The National Football League was sued by 10 retired players, including Curley Culp and John Riggins, who claim the NFL unfairly violates their rights of publicity by using their images to sell NFL Films products.
Five Hall of Fame players, including Culp, Riggins, Ron Yary, Dave Casper and Tom Mack, joined the suit filed yesterday in federal court in Camden, New Jersey. The complaint claims that a settlement reached this year in a similar case in Minnesota doesn’t go far enough to compensate former players.
In March, the NFL settled a class action lawsuit, filed by John Dryer and others, and agreed to put $42 million in a fund to help retired players and set up a licensing agency to market their publicity rights. The new case involves players who opted out of that settlement, which has preliminary approval of U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“NFL Films’ continued use of former players’ images is unauthorized, and not consented to,” according to the complaint. “It expropriates for itself and usurps commercial opportunities that would otherwise flow to and belong to the former players.”
NFL Films uses raw footage of former players taken from a vast archive of games and develops promotional and marketing products, according to the complaint. It films every game, apart from commercial broadcasts, so that it can assemble promotional materials to help the NFL brand, the players claim.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league is “disappointed that a few retired players believe that additional litigation will be productive in the face of Judge Magnuson’s decision in April finding that the settlement” is “fair and reasonable.”
In an April 5 order, Magnuson criticized players who rejected the settlement, which he said is a “thoughtful, beneficial” resolution to the case.
“It bears repeating: the individuals who originally brought this lawsuit and who now oppose the settlement rode into court on the banner of saving their downtrodden brethren, those who had played in the NFL yet today were penniless and, often, suffering from injuries or illnesses directly related to their playing days,” wrote the judge.
“It is the height of disingenuousness for these same plaintiffs to now complain, like children denied dessert, that the settlement does not benefit enough the individuals who brought the lawsuit,” he wrote.
He has scheduled a final approval hearing for Oct. 17.
Former quarterback Roman Gabriel, one of the plaintiffs in the New Jersey case, said he originally supported the Dryer settlement until learning of the details.
“When I talk to other retired players and tell them that perhaps the biggest benefit of the proposed settlement is that they can apply for help from a list of existing charities, the reaction is a combination of anger, disbelief and sadness,” Gabriel said in a statement by the law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, which helped file the complaint.
“I believe that this new lawsuit gives those former players who opted out of the Dryer settlement the best chance for justice,” he said.
The players in the New Jersey case claim that the league violated federal trademark law and state unfair competition law.
The case is Culp v. NFL Productions LLC d/b/a NFL Films, 13-cv-04999, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Camden). The Minnesota case is Dryer v. National Football League, 09-cv-02182, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota (St. Paul).
(Editors: Glenn Holdcraft, Charles Carter)