Chief Illiniwek logo designer sues for rights to image

By The Associated Press

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The man who created the circular, orange-and-blue Chief Illiniwek logo for the University of Illinois 27 years ago wants it back.

But the university’s board of trustees – which decided in February to retire the long-controversial chief mascot – said last week that it would retain ownership of the logo, even though it had voted March 13 to stop using the chief’s image, name and regalia.

An attorney for Champaign graphic artist Jack Davis sent a letter to the university on March 14 asking for the return of the logo.

Davis said he sold the logo to the university in 1980 for $210. According to the letter from attorney Robert Auler, Davis “offered” the logo for the university’s use “as long as it would be used as a permanent symbol of Illinois athletics.”

With the university’s decision to stop using the logo, “We have advised him it is his right to resume control of the logo,” Auler wrote.

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    In a written response, the university asked for documents supporting Davis’ claim, but added it believes Davis has no right to the logo.

    “We do not believe it would behoove Mr. Davis to undertake any licensing efforts or to take any other actions purporting to assume control of the logo,” university attorney Mark D. Henss wrote.

    Reached at his office Thursday by The Associated Press, Davis declined further comment. Messages left at Auler’s office were not returned.

    Davis is a 1969 Illinois graduate. His logo depicts the stern-faced chief in blue and white, surrounded by a blue and orange headdress.

    The logo, licensed to makers of T-shirts and other merchandise, generates hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for the university, school officials have said. When the university announced last week that it planned to retain rights to the logo, however, it said it planned to phase out chief-related merchandise by the end of the year.

    The university did away with its mascot after two years of NCAA sanctions and two decades of turmoil. Some American Indians and other activists saw Chief Illiniwek as demeaning, while supporters maintained that the chief was an honorable mascot.

    The NCAA agreed the chief was demeaning and banned the university from hosting postseason sporting events; those sanctions ended with the decision to retire the mascot.