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Wednesday, April 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Butkus Flattens Athletic Club

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The Downtown Athletic Club of Orlando must stop using Dick Butkus' for its annual trophy honoring the nation's top college linebacker, a federal judge ruled. The Chicago Bears Hall of Famer sued the Club, citing disappointment with its charitable fund raising and its decisions made without his consent or consultation. In granting summary judgment, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson ruled that "Butkus, and not DACO, has the right to commercially exploit [Butkus'] name and image."

Butkus' frustration with DACO began in 1997, when he "objected to some of the commitments DACO had made on [Butkus'] behalf without consulting him and DACO's inability to generate sufficient revenues to fund significant charitable activities".

Butkus asked DACO for accounting documents and any written agreements between them. Eventually, Butkus told DACO he wanted to start another athletic award in his name, to be presented in Chicago.

Butkus, a Chicago native, played high school football at Chicago Vocational High School, college ball with the University of Illinois, and professionally with the Chicago Bears.

In mid-1997, then-DACO president Amy Pempel wrote to Butkus, acknowledging his "inclination to become more involved in the Chicago community" but asking him to recognize the "long history", "established reputation" and "national prominence" of the Butkus Award.

No legal action was taken until 2006, when Butkus' son, Matt Butkus, asked that DACO accommodate his father's desire to create a Butkus Award in the Chicago area. When DACO refused, the elder Butkus began legal proceedings, seeking a declaratory judgment that DACO never had a license to use his name or likeness.

The Butkus Award was established in 1985, when Butkus entered into an informal agreement with DACO to use his name. The award has been given to 21 players; one player, Brian Bosworth, won the award twice, in 1985 and 1986. Many, including Derrick Thomas and LaVar Arrington, went on to successful professional football careers. The most recent winner was James Laurinaitis of Ohio State University, who played for the Buckeyes in the last two college national championships games.

Despite the summary judgment, DACO's Web site on Thursday still prominently featured the award: "Dick Butkus is synonymous with his position - ... Linebacker - and his name is identified with the most prestigious award a linebacker in collegiate football can receive - the Butkus Award."

DACO officials were not available for comment Thursday. The organization's answering machine identified DACO as "sponsors of the Butkus Award".

Judge Anderson did not rule on who owns the Butkus Award. Anderson wrote, "(T)he Court cannot determine, a this stage of the proceedings, who, if anyone, owns the Butkus Award mark or what those ownership rights might include."

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