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NFL retiree publicity rights settlement gets approved

MINNEAPOLIS -- The $50 million settlement between the NFL and a group of retired players over publicity rights was given preliminary approval Monday by a federal judge who likened some of the retirees to petulant children for complaining about the money now that it has been awarded.

The settlement of the class-action lawsuit was reached last month, but some of the plaintiffs opposed the agreement, arguing it's not good enough. U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson said in his order that the contentious nature of the case and the complexity and expense of further litigation "weigh heavily in favor" of final approval of the settlement, which could take place this summer.

"It is the height of disingenuousness for these same plaintiffs to now complain, like children denied dessert, that the settlement does not benefit enough the individuals who brought the lawsuit," Magnuson wrote. "The benefits of this settlement to the class are plain: it will assist those who most need assistance, and will resolve the very problem that this lawsuit seeks to address by allowing former players true access to the value of their rights of publicity. Every hour of attorney time spent opposing the settlement only diminishes the value of that settlement to the members of the class."

Some $42 million will be distributed to a "common good" trust over the next eight years to help retired players with issues like medical expenses, housing and career transition. The settlement will also establish a licensing agency for retirees to ensure compensation for the use of their identities.

Attorneys for Elvin Bethea, John Dryer, Jim Marshall, Dante Pastorini, Joe Senser and Ed White, six of the plaintiffs on the original complaint filed in Minneapolis in 2009, wrote to Magnuson last week to express concern that the class represented by the lawsuit cannot be directly compensated through the settlement.

They also complained about the lack of a neutral party to guide administration of the funds.

The original lawsuit accused the NFL of exploitation of the identities of retired players in highlight films and memorabilia. The settlement calls for the NFL to pay $42 million toward the cause and another $8 million in associated costs including start-up money for the licensing agency.

The common good fund will be administered by a group of retired players approved by the court. The licensing agency will for the first time market retiree publicity rights in conjunction with the NFL, thereby making it easier for retired players to work with potential sponsors and advertisers.

In the past, if Marshall, for example, was approached by a company looking to pay him to use footage of him as a player in a commercial or advertisement, the company had to seek NFL approval, the Minnesota Vikings for more approval and further approval from any other player featured in that footage.

The settlement only covers those players who are currently retired, but players who retire in the future will have the chance to utilize the newly formed licensing agency.

Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press

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