Photo illustration by Michael Uribes
As the Fresno State football team gained national recognition in the 1980s, a new street gang took notice and adopted the color red and the Bulldog logo as their own.
More than two decades later, the Bulldog gang has grown to include 5,000 validated members and about 5,000 associates who identify themselves by wearing the Fresno State Bulldog logo, according to the Fresno Police Departmentâ€™s Public Information Officer, Jeff Cardinale.
And those gang members buy a lot of Bulldog merchandise.
In fact Juan Arellano, store manager of Sports Station in Fashion Fair Mall, said that about two-thirds of his Fresno State merchandise is sold to customers who look like they could be Bulldog gang members.
â€œI am not profiling customers,â€ Arellano said. â€œBut based on their appearance and the way they talk and hold themselves, it does make them seem like they are affiliated with the gang.â€
Arellano said that even during the normally slower football off-season, they continue to sell about six Fresno State items each day, which they may not otherwise sell if a gang did not identify with the logo.
The buying power of the gang has helped catapult Fresno State to the top third of universities nationwide based on how much revenue is collected through licensing.
Fresno State sells the licensing rights to the official Bulldog logos to about 200 companies each year who use the logos to sell thousands of T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and various other items to retail stores.
Eight years ago, the licensing royalties were just $30,000. Today that number has jumped ten-fold, to nearly $300,000, said Fresno State Director of Licensing Clarence Chiong.
The past eight years have also been a growth period for the Bulldog gang as it has increased from having about 1,500 members in 2000 to the more than 5,000 validated members today, according to Cardinale.
There seems to be a correlation between the amount of Bulldog gang members and the amount of revenue generated from licensing Fresno Stateâ€™s logos.
When asked about the association of the gang with the school logo and mascot, Fresno State Associate Athletics Director Paul Ladwig said that he has been asked multiple times about the connection.
â€œIf anyone thinks that we sell merchandise to be used for an illegal street gang that is just absurd,â€ Ladwig said. â€œThere are plenty of fans who buy the merchandise to support the teams.â€
While it may not be troubling for Ladwig, it is troubling for Fresno State fans who fear that the gang has taken over the logo and by wearing it, they could be targeted as a gang member.
â€œIt is scary to think that if I was at the wrong place at the wrong time and I was wearing my Fresno State sweatshirt, people could confuse me as a gang member,â€ said junior Cathy Estrada.
Estradaâ€™s fears are not unwarranted, as situations have occurred throughout the Valley that would instill fear into a red-clad Fresno State fan.
One such event occurred several years ago when a Fresno State student was jogging while wearing her school sweatshirt, in her hometown of Atwater. According to a February article by the L.A. Times, she heard yells coming from a car and then five gunshots were fired, narrowly missing her.
Cardinale said that an added benefit to the Fresno Police departmentâ€™s, â€œOperation Bulldog,â€ is giving Fresno State fans the opportunity to wear the logo without the fear of being identified with the Bulldog gang.
â€œIn addition to driving crime to the lowest levels in 43 years, we have made it possible for Fresno State fans to feel safe wearing the Bulldog logo,â€ Cardinale said.
Cardinale said the department has made over 6,000 arrests of Bulldog gang members, so many that there is an entire floor filled with them at Wasco State Prison. As more members are put behind bars, fewer of those left on the streets are willing to openly identify themselves as a Bulldog gang member by wearing the Bulldog logos.
â€œThe way Bulldog gang members identify themselves has changed since Operation Bulldog began,â€ Cardinale said. â€œIn November 2006 and prior, Bulldogs were wearing Fresno State attire and it was very apparent that they were part of the gang.â€