College Football Game Changer: "Johnny Football" Sues for Trademark Infringement

February 26, 2013by Susan Godwin

I used to love college football, cheering for “my team” with unbridled passion.  My enthusiasm came naturally. My Dad was a huge athletics addict and brandished his vocal talents as a sports announcer for local TV and radio. I often filled in as his “spotter” for high school and college football games, so I understood the subtleties of the game, so much so that I had to sweep my knowledge under the rug when I was on a date (yes, this does dates me).

Today’s college football is an odd aberration of the game I once knew and loved, and with recent headline news, I can see a diagram of my gridiron obsession and intellectual property vocation colliding like a three-man blitz.

A 20-year-old college sophomore’s corporation is suing for infringement of his trademark “Johnny Football.” Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and his company JMAN2 Enterprises LLC have filed a lawsuit claiming infringement on his trademark. According to Yahoo Sports:

JMAN2 Enterprises LLC filed suit on Feb. 15 against Eric Vaughn in the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division. Vaughn is accused of using the nickname “Johnny Football” in order to sell T-shirts. JMAN2 Enterprises LLC trademarked the nickname during the 2012 football season, but according to the Southeast Texas Record, the company learned on Nov. 15 that Vaughn was using the trademark to sell shirts that said “Keep Calm and Johnny Football.”

Churches and ministries should take serious note of this infringement lawsuit. I've often been asked about the legality of using someone else's logo or trademark (American Idol's mark is quite popular) for a church video or program, or even on a ministry T-shirt. The same trademark and intellectual property law applies, especially if you want to sell a product with sporting someone's mark.

If JMAN2 wins the suit and is awarded damages, Manziel could be the first NCAA athlete to make money as a student-athlete, and this may result in a landmark case that moves the chains and changes the playing field for college football forever. Darren Rovell of ESPN is reporting that if Manziel sues and wins, the student-athlete can keep the money from the suit. Per the ESPN report: "The corporation set up for Manziel in December cannot capitalize off the quarterback until his NCAA eligibility has expired or he leaves after next season to go into the NFL draft, but can take action to further its claim of ownership of 'Johnny Football.'"


I could easily play both offense and defense on this lawsuit. As an advocate for protection of intellectual property owners, I can appreciate the importance of preventing others from making money
on Manziel’s trademark. Manziel’s family said it was trademarking the name to keep people from using it for their own monetary purposes (and so they could use it later) and now it could end up benefiting the Manziel family sooner than they expected. So, beware T-shirt makers and the like, Johnny Football is coming for you.

As a college football purist, I’m saddened to see the sport so infected and maligned by the worship of commercial gain at every level. I live in a state that is the home of the past four BCS National Championship teams, and I often feel horse collared since I wear the purple and gold of LSU. Nonetheless, I fully understand that money goes a long way on the road to national titles, as well as supporting excellence in academics.  

I can see both sides of the coin. Heads or tail....which side would you call? Post your comments below.

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The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.