Friday, September 22, 2006

The time Grambling tried to change its logo

This series of stories, written over one week in the summer of 2005, quickly became known as 'Logogate.' To date, Grambling has not updated the logo, or received a trademark on its long-used "G." ...

GSU prepares new logo after trademark lapse
May 25, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Grambling State University plans to introduce a new logo design for the first time in decades - and fans are angry over losing the familiar "G" on the Tigers' football helmets.

The conflict has roots in the complicated world of trademark law: GSU's trademark rights on its logos have lapsed, meaning outside vendors can produce and sell items with the school logo, and the Lincoln Parish institution doesn't get a dime.

"We've got to (change the design), based on revenue," said GSU football coach Melvin Spears. "Grambling paraphernalia sells all over the country. We're losing money hand over fist."

GSU athletics director Willie Jeffries confirmed the logo change, and said an unveiling could come as early as this week.

"We want to standardize the product, like LSU where all those goods and services come from our school and the revenue comes back here," Spears said.

There's still work to do in selling a new look to school supporters.

"Brand identity is not something to play with," said 1990 Grambling graduate Kenn Rashad, who operates a Web site devoted to the Southwestern Athletic Conference called SWACPage.

"Establishing a successful brand isn't something that can happen overnight. It takes time and careful planning," he said. "Even though there are some legal issues that have come up in all of this, that `G' is worth fighting for."

Grambling has, since the 1980s, used an oval-shaped "G" on its football helmets similar to that of the NFL's Green Bay Packers and the NCAA's Georgia Bulldogs, except in color scheme. GSU's featured a black-and-gold palette, sometimes circled with an accent of red.

A U.S. government Web site devoted to registered trademarks shows Grambling lost the copyright on that logo almost seven years ago, as well as protection for its school seal.

Grambling's signature "G" was first granted protection in 1974. But that copyright, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office site, expired Aug. 26, 1998.

The school seal was authorized for copyright protection the same day, only to expire April 15, 1998. Grambling's previous logo - a more angular "G" with a Tiger and the celebrated school motto ("Where Everybody Is Somebody") - have also been unprotected since March 5, 1998.

Once the lapse was discovered by new GSU president Horace Judson, plans apparently coalesced to make a change, according to Jeffries.

E-mails from outraged fans followed - including one sent to Judson late Tuesday by Texas alum D'Wayne L. Priestly Sr. that asked "whether the GSU administrators have explored every prudent avenue available to regain the expired copyrights."

Repeated calls, with messages referencing the logo change, to Judson and vice president of finance Billy Owens on Monday and again on Tuesday were unreturned. That means details were unavailable about who designed the new logo and at what cost - as well as answers about efforts to renew the school's lapsed trademarks.

"It's a sad day," said GSU booster John Wilborn. "I know that some individuals think we are too close to the Green Bay and Georgia 'G.' The color, however, is the difference."

The new concept doesn't eliminate the "G," but builds upon it, said Jeffries. A tiger - the school's mascot - will prowl out of the logo, he said.

"The big 'G' will still be in play," Spears said. "But we've got to do some things that make sure our logo is identified only with us, not with Green Bay or Georgia, as well. The 'G' will still be on the helmet. It will be a form of that, with a tiger as well."

Jeffries said updated helmets will be ready in time for football season, and the design will be standardized across all university-sponsored sports.

Still, fans cling to the familiarity of Grambling's traditional logo. Its own sports information releases routinely refer to the players as the "G-men."

"I am fully aware that change is inevitable," Rashad said. "Sometimes change is needed, whether one likes it or not. But I also feel that there are some things you just don't change. The 'G' logo is one of those you just don't change. That logo has become part of our tradition."

The change comes amid a series of makeovers over the past few seasons in GSU's home conference, with several schools changing their helmets and jerseys. Yet, the look at Grambling State has, with only slight uniform modifications, remained steadfast.

Jeffries said that actually could have worked against the university, since complacency could eventually set in among consumers. He pointed to the burst of interest in recent uniform design changes across the sports landscape, including those by professional franchises.

