Former Big12 Writer Rips on A&M

Former Big12 blogger for ESPN, David Ubben, has taken a simple case of A&M defending its 12th man trademark and turned it into a smear campaign. His most recent article begins with a dramatic, click-generating headline of “Texas A&M threatens to sue double amputee, cancer survivor”. He then spins his story to make the Aggies look like the big bad bully that is oppressing a simple fan site for the Buffalo Bills. You can read the full article here.

As you can see, the spin machine is in full effect and it appears that Ubben simply has it out for the Aggies. This is not an unusual scenario as this was often the case in his days writing for the Longhorns in the Big12 blog. Luckily, someone has taken to reddit to rebuttal his entire article. It is pretty glorious and can be viewed here. However, I have also included the write-up below.

Look, we know sports journalists by-and-large aren’t the best reporters out there (but they are better than video game journalists), but this is a pretty example that pains me because it involves a writer I otherwise enjoy, David Ubben on Texas A&M. It also hit the sweet spot of an otherwise dead holiday week so I have the time to write more.
[for those who don’t know, I don’t have any dog in this fight as far as A&M is concerned; I’m just frustrated at the level of news I often see on our Twitter feed]
Before we look at the article, let’s go over the facts:

On Trademarks:

  • Basically speaking, Trademarks are logos and slogans that symbolize an organization or entity as a form of identity
  • Trademarks have an interesting trade-off: They last forever, but you have to actively police and protect your trademark or you lose it (unlike patents and copyrights) — and it’s happened before (e.g. Bayer lost “Aspirin” in the US because they couldn’t protect it during the World War)
  • A trademark owner can either license (free or not) or require someone who infringes their trademark to remove it.
  • If you’re curious, a “™” symbol is for things that are being treated as trademarked but the owner has not (or not yet) gone through the financial and time burdern of seeing a Registered Trademark (®) from the USPTO. While a ® is stronger and easier to protect than a ™. a lot of organizations will operate from just a ™.

On the situation involving A&M:

  • Texas A&M owns the registered trademark (®) to the 12th Man
  • Four Bills fans used that trademark in their site
  • Texas A&M found out about it and demanded they change the site
  • The group complied and changed the URL
  • A&M also required they remove 250 posters promoting the site taken down from restaurants and bars around Buffalo; they also are waiting for domain name to be transferred to their ownership.

Pretty cut and dry, eh?
Ubben’s piece is here, but why give it hits when I’m instead going to take it down section by section in a criticism:

The Title:

  • Texas A&M threatens to sue double amputee, cancer survivor

Y’ouch. Did you know one of this group of 4 people has a disability? Screw A&M, amirite?

  • Texas A&M aggressively defends their “12th Man” trademark that dates all the way back to 1922.

This is the entire extent of trademark law discussion in this piece. That’s it.

  • They were granted a trademark of the term in 1990 and later prevented the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills from using the term. The Bill and Seattle Seahawks now pay licensing fees to use the term and are forbidden from selling 12th Man merchandise.

Okay, useful background. But why do they defend it? Not clear from anything so far.

  • If there was any doubt about Texas A&M’s commitment to defending the trademark, there won’t be any more.

LOL, what? If they didn’t have a commitment to defend the trademark they’d lose it.

  • The Aggies filed two complaints against four Bills fans for using the trademark in their website,

The basic conflict.

  • One of those Bills fans is a double amputee and a cancer survivor named Charles “Chuckie” Sonntag, according to the Buffalo News. Sonntag beat cancer last year. He’s suffered from polyostotic fibrous dysplasia, also known as Albright’s disease, since he was a child. His left arm was amputated 20 years ago and his left leg was amputated in March, according to the paper. He also lives on a monthly $825 social security check.

“One of those Bills fans”… happens to have a disability. I’m somehow sure he isn’t the first person with a disability to violate a law, but apparently it’s a huge deal here for some reason.
Does this imply that I can start stealing stuff if I find someone in a similar situation?

  • “My experience has proven two things: a handicapped person can accomplish just about anything – and Texas A&M will sue just about anybody,” Sonntag told the paper.

Hmm… fluff quote of no value. Okay. I wonder why this is being pushed…

  • An attorney notified the university of Sonntag’s disabilities.

Ah yes, maybe… if they had consulted a lawyer before they might have not violated a trademark!

  • The four fans changed the name of the website to, but Texas A&M demanded more.

Okay, at this point in the article you’re waiting to hear what terrible thing the Aggies have done:

  • Attorneys wanted all 250 posters promoting the site taken down from restaurants and bars around Buffalo.

Wait, seriously? This is about posters? 3 of those folks can certainly go take down posters or maybe call those spots and request they take them down.

  • “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,” Texas A&M spokesman Shane Hinckley told the paper.

Nothing abnormal here. They asked for the URL, they have been trying to negotiate a timeframe while being firm. What is A&M supposed to do?

  • The purpose of the website was to organize support for the Bills to stay in Buffalo. Three more fans–Charles Pellien, Anthony Lynch and Paul Roorda–are also subjects of the complaints.

Useful facts.

  • Pellien told the paper he felt like the university overreacted. Everyone uses ‘the 12th man.’ It’s a shame that people can actually buy and own words,” he said. “We’re not doing anything to harm their school, or take any business away from them or making any money off of it. It’s just a fan organization that wants to save our Bills.”

So he’s upset that he did not know about how laws that have existed since before he was born work, and this entire article talks about how this one guy in a group of four was apparently put through the hardship of changing a URL and taking down some posters because of Texas A&M.

That’s the entire piece.

Now go look at the 9 bullets at the top. How many of those explanatory bullets were included? What should have been included? Without their inclusion how does this paint A&M? How hard is it to find out that information? Should a journalist find out that information before writing a piece? I expect your papers on my desk by…



Huge tip of the hat to Honestly_ on reddit for taking Ubben’s article line by line and shedding light to the horrible bias that went into it. Again, his link is here.


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