There are few things that can make us take leave of our senses more readily than sports, and when combined with parochialism and a provincial mindset, a certain mania is loosed within the minds of otherwise sane people. In fans, it leads to tattoos, to drunken parking lot fistfights with opposing fans, to shelling out obscene amounts of money on tickets and merchandise and every bit of ephemera that our favorite teams can churn out to make a dollar off of our insanity. In teams and institutions, it produces a hubris that can lead to a host of decisions ranging from questionable to outright objectionable, and that is being kind in the latter.
In the latest case of overreach, The Ohio State University is seeking a trademark on the word "The", as in The Ohio State University. Read correctly and somewhat obnoxiously in the Buckeye State as THE...Ohio State University, hence the trademark filing. The mark, if granted (and that's a big "if"), would allow the school to make and sell merchandise with the word "The" on it, surely the first time that a grammatical article would be considered a sporting partisan.
It is at this point that I should disclose that I am a native son of Ohio, close enough still to the shared madness of Buckeye football to understand the impulse to try and trademark the most commonly-used word in the English language as though we hold some claim to it, still filled with enough civic pride to believe that the school itself is imbued with special properties that guarantee its ultimate and continued success in this and every other endeavor, sporting and otherwise, when of course it is simply a case of money, spent freely and replenished constantly. The distance I now have does offer a new perspective, and does permit me to recognize the ridiculousness of the application, and the likely futility of the effort.
Still, the attempt on the part of Ohio State demonstrates that even college sports are big businesses, in that their reach should forever exceed their grasp when it comes to squeezing every penny from their IP. There's money to be made off of the iconography of the school's storied football tradition, including trademarks on images of former coaches Woody Hayes and Urban Meyer, despite the fact that both left in measures of disgrace. (Whither former coach Jim Tressel, similarly tainted in legacy but with no less success to his name?) Trying to trademark "The" is an audacious move to those of us living in the real world, but on fall Saturdays we can remove ourselves to a reality where college football is king and our favorite schools hold dominion over whatever parts of the English language they wish, so long as they win.