GRAND FORKS -- A renegade citizen has decided to "stick his tongue out" at the University of North Dakota’s nickname controversy, and the university is asking him to stop.
Karl Larson, a UND alumnus and designer who lives in Denver, created New Sioux, a website that sells shirts portraying a modified Fighting Sioux logo that shows its eyes squinted and tongue sticking out.
Larson said he toyed with the idea of creating a parody revolving around UND's nickname controversy for some time before landing on his final product
"I was at Target and saw this little girl stick out her tongue at her brother," he said. "I realized it's the simplest and most basic thing a person can do."
UND spokesman Peter Johnson said the university became aware of the shirts Larson started selling when UND played against North Dakota State University in a rivalry football game Sept. 19 in Fargo.
"We're starting a dialogue which basically says they need to cease and desist what they're doing, but we're trying to have a conversation," Johnson said.
UND owns the trademark to the Fighting Sioux logo, which was designed by American Indian artist and sculptor Bennett Brien. The nickname and logo were controversially retired in late 2012 after the NCAA threatened sanctions.
"Certainly we understand people have rights, freedom of expression rights," Johnson said. "We understand as an institution and we champion that, but at the same time there are legal protections that come into play, so we're looking to protect our image. That's why we want to have this conversation."
Larson said most public feedback has been positive. Some have also expressed discomfort with his goofy take on the logo, but he wants to continue his work despite the university's request.
"I knew that UND would want to talk to me about it, and they'd have their issues as far as copyrights and trademarks," he said.
Larson graduated from UND two years before the Fighting Sioux logo was retired. He said while he cared about UND's decision to drop the name, he never got involved or took a stand one way or the other. He didn't want to say exactly what he's poking fun of with the nickname issue because he'd rather let his customers assign their own meaning.
"Making a profit is a nice benefit, but having a piece of work out there I like and other people really like is a good feeling," Larson said.
Nine articles of clothing ranging from T-shirts to sweatshirts are available for purchase on the New Sioux website. All feature Larson's take on the logo.
As of Friday afternoon, three types of T-shirts were sold out, according to the website.
Larson said he didn't know the exact number of items he has sold, but his clothing has increased in popularity since the shop opened.
"There are a lot of people who see it and just start laughing out loud right away," Larson said.
Parody is the "use of some elements of a prior author's composition to create a new one that, at least in part, comments on that author's works," according to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Johnson said the university would prefer not to go the legal route, but if that ultimately ends up happening, the issue of whether the mark is being used in parody would be looked at then by lawyers.
"You can do a lot of things under satire and parody. ... In those cases, it's usually fairly clear what the parody is or what the satire is, and I'm personally not so sure that's the case here, but that's not for me to determine," he said.