A trademark, as defined by the U.S. government, is "... words, phrases, symbols or designs that identify and distinguish the source of the goods of one party from those of others."

Grambling's signature "G" logo was registered in 1974. Under the law in effect until 1978, in the final year of the trademark, it was eligible for renewal.

GSU's trademarks were not renewed under the administrations of former presidents Raymond Hicks, who served from July 1, 1995, through June 30, 1998; and Steve Favors, who served through 2001. Each trademark expired in 1998.

SOURCE: the United States Patent and Trademark Office site,

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Hasn't always been a 'G' thing
By Nick Deriso
Grambling State University didn't always feature the familiar "G" on its helmet. As recently as the late 1970s, during the playing days of future coach Doug Williams, the Tigers sported completely black helmets with a single red stripe.

"It was just simple," said Williams, the one-time quarterback who succeeded Eddie Robinson after the 1997 season. "Back in the day, Grambling was known as the black Notre Dame. We didn't have anything on our helmets. Everybody knew who we were."

William made his own slight modifications when he took over the program - the most notable being the elimination of what had been an increasing use of red within the black-and-gold scheme under Robinson. In fact, during Robinson's final seasons, Grambling wore crimson pants and then jerseys.

"We took the red out of everything," Williams said. "We wanted to get back to basics."

He also switched the facemasks from gold to black.

Nearly all of Grambling State's conference foes have followed with their own changes - though most were far more radical.

Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern University are the two most recent Southwestern Athletic Conference schools to add a new helmet design, both in 2004.

Southern switched from a gold helmet to purple before the 2002 season - and some think the GSU redesign is a direct response to Southern's new logo, which features a jaguar emerging over the school's initials.

That doesn't mean Grambling should follow suit, Williams said.

"I hate to see anything on the helmet but a 'G,'" he said. "And the version with a tiger coming out of the 'G,' I absolutely hate."

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Fan questions remain over logo
GSU administrators add tiger to `G' logo
May 26, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Grambling State supporters are still digesting quick administrative approval for the first new athletic logo in decades.

They have questioned how aggressively GSU worked to regain a lost copyright on the old design - and what the school did to forecast the profits from a new logo.

Perhaps just as importantly, they also would like to know why more boosters weren't brought into the loop.

"I wonder who they consulted with?" said Paul Taylor, who never misses a GSU home game. "I stay in Grambling and have not heard anything about a logo change."

Several supporters, including Taylor, praised an innovative online poll being conducted by Marquette that will actually allow fans to decide its new nickname. "They had students, alumni and avid supporters vote on the mascot name," Taylor said.

The traditional "G" logo is being replaced, athletics director Willie Jeffries confirmed earlier this week, because GSU's 1974 trademark has lapsed. That has allowed outside vendors to produce and sell Grambling-related items without giving any revenue to the school.

Some fans, including 1983 graduate D'Wayne L. Priestley Sr., want to know why the school doesn't simply renew the trademark - and then aggressively pursue those who are using the old logo unlawfully.

In an e-mail sent to school president Horace Judson on Tuesday night, then forwarded to dozens of GSU boosters, Priestley asked: "If a feasibility study or similar analysis has been conducted that indicates that a modification would be advantageous and will bring significant revenue streams, please present or provide that data."

No official response has come from GSU, because the school hasn't issued an announcement about the new logo - and the top administrators aren't returning phone messages from The News-Star regarding the switch.

But university spokeswoman Vickie Jackson answered Priestley's e-mail later on Tuesday, and Priestley again forwarded it across the country.

In it, Jackson indicated that GSU is at work on a visual standards guide, which will include the university logo, signature, motto, presidential seal, color and the mascot. The logo switch, she wrote, is part of a larger attempt to standardize the school's overall look.

"The modification of the athletic logo is but one part of a total branding process," Jackson wrote. "GSU is a step behind almost every university in the country in branding and standardizing its look. With the name recognition and international renown that it has, Grambling should have been in complete control of its brand, logos and vendor-related activities many years ago."

