A federal judge in Minnesota gave final approval Friday to a $50 million settlement in the complicated court fight over publicity rights for retired NFL players.
The NFL and the retired players reached the agreement in March, and U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson gave preliminary approval in April. But 19 players had filed objections, with some saying direct payments won’t be made to the former players and that varying benefits will be unfairly distributed.
In his order Friday, Magnuson said those who objected because they were lured by the prospect of a lucrative personal payout have strayed from the initial goal of the lawsuit — to help those players who were suffering from dire physical, mental and financial needs. He said the majority of the class — more than 25,000 players — recognized the settlement for what it is: a boon for thousands of former players who can now benefit from a large financial payout to a fund that is organized for their benefit.
Under the settlement agreement, some $42 million will be distributed to a "common good" trust over 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. The league will pay another $8 million in associated costs including startup 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.
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.
The lawsuit was filed in 2009, with NFL Hall of Famer Elvin Bethea, Fred Dryer, Dan Pastorini, Joe Senser, Ed White and Jim Marshall accusing the NFL of exploiting retired players’ identities in films, highlight reels and memorabilia to market the league’s "glory days" without compensating the players. That same year, 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 lawsuit against the league was similar to a still-pending lawsuit filed against the NCAA by Ed O’Bannon and other former college athletes seeking damages for the use of former players’ likenesses in video games and other material.