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Owning Enthusiasm: SDSU Wants to Trademark ‘I Believe’ Cheer

Owning Enthusiasm: SDSU Wants to Trademark a Cheer

San Diego State University is trying to trademark the "I Believe That We Will Win" cheer; Naval Academy says not so fast.

San Diego State University is trying to trademark the "I Believe That We Will Win" cheer; Naval Academy says not so fast.

San Diego State University is trying to trademark a cheer.

It's commonly referred to as the "I Believe" cheer. At Aztec games, one fan screams "I" and the crowd repeats it; then "I believe," adding one word at a time through "I believe that we will win!" It ends with an ear-piercing climax when the whole crowd shrieks, "Win!"

Aztec basketball fans have become famous for using the cheer in recent seasons. The student section, known as "The Show," will have hundreds of fans jumping and chanting the cheer in unison during games. They are waves of Aztec passion, like breakers to the shore.

The synchronized, undulating mob screams the mantra to both inspire their team and freak out the opposition.

It has been known to work.

But the cheer didn't start at San Diego State. A Naval Academy student started it in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1999. Corey Strong was a midshipman and a cheerleader. At the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia 15 years ago, Strong says, he started the cheer that would sweep the nation.

Photo by San Diego State University

San Diego State Aztecs cheer for their team.

Fans at high schools, Little League teams and other universities all used it before SDSU fans adopted it, Stong noted.

"The Show" is an informal organization of about 15 SDSU students. Devoted Aztec fan Thomas Sholan is one of the top "Show" men. Sholan said that while "The Show" didn’t invent the cheer, the students' zeal for it should be enough for SDSU to claim squatters' rights.

"We've made it something special. No one else had trademarked it. Why not us?" Sholan asked.

During SDSU's championship 2011 basketball season, The university printed up a bunch of "I believe that we will win" T-shirts. The shirt became a best seller.

Greg Block, chief communications officer for SDSU, said it is part of the process for SDSU to apply for a trademark on everything the university puts on a T-shirt. It's about safeguarding the Aztec brand, he said.

"As a brand, any corporation — Nike, McDonald's — they all protect their brand, and that's what we're doing by trademarking those things," Block said. "Once you put it on a shirt, then you own that mark."

He could have a point. Attorney Brian Watkins said trademarks are awarded on a "first-come, first-served basis."

If SDSU wins the right to trademark the cheer, "I believe that we will win" will become a slogan for SDSU. However, just because The school owns the trademark doesn't mean only SDSU can use it. Watkins said it just limits how the phrase can be used commercially.

"It's not saying that when you trademark a slogan like 'I believe that we will win' that nobody else can ever say that," Watkins said. "Like you own those words ... but it’s the marketing of it."

Block said SDSU wants fans everywhere to keep using the cheer. "This isn't about us stopping someone from using the cheer. We’re not going to charge your Little League team for saying the 'I believe' chant. It's about being able to continue to put it on merchandise that our fans want."

The trademark case is in a phase when San Diego State's right to it can be challenged, and that's what the Naval Academy is doing.

Scott Strasemeier, spokesman for the academy's athletic department, told the Navy Times that it is going to challenge SDSU, but he said not, "in a self-serving way. We believe it is a universal chant, and it should stay that way."

Former cheerleader Corey Strong agrees with the Naval Academy. He thinks the cheer has reached a crescendo in sports culture beyond SDSU's right to own it.

"It's gotten so big, that since everyone uses it, that everyone should be able to use it." Now the courts are going to have to decide two things: Can the cheer be owned? And if it can, who owns it?

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