Texas A&M University claims it legally owns the phrase “12th Man” and the university is taking court action against the Seattle Seahawks professional football team for using “12th Man” in their run for the Super Bowl. The “12th Man” concept refers to the fans in the stands being the twelfth player “on the field” by yelling and cheering on the real 11 players on the field. Before each game the Seahawks raise a flag at every home game honoring the “12th Man” as demonstrated in the graphic below:
Texas A&M claims their 12th Man began began in 1922
and the university trademarked the phrase in 1990. The Seahawks,
A&M contends, are infringing on their mark because “12th Man”
belongs to A&M alone.
A&M has history on its side. The university prevented the Chicago
Bears and the Buffalo Bills from using the phrase and in 2004 and 2005
A&M sent letters to the Seahawks demanding they drop the phrase.
In Seattle, the Seahawks have tradition on their side. The 12th Man
concept dates to the early days of the team when they played in the old
The Kingdome was a roofed stadium and when the fans made
noise it made it hard for the other team to hear each other on the
field. In 1984 the Seahawks retired the number twelve so it could never
be worn by a player in order to fully honor of the fans. The “12” flag
flies from the Space Needle during important games. Forgetting the law
for just an instant — which side has the moral high ground here: The
Seahawks or A&M?
If the Seahawks just start using the number “12” everywhere to suggest
“12th Man” without actually saying it out loud or spelling it out would
the team still be in violation of the A&M trademark? Should the
Seahawks be allowed to trademark the number “12” for their exclusive
It is appropriate that the phrase “12th Man” is trademarked by A&M
when a number is placed in such close proximity of a single common
world? Would Seattle still be in violation if they instead used “12th
Dude” or “12th Player” or “12th Man-child” as their rallying cries?