team numbers something above one hundred and five players, eighty five of whom are on scholarship. Of that number, twenty seven of the newest players, recent recruits, arrived as four or five star recruits, giving Big Al something to cheer about and placing Alabama at the top of the 2019 recruiting classes.  NMSU’s class is made of two and three star recruits, placing them at spot number one hundred and twenty in the recruiting sweepstakes.  

Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium is named after a former president of the university, Denny, and a former coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant.  The stadium is the seventh largest stadium in the world, welcoming almost one hundred and two thousand loyal ‘Bama Boosters to its seats.  Naturally, the scramble for seats is ongoing, and students line up for their season passes, plunking down one hundred and thirty five dollars for the season, a bargain to be sure.  Individual game prices vary. The NMSU student ticket price is twenty dollars if purchased separately; tickets to the LSU game go for one hundred and twenty. A season pass now looks like a heck of a bargain.  Good times in Tuscaloosa!

Except that the temperature is rising, humidity is woolen, classes don’t begin for another two weeks,and the Tide has pasted sixty two points on New Mexico State, the designated early season punching bag, Apparently believing they have some agency in their lives, students stick with it through the first half and retreat to cooler options in the second half, leaving a bare patch in the stadium’s flanks.

Sensible, you say.  Understandable.

In an age of outsized egos, however, such defection is taken personally, and no ego puffs with more satisfaction than that belonging to Alabama’s exceptionally talented and successful football coach.  Nick Saban makes seven point nine million dollars a year with a four hundred dollar escalator clause. He is an exceptionally good coach in a state that venerates college football.  His wish is the State’s command. He has complained about Alabama’s students with clear contempt.

“Everybody wants to be a part of the team,” he said. “Everybody wants to be No. 1, but everybody don’t want to do what the beast does. Everybody wants to be the beast but they don’t want to do what the beast do.

“So everybody’s got to make a sacrifice. You want to be the lion? Everybody got to do something. Everybody wants to be No. 1. If I asked that whole student section, do you want to be No. 1? Nobody would hold their hand up and say I want to be No. 4. They would all say No. 1. But are they willing to do everything to be No. 1? That’s another question. You can ask them that. I don’t know the answer.”

Alabama’s answer is to create a “Loyalty Program” which offers students advantaged access to the highly prized post-season games.  Go to a game, pick up one hundred points. Stay through the fourth quarter? Two hundred and fifty more points. And how are the ticket czars able to keep track of who is where doing what?  Simple. ‘Bama’s tracking students’ cell phones. The app was developed by FanMaker and is used at forty other colleges in order to reward fans by giving them t shirts and other team gear. They go to a game, they get a reward.  Alabama’s Grand Poobah is not satisfied with attendance; he wants LOYALTY.  

 

The introduction of Big Brother creepiness to Alabama football is not entirely surprising given that some pundits refer to the university as “Sabanistan”; Nick Saban has become he who must be obeyed in a state delighted by his casual arrogance.  Without making the obvious comparison with other monstrous egos demanding loyalty, it is worth remembering that the entire conversation takes place within the walls of a university. President Denny was lucky to hold his office before Bear Bryant became the face and voice of the university; it’s unlikely that Alabama’s current president, Stuart R. Bell, will find his name emblazoned on a stadium’s gate. Lucky and loyal ticket holders do line up in front of a nine foot statue of Nick Saban.

 

Roll Tide!

For Worse

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The latest in ESN’s remarkable documentary series, 30 for 30, “Dennis Rodman: For Better of Worse”, presents a not-unfamiliar profile of an elite athlete looking back at a chaotic life with a mixture of regret and confusion. Rodman’s story is similar in some ways to those told by others who arrived at great celebrity from circumstances that were more than daunting. An absent father, a critical mother, successful older siblings – painful but not uncommon. In many circumstances, we can also anticipate the sorts of difficulties the highly prized athlete would face: adulation, a free pass during school and college years, protection from consequence, betrayal by those who profited from his success.

