Louisiana’s attorney general said Monday that local T-shirt makers don’t need the National Football League’s permission to sell shirts with the phrase "Who Dat," as long as they don’t make other references to the New Orleans Saints or NFL.
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said he had a conference call with the NFL’s general counsel to discuss cease-and-desist letters some Louisiana T-shirt makers received from the league. The letters demanded they stop selling shirts featuring the phrase that’s part of a popular cheer by Saints fans, citing trademark infringement. "They’ve conceded and they’ve said they have no intention of claiming the fleur-de-lis, which would be ridiculous, or the ‘Who Dat,’ which would be equally ridiculous," Caldwell said in an interview. The fleur-de-lis is a traditional symbol of New Orleans that’s featured on Saints helmets.
The NFL is only objecting to shirts that are marketed or presented as an official Saints or NFL product, Caldwell said. Shirts that are black and gold and say "Who Dat" can be sold, he said, if they don’t purport to be Saints gear and don’t include the team logo.
The chant — "Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints" — is often shortened to "Who Dat" on shirts and signs and has been a mainstay at the Superdome in New Orleans since the 1980s.
"People can use Who Dat all they want if it doesn’t include NFL and Saints trademarks," said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, in an e-mail. "We explained that we would contact merchants only if a Who Dat item also contained NFL or Saints trademarks or if it is falsely claimed that an unauthorized item is affiliated with the Saints or NFL."
The "Who Dat" spat has outraged many Louisiana residents and merchants, who argued the NFL couldn’t claim ownership of a saying or symbol that predates the Saints, who will make their very first Super Bowl appearance Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. Gov. Bobby Jindal asked Caldwell to look into a possible lawsuit if the NFL was attempting to declare ownership rights of the phrase.
Lauren Thom, owner of the Fleurty Girl T-shirt shop in New Orleans, said she’s changed the product description of her "Who Dat" shirts after getting a letter from the NFL demanding she quit selling them. She’s sold out of her stock and is now managing back orders.
"Yes it disrupted business, but it’s been kind of great as well. We’ve had lines of people waiting to buy our merchandise," Thom said. "One lady told me she wanted to buy anything in the store that was not NFL-licensed. I told her ‘that’s everything in the store!"’
"What started out as a letter that scared the bejesus out of me, has turned out to be the best thing ever for my business," she said.