NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Legal Newsline) - Ten college athletes have filed a class action lawsuit against ESPN and other major broadcasters for allegedly reaping profits from the use of players' likenesses without those players' permission.
Javon Marshall, Steven Clarke, Chris Conner, Patrick Miller, Byron Moore, Chaz Moore, Sean Parker, Eric Samuels, Marlon Walls and Rod Wilks claim the defendants profited from the broadcast and use of student athletes’ names, likenesses and images without the student athletes’ permission, according to a complaint filed Oct. 3 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.
The defendants have allegedly "conspired with each other and the NCAA to promulgate, enforce, adopt, implement and/or exploit rules that are inherently anticompetitive in forbidding student athletes from competing in the marketplace for the value of their rights of publicity."
The "release" that the student athletes are forced to sign as a condition of playing football or basketball in college is void as a matter of public policy, unconscionable and vague, and therefore void and/or unenforceable, according to the suit.
The defendants' actions constitute violations of the student athletes’ rights of publicity, violations of the Sherman Act and violations of the Lanham Act, thereby "unjustly enriching the defendants in the amount of billions of dollars, all to the detriment of the student athletes," the complaint states.
"This suit also arises out of the deliberate and unlawful licensing of FBS football and NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Student Athletes’ names, images, and likenesses by defendants..." the complaint states.
The plaintiffs claim in spite of the NCAA and defendants’ multi-billion dollar agreements, the student athletes receive nothing or, at most, the cost of attendance.
"NCAA and conference rules even go as far to place quotas on the number of meals a student athlete may eat," the complaint states. "These restrictive rules have deprived student athletes from realizing the commercial value of their images."
The plaintiffs claim under NCAA rules, college athletes can be left to pay sports-related medical bills, can have their scholarships revoked for any reason and are left to pay thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket educational related expenses while on "full scholarship."
Approximately 50 percent of NCAA football and men’s basketball players are left without a college degree, according to the suit.
"The room and board provisions in full scholarship leave 85% of players living on campus and 86% of players living off campus living below the federal poverty line," the complaint states. According to at least one study, the fair market value of the average student athlete over a four-year period, is approximately worth $456,000 and $1,060,000 'above and beyond' the value of their scholarships, respectively."
The defendants have violated the rights of publicity of the plaintiffs, the Tennessee Common Law Right of Publicity, the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Lanham Act and have been unjustly enriched at the expense of the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs are seeking class certification and damages. They are being represented by Stephen J. Zralek and John P. Branham of Bone McAllester Norton PLLC; Richard Manson and Ronald A. Stewart of Stewart Johnson Conner & Manson LLP; and Patrick D. McMurtray of McMurtray Law Firm PLLC.
The case is assigned to District Judge Kevin H. Sharp.
The defendants in the class action are ESPN Inc.; CBS Broadcasting Inc.; National Broadcasting Company Inc.; ABS Inc.; Fox, Inc.; IMG College LLC; Atlantic Coast Conference; Big Ten Conference; Big 12 Conference; Pacific-12 Conference; Southeastern Conference; Conference USA; Ohio Valley Conference; Big East Conference; IMG Worldwide Inc.; IMG College LLC; Big Ten Network Services LLC; CBS Collegiate Sports Properties Inc.; JMI Sports LLC; Telesouth Communications Inc.; T3 Media Inc.; ESPN Inc., which is doing business as SEC Network; Southeastern Conference, which is doing business as Sec Network; ESPN Inc., which is doing business as Longhorn Network; IMG College LLC, which is doing business as Longhorn Network; Learfield Sports LLC; and William Morris Endeavors LLC.
U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee case number: 3:14-cv-01945
From Legal Newsline: Kyla Asbury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org