Six retired players sue NFL, alleging improper use of their names, images

MINNEAPOLIS -- Pro Football Hall of Famer Elvin Bethea and five other players filed a lawsuit against the NFL on Thursday, accusing the league of using their names and images for profit without their permission.

The plantiffs, who filed their class-action suit in federal district court, say the NFL exploited retired players' identities in films, highlight reels and memorabilia to market the league's "glory days" without compensating them.

"It's really turned into a big property," said Bob Stein, a lawyer for the players.

How much former players are owed is unclear, Stein said, but the lawsuit suggests the amount exceeds $5 million.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello had no comment because the league hasn't yet reviewed the lawsuit. NFL Players Association spokesman Carl Francis also declined comment.

The other players listed in the suit are Jim Marshall, Ed White, Joe Senser, Fred Dryer and Dan Pastorini.

Stein, who played in the NFL for seven years, said other retired players approached him when they saw their names and images in NFL Films videos and other material used today by the league.

"A couple of my old teammates (were) asking me if when we played, we gave the league the right to use any kind of publicity forever," he said.

Stein expects to add more players to the suit. Many former players struggle financially and continue to deal with injuries that they suffered during their playing days, he said.

"I can tell you the motivation of the action and the representatives are to try and help everybody," Stein said. "What form that takes, I don't know yet and no one would know."

Michael McCann, a sports law expert and professor at Vermont Law School, said the lawsuit was similar to a complaint filed last month by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon against the NCAA. O'Bannon is seeking unspecified damages for the use of former players' likenesses in video games and other material.

In this case, McCann said, the NFL likely would refer to its collective bargaining agreement with the NFLPA. The player contract in that agreement gives publicity rights to the league.

"Whether there's sufficient language in there affecting retired players remains to be seen," McCann said.

In June, a group of more than 2,000 retirees won a $26.25 million settlement with the NFL Players Association over the use of their likenesses in video games, trading cards and other sports products. The retirees sued in 2007, accusing the union of failing to actively pursue marketing deals for such products.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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