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ECDawg78
07-16-2017, 10:32 AM
Chris Spielman sues Ohio State University over use of athletes’ images


By Rob Oller
The Columbus Dispatch
July 14, 2017


Few Ohio State football players have been considered more iconic as a Buckeye than Chris Spielman.

Since his All-America career from 1984 to ’87, Spielman has been viewed as the embodiment of the program’s values — tough, selfless and loyal.

That’s why it was considered such stunning news Friday that Spielman is the plaintiff in a class-action suit filed in federal court in Columbus against Ohio State University on behalf of all former and current Buckeyes football players.

“I feel sick about it,” Spielman told The Dispatch. “But I believe in doing the right thing. I teach my kids to stand up for what’s right. Players have a right. If somebody wanted to endorse you, don’t you think you have a right to say yes or no, or to negotiate? That’s a common-sense thing. We want to be partners. We don’t want to be adversaries.”

Spielman said his attorney, Brian K. Duncan, tried for eight months to resolve the issue with Ohio State.
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The athletic department released a statement from athletic director Gene Smith late Friday afternoon.

“We immensely value our relationships with all our former student-athletes,” Smith said. “Ohio State is aware of the lawsuit that Chris Spielman has filed, and we are in the process of reviewing it.”

In the suit, Spielman asks for more than $75,000, but that’s simply an amount typical in such complaints. The amount of any award or settlement could be much more.

Regardless, Spielman said he would donate any money he might get back to the Ohio State athletic department.

“Because I want to be partners with them,” Spielman said. “I want to support them. I’m not in it for any financial gain whatsoever from the banner issue.”

The lawsuit takes issue with 64 banners hung in Ohio Stadium featuring players’ likenesses and a corporate logo for Honda on them, but it also mentions jerseys, photographs, signatures and more.

Spielman also said attaching his name to Honda puts him in a difficult situation given a separate sponsorship deal he has with a local Mazda dealership.

Spielman said he is fine with Ohio State using his name and likeness for non-commercial purposes.

“You can slap your name and logo on banners all you want,” he said. “But as soon as you slap a corporate logo on there, I have rights, in my opinion, to say yes or no, or to negotiate that.”

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The lawsuit also names sports marketing company IMG College, LLC.; WME Entertainment; DBA International Management Group; Honda; and Nike. Spielman’s main issue is with IMG, Duncan said, which represents Ohio State in negotiations with such companies as Nike.

“They knew better,” Duncan said of IMG. “They all knew better than to do this, and they can’t do this again in the future.”

Nike is targeted for its “Legends of the Scarlet and Gray” vintage jersey-licensing program and other apparel contracts with Ohio State.

Spielman said he hopes the suit will not damage his relationship with the university. He said he intends to continue as an ambassador for the school and to donate and raise money for it.

The Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research at the James hospital has raised more than $20 million. Chris and Stefanie were married for 20 years before her death at age 42 in 2009 after a 12-year battle with the disease.

Spielman said he has gotten the support of numerous players, including two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, as well as former OSU head coach Earle Bruce.

“I’ve gotten a ton of texts from former players,” Spielman said. “Somebody has to say (to Ohio State), ‘Just ask us, and let’s be partners. Let’s work as a team.’ That’s what Ohio State taught me.”

Griffin said he supports the rights of former athletes to receive compensation from corporations and universities that benefit from the use of players’ names and likenesses.

“There is no greater supporter of collegiate athletics than me, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunities provided to me as a former student-athlete,” Griffin said in a statement. “However, the recent landscape of collegiate athletics has changed, and these institutions and corporations have a duty to treat all former athletes fairly.”

Spielman and Griffin have helped develop a newly formed sports and entertainment company, Profectus Group Inc., created by former Ohio State wrestler Mike DiSabato, DiSabato said. DiSabato has a history of business disagreements with Ohio State that date to 2006, when Ohio State cut ties with his licensing company after contracting with Nike.

DiSabato, who advocates for the rights of current and former college athletes to pursue their worth on the open market, reached out to Spielman and Griffin after seeing their likenesses on the banners in Ohio Stadium.

“I was interested to hear where they were with their brand development in Columbus,” DiSabato said.

Both former greats were interested enough to want to sit down with Ohio State to address the issue.

“We notified the university of our concerns in November of 2016 and requested meetings,” DiSabato said. “We had a couple of phone calls with IMG and Ohio State. Initially, IMG pointed the finger at Ohio State, saying, ‘They sold it to us, meaning that in the contract we can (use former players’ likenesses on the banners.)′ A couple months later (OSU) said, ‘We’ll just take them down.’ We were like, ‘You don’t have to, but it’s good you’re admitting guilt here, because if you didn’t do anything wrong why would you take them down?’”

Ohio State made a compensatory offer that was in the low six figures, according to a source who asked not to be identified.

http://www.dispatch.com/news/20170714/chris-spielman-sues-ohio-state-university-over-use-of-athletes-images