An Open Letter to Roger Goodell

The following email was forwarded to me by my father. It was written by a good friend of his and attorney (we won’t hold that against him) Chip Saunders:

——– Original Message ——–
Subject: Who Dat
Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 12:21:42 -0600
From: John Saunders <audubon253 @cox.net>
To: <roger.Goodell2@nfl.net>

Commissioner Goodell, I hear the NFL thinks it owns the rights to the phrase Who Dat, as well as any use of the ubiquitous Fleur-de-lis:

Héraldique_meuble_Fleur_de_lys_lissée

Let’s begin with the fleur-de-lis, sir. It is, quite literally, an iconic representation of the Lily flower, and it has been in existence in French monarchy since at least the 12th century. At that time it became the heraldic emblem of the Capetian Kings of France, who claimed it was initially adopted at the time of the Frankish King Clovis 1 in 493. Since then the fleur-de-lis has been incorporated into the coat of arms or the flags of many European countries, including Spain, Luxembourg and the House of Bourbon. It has ALSO been used worldwide, appeared on postage stamps and, in North America, it has long been associated with areas settled by the French, such as Quebec, Louisville, St. Louis, Louisville and – yes sir – Louisiana, of which I presume you are aware New Orleans is a part.

When the Saints came into existence in 1967, it was normal and natural that the creators would want to adopt a symbol representative of that heritage. What could be more natural than the fleur-de-lis? It’s was and still is virtually everywhere throughout the region (hence my use of the word ubiquitous). But I said adopt, not co-opt. No one has a right to or ownership of the fleur-de-lis and I dare say anyone foolish enough to attempt to register it as a trademark, trade name, service mark or any other “protected” icon would be summarily laughed back into the bayou. And if, for argument’s sake anyone could own the word or the icon, what next? Will the NFL also claim, by virtue of the awarding of the franchise in 1967, that the name New Orleans is also the property of the NFL, issuing cease and desist orders to anyone marketing anything with those words in the colors old gold and black?

No, Mr. Commissioner, it’s time for you to have a come-to-Jesus-talk with your legal counsel and impress upon them the folly of claiming any rights of any kind in our beloved and historic symbol, the fleur-de-lis. Should the NFL try to pursue this course, I dare say you will find that there’s as much fight in Louisianans in general as there is in our wonderful Saints. You will think you’re in a real dogfight, sir.

Then let’s look at Who Dat. I could as easily ask you “Who Dat say dey gonna take our phrase? Who Dat? Who Dat?” Do you also claim ownership to the word Crunk, merely because it is now directly and principally associated with that fervor that breaks out in the Dome at every NFL game? Will all the fans have to remain in their seats and resist boogieing to the sounds, lest they infringe on some right the NFL thinks it has acquired? Tell that to the Ying Yang Twins and see how far you get.

Who Dat has been used in this region, in various settings and for various reasons, as far back as the 19th century. Though many claim something to do with its creation, it was being used by a regional high school in the 1970’s, repeated in college football settings thereafter, and was ultimately linked to the Saints in the early 80’s. If the NFL could establish any right in the phrase – which I suggest it cannot do – the NFL has nevertheless been silent for over 25 years while the phrase has been repeatedly used by any and all, in relation to the Saints as well as in relation to things that have absolutely nothing to do with the Saints. Again, Mr. Commissioner, to claim any proprietary right in the term is foolhardy. Next thing, you’ll be wanting everyone to pay a license fee to ask “Where Y’at?” or “How’s ya mama ‘n ‘em?”

Commissioner Goodell, many flags have flown over our city, and many nationalities have flourished here. But all who would assume management of our town have realized that while there may be cross-town rivalries, ethnic differences, economic jealousies and partisan bickering, when anything – ANYTHING – held sacred is challenged, the people of New Orleans become as one. The British learned it in 1815, and Rite Aid learned it when it assumed our beloved K & B drugstores and ceased offering Coke products for sale. Rite Aid may still be “Pepsi-exclusive” in other parts of the country, but we, the people of New Orleans, let Rite Aid know in no uncertain terms that if Coke was not available at Rite Aid, it most certainly was at Walgreen’s. In less than a year, Rite Aid reversed itself. Never underestimate the power of New Orleanians to wreak havoc on a corporate interloper telling us what we may or may not use.

This effort to claim any right in either the phrase or the icon is really a very wrong step. You’re tilting at a very large windmill and you will become an irritant to a populous you really don’t want to irritate. Perhaps, in that sense, you should consider the lyrics from the song: “Don’t you know little fool, you’ll never win; Why not use your mentality, come on step up to reality…”

Reality is, you have no right in either, and it’s time to drop the claim.

John C. Saunders, Jr.
253 Audubon Boulevard
New Orleans, LA 70125
(504) 866-3756

4 comments

  1. THANK YOU MR SAUNDERS!!! YOU NEED TO START A COALITION OF ATTORNEYS IN THE CITY THAT WILL UNITE TO FIGHT THIS, PROBONO FOR THE GOOD OF THE CITY!

  2. PRAISE JESUS!! I’ve already written Mary Landrieu. And, isn’t her brother running, too? Well, I’m a registered voter!! GET YOUR VOICE HEARD…CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATURE!!! This is an abomination and a slap in the face to the people of Louisiana…not to mention local businesses who are suffering now because of it. SAY NO TO THE NFL!!! WHO DAT? WE DAT!!! POO DAT NFL!!!!!

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