NFL, Ex-Players Get Initial Approval for Licensing Pact

The National Football League won preliminary court approval of the settlement of a lawsuit accusing it of failing to compensate former players for using their likenesses in promotions.

The accord, which calls for the creation of a special licensing agency to market those publicity rights and the creation of a $42 million fund overseen by former players to aid their peers, was approved today by U.S. District Judge Paul A. Magnuson in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Magnuson’s approval was granted over the objections of some of the ex-players who filed the 2009 case. Opponents include Fred Dryer of the Los Angeles Rams, the Minnesota Vikings’ Jim Marshall and Dan Pastorini of the Houston Oilers.

“These players contend that the settlement is not appropriate because it does not directly benefit them,” the judge wrote, “ignoring the fact that the settlement in fact directly benefits those in whose name the lawsuit was purportedly brought: the players who toiled in obscurity and now are destitute.”

Legal Costs

The accord’s opponents contended that distributing the bulk of the settlement proceeds to the fund was only the second-best use of the money. The league is also paying $8 million toward defraying the plaintiffs’ legal costs and setting up the licensing agency.

Among those named as initial members of the supervisory panel for the fund and of the licensing agency created under the accord is Pro Football Hall of Fame member Jim Brown.

“For the first time in the history of the game, retired players will be represented at the table,” he said in a joint statement with other ex-players and their lawyers who lauded today’s ruling.

Also serving on the initial panel are former Ram Jack Youngblood, ex-Dallas Cowboy Billy Joe Dupree and Irv Cross of the Philadelphia Eagles, according to the ruling.

Magnuson scheduled a final approval hearing for Sept. 19. The bid for approval was filed on March 18.

Lawyer Michael Ciresi, who represented the objecting players, didn’t immediately reply to an e-mailed request for comment.

“The decision speaks for itself,” said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy.

The case is Dryer v. National Football League, 09-cv-2182, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota (St. Paul).

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