What sets Rodman’s story apart is his invention of himself at about the midpoint in his career, an artifice of significant oddity, seemingly emerging at the end of Rodman’s glory years with the Detroit Pistons.

As presented in the documentary, until the age of twenty-one, Rodman was noteworthy only for being a nonentity. In this case the word actually means what it is intended to mean; Rodman moved through his small world as though he did not exist. His sisters had successful athletic careers; his mother raised a family and held expectations of her children. He appears an afterthought in photographs, a 5’8 skinny kid who would steal watches from an airport in order to buy friendship. Even his incarceration was pallid; he spent time in an airport lockup. Then, in less than a year, he grew to 6’8 and picked up basketball. With virtually no experience in the sport, he displayed a genius for rebounding, attracting the attention of NAIA Southeast Oklahoma where he became an All American drafted with the 27th pick by the Detroit Pistons.

During those years, Rodman befriended Byrne Rich, a twelve year old boy who had killed a friend in a shooting accident. The traumatized boy was sent to basketball camp in the hope that he might begin to recover in the company of boys his own age. Instead, he bonded with Rodman, a gigantic man-child, as tentative and damaged as he was. Rodman moved in with the Oklahoma family, and was treated with great kindness, sleeping in the same room as his friend. Pat Rich cooked his favorite meals, did his laundry, and held him to the standards of behavior she set for her two sons. Rodman was absorbed into the Rich family. The elements of this part of the story are complicated. Rodman is a huge black man living with a white family in southeastern Oklahoma, sharing a room with a twelve-year-old boy. Complicated enough, but with what will become a persistent theme, Rodman travels into the next chapter without attachment to or memory of his time with the Riches. He expresses gratitude to the Riches in his ghost-written autobiography, Bad As I Want To Be, but has had no contact with or concern for them in the decades that followed.

Rodman still had a conspicuous shift in personality ahead, but an immediate point of comparison at this point is with Wilt Chamberlain, an equally gigantic African American who spent several summers as a bellboy at Kutsher’s Country Club, a Jewish resort in the Catskills. An earlier 30 for 30, “Wilt Chamberlain: Borscht Belt Bellhop” includes remarkable footage of high school junior Chamberlain toting suitcases in his bellhops uniform. His presence in the Catskills is enough to fuel a documentarian’s imagination but the more compelling part of the story has to do with the friendship formed between Chamberlain and Milton and Helen Kutsher

“We thought of Wilt as an extended member of our family,” Helen Kutsher tells Cherry in the book. “I used to kid him, ‘You’re like my fourth child. He always stayed in touch, and we’d talk during the year. He never really left us.”

Chamberlain and the Kutshers sustained this unlikely friendship throughout their lives. Rodman walked away from the Rushes and never looked back.

The athlete who left Southeastern Oklahoma is described as an innocent. In Detroit he enjoys arcade games, frolics with his new teammates, appears stunningly immature; he bonds with Chuck Daley, Piston coach and surrogate father, and weeps with embarrassment when praised as Defensive Player of the Year.

Childlike. An untutored rebounding savant.

In later years, as drugs, alcohol, non-stop hedonistic excesses take their toll, Rodman seems frantic, exhausted, `and oddly vulnerable. He’s credited with bringing flamboyance to the NBA, and his costumes, piercings, tattoos, and hair styles were certainly outside the conventions of professional basketball in his era, but, the trappings are merely trappings. Rodman isn’t there; he’s in disguise. He takes space and makes noise, but he remains determinedly absent from his own life.

There are a few moments of tentative authenticity when the contemporary Rodman is interviewed, some tears, expression of some regrets, particularly in recognizing his absence from his children’s lives, in which the sixty-eight year old alcoholic and addict appears to approach something like a sense of self, but those moments are fleeting. It’s not that Rodman is hiding; in the end we understand that there is no Dennis Rodman behind the curtain.