Who can and cannot use “the 12th Man” according to Texas A&M

Posted: January 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

Following Sunday’s Denver Broncos win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, I was checking my Twitter timeline and came across a re-tweet on a Denver Broncos page. The tweet was from the VP of Marketing and Communications at Texas A&M. Below is the tweet:

Jason Cook (@jason_cook)
“FYI #Broncos, the 12th Man belongs to Texas A&M. We saw the flag today and will defend our trademark. #TAMU #gigem”
  So, I did some research on the matter. Texas A&M filed to have the phrase trademarked in September 1990 and the passage of the Federal Dilution Trademark Act of 1995 allowed A&M to sue the Seattle Seahawks in 2006. Last year, the trademark was extended until 2020. They began sending “cease and desist” requests in 2004 and also to the Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears for their usage of the “the 12th Man.” In May 2006, Texas A&M and the Seattle Seahawks settled out of court. I’m assuming the Seahawks pay some sort of fee because they still fly a “the 12th Man” flag (as seen to the left).
     The Denver Broncos have been flying a “the 12th Man” flag at Sports Authority Field for a number of years. Nobody knows for exactly how long. I guess Mr. Cook just happened to be watching the Denver Broncos game yesterday, saw the parachuter with the flag and decided to send a threat to the Broncos via Twitter.
     Sure, A&M has every right to protect their trademark. But, NFL fans across the country are going to recognize the number 12 and “the 12th Man” as a reference to their fan base, not Texas A&M University. But, since it’s trademarked, I guess these teams across the country will have to give in to Texas A&M. Just from reading Broncos forums, I can tell this wouldn’t go over well with fan bases across the country.
I have two issues with this:
1.) Was Twitter the appropriate venue to threaten an NFL franchise over the use of the “the 12th Man?”
2.) How should the Texas A&M alums now playing for the Broncos feel?
1. First of all, I thought the Twitter account was fake and somebody was trying to be funny. Whenever I found out Jason Cook was legitimate, I had a laugh and then did my research. Mr. Cook, Twitter is definitely not the appropriate place to threaten legal action. The more appropriate thing to do would be to send a “cease and desist” letter via certified mail. Contact Ken Starr if you need lessons on how to write one. Mr. Cook made Texas A&M the laughing stock of the country Sunday night. Many teams, collegiate and professional, use the “the 12th Man” or “12” to reference their fan base. Is Texas A&M going to seek out every team and threaten them over a social networking site? Definitely not the best way to seem professional.
2. There are two Texas A&M alums on the Denver Broncos roster:  Von Miller and Ty Warren. What are they to think? I’m sure they were thrilled the “the 12th Man” phrase and flag they cherished in college was also used in their professional stadium. The first thing I thought was A&M could use these alums as ambassadors for the school and embrace the “the 12th Man” flag flown over Sports Authority Field. But, A&M would rather sue over the usage instead of trying to make a good name for themselves in Colorado and with Broncos fans. I understand protecting your brand and whatnot, but “the 12th Man” is a common phrase used widely across sports.
It all comes down to money, and as Big 12 regents and administrators know, A&M will give up their traditions for the right price.
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  3. ramapeace says:

    In order to understand this, you have to know the history and origin of the term 12th Man. The term did not arise organically to mean any fan base of a team that fields 11 players. In 1922, Texas A&M was a small college, then comprised of only men. In one particularly rough game, the football team found itself with only 11 players left that were able to play. If one more injury occurred, the Aggies would lose due to forfeiture. However, a student came out of the stands and suited up, thus becoming the 12th man. From that moment on, the “12th man” concept at A&M came to symbolize what any Aggie would do for his school. Every student became the 12th man. It was only when the school became a university, began accepting women and grew in prominence that the term was heard. Others began to take it on as their own believing it meant a fan base, not understanding the true history. Also, A&M students stand up throughout the entire football game. That is done to show the student body’s readiness to do what is needed during the game. It was such an “Aggie thing” here in Texas that no one thought of copying it. But as A&M rose in prominence and others heard, other teams began to use the term. I don’t think it’s done in ill will, but unless you’ve been a student at A&M, you simply can’t understand the significance to us. We don’t want something meaningful to us used without regard for the history and meaning. The two players at Denver would probably be the first two in Fenver to ask that it not be used. Even so, TAMU and the NFL, via the Seahawks reached an agreement in 2006. The Seahawks recognize the ownership belongs to us. They use it with that knowledge and acknowledgement. Yes, they pay a fee. A&M is not money-hungry. Trust me, with our strong Association of Former Students and athletic programs, we don’t need the money. However, we’re a state university and these teams are NFL FOR PROFIT organizations. We have a right to protect what is ours. We want the “12th Man” meaning to not be watered down much more than we want money. We are an institution of many traditions and this is one of the longest-running and most dear to us. Kyle Field, the campus of TAMU is the only true “Home of the 12th Man.” I hope this helps you & your readers understand. We bleed maroon and we’re a traditional, and good-hearted bunch of Texas people!

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