If you ask anyone around here, he’s an all-around nice guy. He’s also a recent cancer survivor. And a double amputee. And confined to a wheelchair. And a recipient of Social Security Disability. Chuckie Sonntag is not a deep-pocketed fellow.
Chuckie Sonntag ran afoul of Texas A&M because he started a local movement to keep the Bills in Buffalo, and called it “12th Man Thunder”. Even a sports ignorant like I am knows that “12th man” refers to the fan in the stands, who cheers for his team. It has already been changed to “Bills Fan Thunder” to appease an aggressive bully, Texas A&M.
Perhaps Chuckie should have simply created a gender-neutral alternative and told Texas A&M to go to hell. 12th Player? 12th Position? A quick glance at the Wikipedia entry for “12th Man” shows that it’s used commonly by many teams. Texas A&M also holds the trademark on the term “12th Man”, and is very aggressive in enforcing it.
Here’s Chuckie, whom Texas A&M just sued. I don’t do IP law, so I can’t opine on the legal issues in anything more than a rudimentary manner, but this whole thing seems outrageous and palpably unfair. From the trademark filing, the school owns “12th Man”.
Maybe Sonntag should use “Twelfth Man”.
Sonntag isn’t using the mark for commercial reasons; he isn’t making money on it. The term is common and, registration notwithstanding, not unique to Texas A&M. It would be wonderful to see someone challenge the validity of the underlying mark. Seems unlikely to succeed, but I cannot tolerate big public universities bullying a grassroots fan effort like this.
The press release is below.
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“I can’t afford to pay an attorney but their lawsuit could cost me between $50,000 and $500,000,” Charles “Chuckie” Sonntag said. “That pretty much wipes out my $800 monthly Social Security check for the rest of my life.” Chuckie, who beat cancer last year, has suffered from polyostotic fibrous dysplasia – Albright’s Disease – since childhood and lost his left arm 20 years ago. In March, doctor’s
amputated his left leg.
Recovering In his hospital bed, Chuckie and his close friends decided to do something to stop the NFL Bills from leaving Buffalo – and “12thManThunder.com” was born. Established only two months ago, the idea took off and today is 10,000 Bills fans strong and growing. The group’s efforts have given a voice to loyal Bills fans at a time when their team may be moved to another city. Even local businesses have rallied around the group to donate 10 Bills season tickets for the city’s at-risk youth.
“My experience has proven two things: a handicapped person can accomplish just about anything – and Texas A&M will sue just about anybody,” Chuckie said.
On May 27th the University ordered its high-powered attorneys to demand Chuckie cease using the term “12th Man,” asserting a trademark they won in 1989 for the widely-used phrase meaning “fan support”.
Many high schools in the United States incorporate 12th Man language into their booster clubs, including the Altaloma Braves, Dana Hills Dolphins, Seneca Golden Eagles, Washington Panthers, Richwood Knights, Diamond Bar Brahmas, Fairfield Falcons, and Brentwood Bruins.
Legally, Texas A&M could have moved on any of these groups or dozens more. Instead, on Monday, the University filed suit against a double amputee cancer survivor 1,500 miles away from College Station.
By filing suit, the University exposes Chuckie to automatic fines and fees – even though he expressed a willingness to cooperate. At one point, they gave him 24 hours to hand over all Internet domain names he bought, the T-shirts he printed and many other items. With the help of friends, he changed the name of his group to “BillsFanThunder.com” and stopped infringing on the trademark as fast as he could.
“How am I supposed to comply with their demands so quickly? I can’t even type that fast – I only have one hand,” Chuckie said.
Chuckie Sonntag is well known in Buffalo – for decades he has parked cars on the lawn of the small home he inherited next to the Buffalo Bills stadium. Unable to work, he devotes his time to helping two area non-profit organizations. He was honored this past weekend for surviving his bout with cancer during festivities at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo.