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Some T-shirt vendors were asking this question after they received cease-and-desist letters from the National Football League compelling them to stop selling shirts that included the traditional cheer of New Orleans Saints fans.
The NFL had asserted rights to “who dat” earlier last week through the Florida Department of State, and it issued cease-and-desist orders against New Orleans vendors, including the Fleurty Girl shop on Oak Street, which sells Saints memorabilia decorated with the phrase. The NFL claimed the shirts infringe on a legal trademark it owns.
Many shop owners were deeply concerned. “If it’s not public domain, I just need to know ‘Who Dat’ gets the check,” said Lauren Thom, of Fleurty Girl.
“How can they put a trademark on something that’s been around for 150 years?” said Robert Lauricella, a 50-year-old oil field sales representative. “Just because the Saints have made the Super Bowl, why does everybody have to make a buck?”
Even Governor Bobby Jindal got involved in the debate over the weekend, asking the state attorney general to investigate and possibly sue the NFL over its position. But on Monday, the attorney general’s office said it would not file a lawsuit.
Apparently, the NFL has recoiled its attempt to restrict the use of the Saints fan phrase, “Who Dat.” The NFL now says the phrase is only problematic when used together with the Saints logo.
The move came after U.S. Senator David Vitter, and other politicians, including Representative Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, jumped into the recent controversy over the NFL’s claims. Vitter’s letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell read as follows:
Dear Commissioner Goodell:
I was stunned to learn recently that the NFL is taking the position that it owns the exclusive trademark of the term “Who Dat” and has even threatened legal action against some mom-and-pop merchants selling t-shirts using the term. I would urge you to drop this obnoxious and legally unsustainable position and instead agree that “Who Dat” is in the public domain, giving no one exclusive trademark rights.
Perhaps more significant than this history, “Who Dat” has become part of New Orleans and Louisiana popular culture. For the NFL to try to claim exclusive ownership of it would be like me registering and trying to claim exclusive ownership of the terms “lagniappe” and “laissez les bons temps rouler!”
Under Paul Tagliabue’s leadership, the NFL was an unbelievable partner in helping us recover and rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. Thank you again. We look forward to your dropping your “Who Dat” position so that this partnership can continue without strain or blemish.
Junior Senator of Who Dat Nation
Representatives for Vitter reported that the senator welcomed the NFL’s change of heart, but that he still had some issues to iron out. Now that all of the commotion surrounding “Who Dat” has fizzled, the next question is “Who is going to the Super Bowl parade?”
– Traci Galbreath