By: Kelton McLeod
On January 1st, 2023, the Washington Commanders unveiled a new mascot, Major Tuddy, a tall humanoid hog, wearing a military-inspired helmet and a perpetual grin. The unveiling has gone over with a healthy mix of derision and confusion, just about as well as anything one would expect to come from the Dan Snyder-owned Commanders. While even casual football fans might understand that Major Tuddy is named after the slang term for a touchdown, some are confused why the Washington, D.C.-based football team would want a hog to be the new symbol of their organization, while others are filing a trademark lawsuit because of it.
From the 1980s and into the 1990s, Washington had the best offensive line in all of professional football. These men, including the likes of Joe Jacoby and Mark May, were known as The Hogs. The Hogs were, and remain, an important piece of Washington’s history, helping the team win its only three Super Bowls. But despite bursting onto the scene through a sign emblazoned with “Let’s Get Hog Wild,” Major Tuddy has not had many fans, players, or former players very excited.
Instead of being a triumph at the end of a lackluster season (the Commanders were eliminated from playoff contention the day Major Tuddy was revealed), Major Tuddy has proved to be yet another point of controversy for the Commanders Organization. In fact, some of the original Hogs, including the likes of Joe Jacoby and Mark May, are so unenthused with the new mascot that they issued a statement prior to Major Tuddy’s announcement distancing themselves from Dan Snyder (the Commanders current majority owner) and referencing potential legal action related to this new Hog. The members of the original Hogs (joined by John Riggins, Fred Dean, and Doc Walker) created O-Line Entertainment, LLC, and in July of 2022, O-Line Entertainment filed trademark applications to the federal register for ‘Hogs’ and ‘Original Hogs,’ as the terms relate to professional football paraphernalia and merchandise. O-Line Entertainment sees Major Tuddy as a potential infringement on their mark, an outright attempt to capitalize and commercialize on the work of the Hogs of the 80s and 90s, and an attempt to confuse the fans.
While the Commanders imply they have no intention to financially capitalize on Hogs as a mark, O-Line Entertainment has a real shot at being able to exclude the Commanders from even trying. The Lanham Act §43(a) creates a statutory cause of action for trademark infringement, where “any person who . . .uses in commerce any word, term, name, symbol, or device, . . . likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive as to the affiliation, connection, or association of such person with another person . . . shall be liable in a civil action by any person who believes that he is or is likely to be damaged by such act.” Trademarks exist to help consumers identify the source of a good. So, if someone attempts to use another’s mark, or something substantially similar, to cause confusion as to the source or sponsorship of a good, that party is liable for trademark infringement. In this case, it is hard to refute the source of Major Tuddy’s swine heritage, as even his official team profile references the offensive line from the 80s and 90s. O-Line Entertainment would just need to prove that the likelihood of confusion exists between their products and those of the Commanders organization, not that actual confusion has occurred. Under current law, there is a prospect of O-line Entertainment doing so.
While O-Line Entertainment’s trademark registration has yet to be granted, and the Commanders organization could attempt to invalidate it, this likely would not be worth the problems it would cause. The Commanders are already in the midst of a Congressional investigation, and Dan Snyder’s time as owner might not be able to handle the bad press. While it is hard to expect Dan Snyder and the Commanders leadership team–a group known for trying and failing to hide behind the best parts of their team’s legacy–to handle themselves in a morally upstanding way, how they choose to handle the marketing and merchandising of their new mascot could mean another long and protracted trademark dispute where they lack the moral high ground.