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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
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NFL Must Defend Itself From New Player Claims

(CN) - Minnesota will once again serve as the venue in which the NFL defends itself against litigation filed by retired players who opted out of a multimillion-dollar settlement over their publicity rights, a federal judge ruled.

John Dryer filed a federal class action against the National Football League and its filmmaking arm, NFL Films, in Minnesota in 2009. In the lawsuit he claimed the defendants reaped billions by using the 1960s and '70s "'glory days' of the NFL as a marketing and advertising technique" without compensating former players for the use of their images and identities.

In addition to Dryer notable plaintiffs include Hall-of-Famer Elvin Bethea and quarterback Dan Pastorini.

While Dryer gained fame after football as TV's "Hunter," many of the players shown in programs made from the classic footage struggle to receive health care for permanent injuries, the class claimed.

The players claim the NFL did not even begin requiring them to sign contracts allowing it to use their likenesses for marketing and promotion until 1993.

In 2013, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson approved a settlement that required the NFL to pay players $7.55 million for false endorsement, violations of right of publicity, and unjust enrichment.

Though the settlement allowed players for the first time to pursue commercial interests in their own images, more than 2,100 players and heirs opted out of the deal and many have continued to litigate the case.

Those cases have since been consolidated in Minneapolis. Among them are cases were filed by Denise Tatum, the widow of Oakland Raider Jack Tatum, and former Atlanta Falcon Alexander "Woody" Thompson, who also played in the late 1970s.

Another group of players, led by 1969 All-Star Curley Culp, and Hall-of-Famers John "The Diesel" Riggins, and Dave "The Ghost" Casper, filed a their own opt-out class action in New Jersey,

The defendants moved to transfer the case to Minnesota, and U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman granted the motion on Monday, finding that having all of the cases heard in a single district "is a rational, legitimate reason."

"Although plaintiffs allege facts that show that the production of NFL Films occurs primarily in New Jersey, their claim centers on the airing of their images which occurs nationally and even worldwide on the internet," Hillman wrote.

The judge called "speculative" claims that the plaintiffs cannot compel NFL staff to testify in Minnesota, and that they intend to focus discovery on a new media platform based in New York, NFL Now, and subpoena third-party witnesses from major media outlets there.

"Plaintiffs have failed to adequately explain why New York-based media are likely to possess unique information relevant in this case not discoverable from defendants," Hillman wrote. "Nor is it clear, given the plaintiffs' apparent focus on internet commerce, that if such relevant information does exist with third-parties it is more likely to be found in New York than it would be in California, for example."

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