How the Detroit Lions' Logo Ended Up at a White Nationalist Rally: An Investigation
On Monday, we told you about a modified version of the Detroit Red Wings logo that appeared on a white nationalist group's signs at Saturday's ill-fated Charlottesville, Va. rally. The signs forced the NHL team to disavow the group in a statement that was somehow only the weekend's second most bizarre instance of a brand having to distance itself from Nazis.
Now, a few days after the rally, it seems another Detroit sports team has been caught up in the fray. According to the Detroit Free Press, a Getty Images photographer captured a picture of a protester holding a shield featuring the Detroit Lions' logo. While the red-and-blue color scheme (with four white stars) differs from the team's standard light-blue getup, the shape is similar—though not identical—to the NFL team's mark.
— Kellie Rowe (@kellierowe) August 15, 2017
So, of course, the Lions had no choice but to respond. Via the Detroit Free Press:
The Lions issued a statement through spokesman Bill Keenist on Tuesday, but had no further comment about the identity of the person wielding the shield or whether the team would pursue legal action.
"We detest and disavow any use or implied use of the Detroit Lions logo or any of our marks in association with the event this past Saturday in Charlottesville. We value diversity as it represents the strong fabric of our team, the City of Detroit, the NFL, the game of football, our fans and our country."
The Red Wings logo popping up at the rally makes some sense, at least in context of the strange alternate universe in which we now apparently reside. The group that used the logo calls itself the Detroit Right Wings. "Right Wings," "Red Wings"—you can see what they did there.
But there doesn't seem to be an explanation as to why a protester at a white nationalist rally would use the Detroit Lions logo. That's because, beyond a suspicious resemblance, the logo in question almost certainly has nothing to do with the Detroit Lions.
The logo on the shield actually appears to be a variation of a Donald Trump support meme of unknown origin that likely started popping up in early 2016:
That image is from a February 2016 article about the rise of a group calling itself the Lion Guard (more on that in a second). A few more identical images can be found in this forum thread on Stormfront, the notorious and controversial online white nationalist community. (View at your own risk.) And there's even a free, high resolution digital version of the lion logo, posted 11 months ago, available here. Heck, a sticker featuring the logo is available on Amazon right now.
Back to the Lion Guard. Here's how that group, formed in 2016, describes itself in the "about" section of its website:
An informal civilian group dedicated to the safety and security of
#Trump supporters by exposing Far-Left rioters. We are the voluntary eyes and ears of Make America Great Again on social media. We do not endorse instigating fights or brawling with anti-Trump marauders. The Lion Guard seeks to identify and expose plots to attack Mr. Trump, Trump Supporters and their rallies before they even can happen.
The group's website and social media profiles don't appear to be active (the last posts are from 2016) and there's no indication that the logo-wielding protester in the Getty image has any affiliation to the group. But given the Lion Guard's name and mission statement—and the frequent use of lions in fan-made Trump campaign imagery—it's easy to see how that particular logo could have ended up in use at the Charlottesville rally.
It's unclear whether the Detroit Lions will take legal action the same way the Red Wings might—or if the NFL team even can take action, given the various questions surrounding the logo's origin and use. Any resemblance between the Lions' logo and the one that appeared at the rally seems to be coincidental, with key differences in color and specific features. Though the silhouettes are close enough that Detroit could likely make a case for trademark infringement.
Either way, the whole thing provides a strange and interesting case study on the various unforeseen troubles that come along with logo design, use and protection.