One of the most prominent emblems in collegiate sports, particularly pertaining to football, is that of the Penn State Nittany Lion. According to the university’s website, the mountain lion theme was first recognized in 1904, and to this day, PSU has seemingly had a stronghold on the lion as a symbol of its athletic program. However, with other schools flaunting similar emblems or mascots, it’s fair to wonder whether Penn State truly has “the lion” trademarked as has been speculated.
Among the schools who appear to use a lion (or lion look-a-like) as a representation of sports teams is IUP combatant Slippery Rock, which is officially nicknamed The Rock, but uses a physical mascot that resembles a grey lion. According toSRU athletic director Paul Lueken, there are some restrictions involving the usage of a lion, but Penn State does not have complete legal control over the issue.
“Penn State’s Nittany Lion logo is trademarked for use when used in reference to Penn State,” said Lueken, “but that does not preclude other schools from having a lion for a mascot.”
A plagiarism research article involving the lion logo that was published on Penn State’s website seems to serve as evidence for Lueken’s statement. Addressing trademark violations of the emblem in a preview for a presentation by an ethics educator, the article recalls Penn State’s issuing of a “cease and desist” notice in 2011 to Prattville Christian Academy, which had knowingly modified PSU’s Nittany Lion symbol and used it as its own.
“[Prattville] school officials believed certain changes made to the Nittany Lion logo were sufficient under trademark law and adopted the logo to
represent the Prattville Panthers, even though it bore a striking resemblance to the original logo,” the article reads. “Despite their efforts to modify the Nittany Lion logo, school officials decided to discontinue using the logo at the end of the year.”
Under the aforementioned policies, Slippery Rock is among a handful of schools that abide by Penn State’s restrictions on the lion. In fact, Lueken indicated SRU does not even represent an actual lion through its physical mascot, which would seem to be the most logical connection to a symbol involving a lion considering its animal-like appearance.
“SRU uses two different logos in promoting Rock Athletics,” said Lueken, adding that both logos—like the lion emblem of Penn State—are trademarked specifically for use in promoting Slippery Rock. The trademarked logos consist of “a block ‘S’ and our Rocky mascot, which resembles a lion.”
“Our mascot, Rocky, is leader of Rock Nation and displays our Rock Pride,” Lueken said.
Although admitting that Rocky dons the characteristics of a lion, he emphasized that SRU composed its own designs for the mascot. Noting the mascot’s green mane and tail tip, he made it clear that Rocky’s design—like other mascots around the country—stands unique to trademarked material such as that of the much-discussed Penn State lion.