National Football League retired players file class action

July 25, 2011 by

The National Football League faces another class action from retired players, this one led by wide receiver Fred Barnett, who claims the league profits by exploiting retirees’ identities.  Mr. Barnett says that while standard NFL contracts allow the league to exploit the identities of active players, these rights expire with the contract when players retire.

Mr. Barnett, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles in the early ’90s and retired with the Miami Dolphins, says the NFL is milking its “glory days” by using his identity “as a marketing and advertising technique to convey authenticity, enhance the NFL’s brand awareness and increase its revenue.”

Mr. Barnett says he seeks only his “fair share” of this revenue.  His federal complaint says the value of retired players’ images is self-evident, as the NFL has taken extreme measures to restrict access to NFL films.

“For instance, the NFL restricts media, including local news outlets, to showing only 45 seconds per day of footage of NFL players shot at league or team facilities in any fashion.  This includes non-playing situations such as news conferences, interviews and practice-field reports,” according to the complaint.

It adds: “If a media outlet, such as a local news station, wishes to use footage of retired players as part of reporting the news, it must pay the NFL steep fees.”

And the NFL has created an entire “filmmaking wing” to profit from game films.

The complaint adds: “The NFL also creates an entire line of NFL Films productions for each team, for each year.  Regardless of the team’s performance, the productions paint the season in the most positive, promotional light possible.  NFL Films produced and distributed ‘Video Yearbook’ productions for the Philadelphia Eagles throughout the 1990’s.  Plaintiff Barnett was the team’s starting wide receiver from 1990-95 and as such appears regularly in these promotional films.”

The NFL describes NFL Films as “the backbone of the NFL Network” and its “year-round channel” draws “heavily” on NFL Films’ resources, which include “more than 100 million feet of film in its library,” Mr. Barnett says.

The retired players who created the glory days deserve their fair share, Mr. Barnett says, particularly in light of the fact that “now-retired NFL players, as a group, suffer severe physical maladies and disabilities as a result of the sacrifices that made the NFL what it is today.”

He seeks class certification and damages for unjust enrichment, violations of statutory and common law rights of publicity, misappropriation, false endorsement and Lanham Act violations.

Steve Larson
An experienced trial lawyer who handles both hourly and contingent fee cases, Steve has expertise in class actions, consumer cases, antitrust litigation, securities litigation, corporate disputes, intellectual property disputes, unfair competition claims, employment matters, and disputes involving family wealth. Steve regularly represents individuals and businesses in federal and state court and has obtained class-wide recovery in multiple class actions. A veteran practitioner, Steve's clients value his creative approach to resolving complex litigation matters.

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