She added that members of the Office of Alumni Affairs, the president of the alumni association, the athletic department and student representatives were all involved in the project.

Not all fans were outraged, though even they say this new look will take some getting used to.

"Sometimes change is good," said Scott A. Lewis III, a former All-American at Grambling who was selected in the second round of the 1971 draft by Kansas City. "In the commercial side of business, promotions tend to draw more interest than inactivity."

He then laughed, and added: "I am still making the transition from Grambling College to GSU!"

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GSU officials: Helmet design now up in air
May 28, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Grambling State University officials won't scrap a proposed logo change, but they now say a final helmet design has not yet been approved.

"There is no official athletic logo at this time. It is still in the formulating stage," said GSU spokeswoman Vickie Jackson, the first official comments since she began leading a new wide-ranging effort by President Horace Judson to standardize the school's image.

Athletics officials first mentioned the portion of the plan calling for replacement of the current helmet logo, which isn't trademarked, last week during a visit with boosters in Dallas. That set off a firestorm of controversy among those who didn't want to lose the traditional "G" on the school's football helmets, a design in place for more than 20 years.

"It is unfortunate," Jackson said, "that the process was pre-empted and not allowed to complete its cycle."

Members of the athletic department originally confirmed that a new logo would be in place soon - first at that Dallas meeting with boosters, then to The News-Star.

Jackson now said the school intends to hire external assistance "in helping to craft an athletic logo for which university approval can be gained. At this time, that has not happened. We are still working."

A logo previously published in The News-Star, Jackson said, will be subject to further revision.

She did not commit to inviting input from outside the university staff in this revising process, something fan Paul Taylor of Grambling is hoping will happen. "If you cannot get (the trademark) back, let folks know what is going on," he said.

Taylor's prescription for repairing the situation: "Start looking for a new logo, with alumni input first - and then students and fans," he said. "Gather all your findings about cost and who is doing the new logo. Then bring it to folks' attention instead of hiding what is really going on."

Since the 1980s, Grambling used an oval-shaped "G" on its football helmets similar to that of the NFL's Green Bay Packers and the NCAA's Georgia Bulldogs, except in color scheme.

Grambling's features a black-and-gold palette, sometimes circled with an accent of red.

But government records show no trademark on that design, which is too similar to the NFL's Green Bay logo for protection.

"We cannot trademark this symbol," Jackson said. "Grambling, with its renown and international acclaim, should have its own mark. This administration is taking us to another level. Part of that is standardizing the look."

Jackson said school officials have held on-again, off-again discussions about a new design since an application for trademark was rejected in 1998.

Some fans like the idea of an update.

"In my opinion, the GSU family must go through a transformation in order to rise to the many challenges that are faced by HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) across America," said Mark A. Hunter, a graduate of the high school and university in Grambling.

"What I dislike most are the alumni of the university who dislike change," Hunter added. "GSU is growing and with that change comes growth."

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GSU, in fact, never owned trademark of its logo
May 29, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - How could Grambling State let its trademark get away?

The answer is surprising.

Though the United States Patent and Trademark Office lists the Grambling "G" as "abandoned," paperwork at the school revealed this week that GSU never had a trademark.

The "G" - a staple at Grambling, according to a school application filed with the USPTO, since July 24, 1974 - was simply used by agreement with the NFL's Green Bay Packers.

"GSU," university spokeswoman Vickie Jackson confirmed, "never owned it. We have only been allowed limited use and privileges."

In fact, Grambling officials didn't make that application for trademark protection until Jan. 14, 1997, as legendary former coach Eddie Robinson was entering his final season at the helm.

When the USPTO denied the institution a trademark on the design, school administrators began struggling with the next step. Over the years, Grambling's "G" had become synonymous with the school and, in particular, the football team - which, by then, was being led by Robinson protégé Doug Williams.

