Terrell Suggs, defensive end for the Baltimore Ravens, claims ownership of the phrase “Ball So Hard University,” an obviously fictional school that Suggs has referred to as his alma mater. Steve Kilar of the Baltimore Sun has the story:
In a recorded introduction for an early-November game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, when players recite their names and alma maters for the TV cameras, Suggs said, “Sizzle. Ball So Hard University.” He chose to forgo his real name and college, Arizona State University, in favor of a nickname and a fictional institution based on the refrain of a 2011 hip-hop song by Jay-Z and Kanye West. Within hours, athletic apparel plastered with the name of the fake university started cropping up on the Internet. Those products are now at the center of a legal tug of war involving trademark issues and the potential for what Suggs’ lawyer calls “damage to the commercial value of his persona.”
According to Kilar, Brian Bussells filed a trademark application with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for “Ball So Hard University” approximately three days after the November game. Suggs filed five trademark applications a week and a half later, seeking protection for his catchphrase and nickname “T. Sizzle.” Subsequently, Suggs has sought to protect his marks, sending cease and desist letters to those producing “Ball So Hard University” merchandise.
The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has yet to decide any of the trademark applications, as the process is in its early stages. Under U.S. trademark law, priority is typically given to the first person to use the mark in commerce. Although Suggs first used the phrase, it does not appear that he was using it in commerce. Bussells apparently sold merchandise first with the “Ball So Hard University” mark, seemingly providing him with rights in the trademark.
Suggs, however, may attempt to stop others’ use of the phrase by claiming that it violates his right of publicity. Under this theory, Suggs would argue that the phrase and his persona are inextricably linked, therefore, Bussells and others should not be allowed to profit from the use of the phrase which necessarily conjures up images of Suggs.
There is precedent for NFL players acquiring trademark rights to their signature phrases. New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott owns the trademark rights to “Can’t Wait!”, a phrase he uttered after the Jets beat the Patriots in last year’s AFC Divisional playoff game. Scott’s teammate, Darrelle Revis, owns the rights to “Revis Island.”