Former NFL players can sue union over licensing deal
SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal judge ruled this week that retired NFL players can move ahead with a class-action lawsuit that claims the players union has not paid retirees for use of their images, likeness and names in group marketing deals.
U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup ruled Tuesday that NFL Hall of Fame cornerback Herb Adderley, who filed the lawsuit with two other retired players, can represent the roughly 3,000 retired players who signed group licensing agreements with the union during a four-year period ending in February 2007.
Alsup called the union's marketing and licensing contract with retired members "an empty promise."
"Only on two occasions has any distribution been made to any retired players and even then it was only to a tiny number," Alsup wrote in his ruling.
The retirees' attorney, Ron Katz, said the older players want the same cut active players received from deals the union made with companies such as card makers and EA Sports, which sells the popular Madden NFL video game. Katz said the retired players are entitled to more than $100 million under terms of the group contracts they signed.
The National Football League Players Association discontinued use of those contracts after the lawsuit was filed in San Francisco federal court last year.
Union lawyer Jeff Kessler said the retirees shouldn't share in revenue generated exclusively by active players. No images of retired players, for instance, are used in the Madden game or in fantasy football licensing deals.
Kessler said many retired players have made individual marketing deals and have been paid millions of dollars.
Evidence submitted in the case even showed Adderley receiving more than $12,000 in licensing revenues between 2003 and 2007 from Players Inc., the union's marketing arm. During that same period other retired players got more: Archie Manning earned $450,000; Roger Craig $190,00 and Randall Cunningham $175,000.
"Huge amounts of money have been paid out when their rights were used," said Kessler, who is considering an appeal of the decision. Kessler said that every retiree who has had his image used has been paid.
But Katz, the retired players' attorney, said the special "group licensing agreements" the retirees signed between 2003 and 2007 includes language that guarantees the older players the same share that active players received.
The judge called the wording of the group licensing agreements a "masterpiece of obfuscation and raises more questions than it answers."
The judge did toss out the claims of Bernie Parrish, another retired player who purported to represent retired players who paid union dues and didn't receive any royalties. Alsup ruled that Parrish's "conduct and behavior" disqualifies him and the players he purports to represent from pursuing their claims against the union.
"To start, Parrish has made or adopted numerous extreme remarks directed at Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFLPA," Alsup wrote. During testimony, Parrish compared Upshaw to Idi Amin, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and several other despots.
The judge also took offense to several racially insensitive comments the white Parrish made about the union and Upshaw, who is black. Parrish claimed in a missive sent to the Department of Justice that Upshaw and other union officials were practicing "reverse discrimination" and attempting to punish "white pioneer era players" for the ill treatment black players suffered during the same period.
Parrish also ranted in an online post that Upshaw was attempting to "marry the NFLPA to the gangster rap and hip hop industry," among other racially charged comments.
"These comments are particularly disturbing considering many of the (other retired players) that Parrish is seeking to represent are African-American," Alsup wrote. "This would be true even if Parrish were himself not white."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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