Several possible redesigns have been presented since then, but Williams stood in the way - citing tradition. He remains a sharp critic of any alteration to the familiar logo, but has since left GSU for a job in the NFL.

Williams said his departure opened the door for another round of talks about redesign, which were revealed to the public this week by athletics officials.

"I said 'No,' and that was the end of that," Williams remembered this week. "But now they have come back with it."

Battles lines were drawn, as the news of a planned redesign broke last Wednesday. Some liked it, some didn't. But Grambling's top administrators remained silent - further muddying a situation already roiling with so much history and emotion.

Jackson finally broke that silence on Friday, and with the stunning news that the school had never owned its own 'G' mark.

Gee, that changes everything.

In the early 1970s, Grambling was at its zenith of influence in sports.

Segregation had not yet led top talents away from black programs - and that played out most famously on the gridiron at GSU.

Over the four seasons before the school says it began using the "G" in 1974, Grambling had been 39-9 in football, shared three conference titles and sent 25 players into the pros through the NFL draft.

Yet there wasn't an easily identifiable icon to associate it with. The helmets, after all, were simply black.

"Back in the day, that wasn't important to us at all," said Williams, who would emerge as a four-year starter at quarterback in 1974. "Uniforms and fanciness were not important. That's basically what made Grambling what it is. We were plain. We just had a good product on the field."

Robinson met with selected GSU leaders to discuss a logo design, according to Wilbert Ellis - then a longtime assistant to R.W.E. Jones, the late school president who also coached the baseball team. Jones, the late basketball coach Fred Hobdy and longtime sports information director Collie J. Nicholson were also there, Ellis said.

"It was during the time when everything was going so well in our sports," Ellis said. "Coach and Collie had some great ideas, and that was one of them. People bought into their ideas because they had so much to offer - and we had a lot to sell."

Ellis, who took over for Jones in 1977 and served until 2003, confirms that the logo was chosen in part to honor the great 1960s teams out of Green Bay - which included Grambling product Willie Davis, the school's first Pro Football Hall of Famer.

"Coach Robinson and Coach Hobdy and I were among those involved in picking it," Ellis said. "Paying tribute to Willie Davis was some of it. We knew that the logo was similar, but there were differences."

The University of Georgia had begun using its own version of the Packers' mark a decade before.

Still, as soon as it was introduced at Grambling, former players said the design took on a near mythic quality - and not just those who played for Robinson.

"They would tell you how important the 'G' was," said men's basketball coach Larry Wright, who starred for Hobdy's squads from 1973-76. "We knew, from then on, we were representing the 'G.' "

No one could recall the exact details of how Grambling gained permission to use the logo - or why the school waited so long to attempt to gain its own trademark.

Robinson and Nicholson were unavailable this week. Steve Favors, who was serving as school president when the government refused Grambling's belated request for protection, did not return a call for comment.

We know this: The Packers' "G" was invented by Dad Braisher, former coach Vince Lombardi's equipment manager.

Green Bay, which has used some form of oval "G" since 1961, retains the original trademark. Permission for reproduction by Georgia and then Grambling, according to the club, was granted on a limited-use basis, without transfer of trademark.

The Packers could theoretically challenge Grambling - and Georgia, which began using its version of the logo in 1964 - but the NFL club has likely forfeited its right to challenge the school since so many seasons have passed without complaint.

"The black and gold 'G' has become synonymous with Grambling," said 1990 graduate Kenn Rashad. "When people see it they know what it represents. People know it doesn't represent Green Bay and they know it doesn't represent the University of Georgia."

Georgia has certainly enjoyed its own sustained success with the shared image: UGA is currently the No. 3 seller among clients of Collegiate Licensing Company - the oldest and largest licensing representative in the nation.

That's why some fans this week questioned whether aggressive marketing and management of the brand wasn't more advantageous than scrapping the old logo.

Williams was adamant, from the start. He felt ambushed by the administration - and loyal to Robinson's helmet design.

He insisted that coaches could tinker with the stripes on the jerseys, or change the colors of the pants. The helmet was a different story.

