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JAN
16
3 YEARS

NFL Star's Televised Joke Becomes Heated Trademark Dispute

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs' failure to game-plan an odd TV moment that soon became an Internet meme has got his lawyers scrambling.

Terrell Suggs Baltimore Ravens Linebacker - H 2012
Rob Carr/Getty Images

As most football fans know, the opening sequences of a game tend to make for cheesy TV flourishes. One of the more pompous acts of pageantry is when each starting member of an NFL team introduces himself by name and the university he attended.

On Nov. 6, during NBC's telecast of a Sunday night match-up between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, linebacker Terrell Suggs took this moment to a whole new level of absurdity by introducing his name as "Sizzle" and citing his alma mater as "Ball So Hard University."

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Pretty funny, but Suggs' failure to game-plan the moment with a lawyer has now become a scramble to recover the trademark.

Within a few days of the telecast, an entrepreneur named Brian Bussells applied for a trademark on "Ball So Hard University" so he could use the mark on T-shirts and other apparel. About 10 days later, Suggs, who actually attended Arizona State University, attempted his own trademark registration.

Now, the two are fighting over who gets to use "Ball So Hard."

Suggs is president and CEO of Team Sizzle Worldwide, an independent film company based in Baltimore, Maryland, which has made five low-budget movies to date. He's also offering licensed "Ball So Hard" merchandise and has a Facebook page too.

After Team Sizzle registered a trademark, the company's lawyer sent a cease-and-desist letter to Bussells, who is also selling merchandise at BallSoHardU.com.

The legal notice says that use of the mark is false and misleading, creates confusion, and also violates Suggs' rights of publicity.

Suggs' menacing legal maneuvers have caused others selling "Balls So Hard" apparel to back down, but not yet Bussells. What's going in Bussells' favor is that he got to the trademark office first and Suggs might not have been the first to use the mark in commerce.

That honor seems to be enjoyed by Kanye West and Jay-Z, who rapped about how they "ball so hard" on their joint album released last year.

Suggs has acknowledged the inspiration, but he did take the joke further than the hip-hop superstars did by transforming it into a university, no matter BSHU's low standards of admission.

If a lawsuit is filed, Suggs probably won't find it convenient that he lives in Maryland, which doesn't have an explicit publicity rights law on its books. One Maryland lawyer suggests that Suggs could instead use privacy laws to sue, but that Suggs will need to show that his persona is identifiable by use of "Balls So Hard" and that his peace of mind and dignity were damaged by the exploitation.

Is there dignity in being "sizzle"? You be the judge...

E-mail: eriqgardner@yahoo.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner