Damon camp cries foul over derogatory bibs on eBay
BOSTON -- A Red Sox fan angry that Johnny Damon defected to the New York Yankees has fought off an attempt by his high-powered agent to stop her from selling baby bibs with a very grown-up insult.
Tucked among the "I Love My Mommy" bibs and "Pregnant Princess" maternity clothes, Ann Sylvia also offers bibs and onesies adorned with the ballpark epithet "Damon Sucks." Last month, eBay pulled the listings after the Scott Boras Corp. complained that they violated Damon's right of publicity, a legal claim that allows celebrities to control the products they endorse.
Sylvia hadn't sold any of the Damon items at the time, but the complaint threatened to blemish her eBay rating and jeopardize her PowerSeller status.
"I'm just a stay-at-home mom. I just want to raise my children, sell my stuff," said Sylvia, who works part-time at The Standard-Times of New Bedford, which first reported on her struggle. "It's all a little nerve-racking, a little scary."
If so, she didn't show it in her negotiations with Boras' staff. During an hourlong phone call, she pointed out to attorney Ryan Lubner that there are other baseball players named "Damon." How did he know, after all, that she wasn't the world's biggest critic of Tampa Bay's Damon Hollins?
"Then I knew I had him," she gloated. "So I said, 'Let's make a compromise.'"
Lubner agreed to lift his objection -- and clear her eBay record -- if Sylvia agreed not to use "Johnny," "Boston," "Red Sox," "New York," or "Yankees" in the listing.
Now Sylvia's bibs are back on eBay.
"This is one of the more ridiculous cases we've seen arising out of eBay," said Greg Beck, an attorney who helped Sylvia with her case. "If a sports figure could sue for infringement of the right of publicity every time a fan criticized him, we'd have chaos in the court system."
And the ballpark.
Asked about the dispute at Yankee Stadium this week, Damon said he was unaware of it and referred questions to Boras. Calls seeking comment from Lubner were not returned.
"Sports figures like Johnny Damon are important people in our society, and the First Amendment protects the right of the public to freely comment on them," said Beck, who works for the Public Citizen Litigation Group. "Johnny Damon doesn't get to control what people say about him."
Damon's role in Boston's 2004 World Series title made him one of Boston's most popular athletes; that ended when he jilted the Red Sox for a four-year, $52 million contract with the Yankees. Red Sox fans reacted by converting their "Damon" jerseys to "Demon" jerseys and booing him lustily when he returned to Fenway Park in New York's pinstripes.
Sylvia's protest was equally subtle.
"What Damon did is just the ultimate betrayal in baseball," she said in a telephone interview from her home in New Bedford. "I don't see how it could not be considered that."
A mother of two whose online store, "Owen and Emma," is named after her children, Sylvia has operated an online store since 2001 so she can spend more time at home with her kids. She makes more than $1,000 a month from eBay sales.
Though she hadn't sold any "Damon Sucks" merchandise before the controversy, she's sold two items since.
But not everyone is happy.
"Here's the thing," she said slyly. "My husband is a Yankees fan, and his whole family is Yankees fans; my whole family is Red Sox fans. So the whole New York-Boston thing is contentious.
"But we have fun with it."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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