"They proposed that same logo four or five years ago," said Williams, who led the football team from 1998-2003. "I told them back then that you can change it, but we're not going to put in on the helmet."

Some boosters noted this week that LSU's recent updating of its athletics logo received little scrutiny - because it didn't include a change for in the helmet design.

"To me, football is separate and apart from the other athletics," Williams said. "If you want to put polo shirts in the bookstore with that new logo, that's fine. But what's there, let it remain. To me, you are changing the whole history of Grambling."

Neari Warner, who served three years as acting school president before leaving in 2004, held some of the first meetings to discuss a redesign. The idea has picked up steam under her successor, Horace Judson, who has led sweeping changes across campus since taking over last summer.

Judson also noted that the school has also added new image elements over the years without regard for standardization.

"In 2001, with the creation of a centennial logo, the process was begun for a visual identity campaign," Jackson said. "Two years ago, members of the administration first began discussions about the possibility of creating a new athletic logo that the university would own and have exclusive rights to."

At first, the redesign effort was kept in house. Students in the GSU art department were invited to work on the project, and several mockups were considered. None was approved by the university.

Jackson said the school is now seeking outside creative input. Despite the controversy always sparked by change, the image campaign - including a helmet redesign - will move forward, she said.

The reason, Jackson said, is purely economic: People may love the logo but, since it was never protected, the school is effectively giving away untold amounts of revenue to those who profit from unauthorized reproductions - and with no recourse.

That's sunk in with some coaches on campus.

"The 'G' is legendary," said Wright, the basketball coach. "It goes right along with Eddie Robinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones, Fred Hobdy. So, when you talk about that and the history of this school, there will have to be some economic decision involved in changing it. And, as I understand it, there is."

Some boosters were relieved to see a widely circulated early mockup that still has the familiar "G," but with the addition of the tiger mascot.

Jackson noted that this design was an attempt to solve some long-held reservations from fans and coaches alike about an update.

"I like the fact that the new logo could incorporate the tiger mascot, and that it does not completely abandon the traditional Grambling 'G,' " said Earling Hunter, a Monroe native who graduated from GSU in 1998. "Although I love the 'G,' and even have tattoo of that emblem on my right arm, I still have no objection to the change."

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Trademark hopes never really had chance in 1990s
By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Grambling State's belated trademark application for its familiar "G" logo wasn't made until Jan. 14, 1997 - and it immediately hit a stumbling block.

An examining attorney from the U.S. Patents and Trademarks Office, who took over the case on Aug. 15, 1997, mailed a "non-final action" - apparently questioning the uniqueness of the mark - on Sept. 4.

GSU's attorney of record, Simeon B. Reimonenq Jr. of Vial, Hamilton, Koch and Knox in New Orleans, responded. That letter was received, according to the USPTO, on Nov. 4, 1997.

But the logo wasn't judged unique enough to warrant its own trademark. A "final refusal" was mailed on Feb. 25, 1998.

Grambling considered responding, but ultimately did not.

GSU spokeswoman Vickie Jackson said that attorney Tyrone A. Wilson wrote on March 16, 1998 to inform Grambling that "the Patent and Trademark Office has issued an official, final refusal to register the circle 'G' trademark, because it resembles other marks that have been previously registered."

Wilson's opinion was that the school should continue the current content agreement, in which Green Bay granted limited use for merchandising.

"We do have the option of filing an appeal," Wilson wrote. But after consulting with Reimonenq, they decided that "the prospects on appeal are not favorable. ... This notice is indeed final."

The mark was listed as "abandoned" on Dec. 18, 1998 - causing some confusion since GSU never owned it in the first place.

The "final refusal" notice, Jackson said on Friday with some finality, meant that "we can not trademark it."

Reimonenq, now with Lugenbuhl, Weaton, Peck, Rankin and Hubbard, did not respond to requests on Thursday and Friday for an interview for this story.

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GSU fans talk about using throwback helmets
Administrators believe new logo would give school updated image
May 30, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - A week of contention at Grambling State over a proposed logo change had one clearly positive side effect.

Many fans, looking to reconnect with the school's legacy, have suggested that the football team

Grambling coach Melvin Spears is considering it.

"Perhaps we should look at going retro this season," said Michael Watson, a GSU product who lives in Sicily Island. "I can recall the glory days of Grambling football when the only thing on the helmet was the paint. I would hate to be rushed into selecting an emblem - and that could allow more time for alumni participation."

Administrators are at work on an updated look for athletics as part of a university-wide image campaign. GSU hopes to solve an age-old problem of trademarking its own logo, because the current design is too similar to the Green Bay Packers' original "G" design to be protected.

That means the school can't control who produces Grambling merchandise - and can't always collect revenues from outside vendors.

Still, Spears said he doesn't object to the so-called throwback option, where the Tigers will play without a logo - as Grambling did through the late 1970s.

"I like the throwbacks," said Spears, "but what we can't do is forget what football does for Grambling. We have to remember that it's not aways about football. This is about revenue, as well. We have to take care of the institution."

Athletics director Willie Jeffries said last week that updated helmets with a new logo would be ready in time for football season, and the as-yet unapproved design will be standardized across all university-sponsored sports.

Fans upset about the proposal see a retro look in football as an olive branch.

"These are times of change at Grambling - a rebirth of sorts," said Donavan Simmons, a roster member of former Eddie Robinson's final team at Grambling. "We have brand-new administrators, a brand-new athletics director and a new head coach. While it is necessary to embrace these changes, we must also revere what has made Grambling the icon that it is. A look back to our storied past can help restore the fire that has burned so brightly for the past several generations."

Kelli M. Charles, a 1996 Grambling graduate who wrote her thesis on Robinson, said she is in favor of anything that "represents the tradition, creativity and insight of our beloved Coach Eddie Robinson and President Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones. I am quite sure the former G-Men who wore those helmets will be pleased, as well."

There are those, however, who have concerns over how modern audiences would react to the starkness of a simple black helmet.

"I am not a fan of that endeavor," said Earling M. Hunter, a 1998 Grambling graduate. "I would prefer the new logo, over no logo. Considering that the 'G' wasn't used until 1974, I think that with time, the alumni and fans will embrace a new logo as we did the old one."

Offensive coordinator Sammy White, a former all-conference receiver in the 1970s at Grambling who never played with a logo on his helmet, also said that he doesn't agree with the suggestion of a season-long throwback look.

"A lot of has happened over the past five or 10 years," said White. "It's not time to go back. We need to keep going forward. The new administration is putting their stamp on it, just like those who came before."

Still, the throwback craze has swept through all of sports, fueled by music artists who wear paraphernalia fashioned in a retro style. Jerseys featuring now-defunct uniform designs by the likes of the Chicago White Sox, Houston Oilers and Denver Nuggets have become signature fashion elements in hip-hop culture.

Mention of a redesign for the Grambling football helmet apparently sparked similar nostalgia.

Even former head football coach Doug Williams, a staunch advocate for the current logo design at Grambling, softens his stance when talk turns to the old-school look.

"Why not go plain?" said Williams, who also played his entire career with an all-black helmet. "To me, a black helmet would be fine. That says, `We're Grambling.' "

The school has actually already gotten into the act, participating in a throwback baseball game in Gary, Ind., last season that honored the old Negro League baseball teams.

A retro look for GSU football would most likely be implemented for no more than a single game, Spears said. Even so, boosters say it might help stabilize emotions during a period of transition.

"While our trademark 'G' logo on the football helmets may be the next candidate for change," said Simmons, "we can celebrate our storied history by replacing it with the retro, solid black helmet from our glory days of the '70s - going back to our future."

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Grambling's football team indeed had a throwback night - wearing red jerseys from Robinson's 1996 campaign - on homecoming in 2005, but the familiar "G" helmet design remained.

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