Viking fans will recall the famous Purple People Eaters from the late 1960s through the late 1970s. The nickname arose for the defensive line of the Vikings from their purple jerseys and the popular Sheb Wooley song bearing that name. Although they went to four Super Bowls (unfortunately, not taking home a Super Bowl ring), the Purple People Eaters did not receive the astronomical, multi-million dollar, contracts received by the Pro Bowl players today. Accordingly, the retired players rely upon the use of their names, images, and likenesses on paraphernalia, sports bars, and other businesses to make money.
To protect their valuable trademarks in their names, images and likenesses, Purple People Eater Jim Marshall, along with five other retired National Football League (“NFL”) players, filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL to recover for their injuries as a result of the NFL’s unauthorized use of their identities to promote the NFL, sell NFL-related products and otherwise generate revenue for the NFL. They have brought claims for false endorsement under the Lanham Act and various state law claims. The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.
Their Amended Complaint alleges that “by commercializing the names, images and likenesses of its players, both active and retired, the NFL has become one of the largest entertainment conglomerates on the planet, raking in an estimated $6.9 billion in 2008 alone.” In contrast, the “now-retired NFL players, as a group, suffer severe physical maladies and disabilities as a result of the sacrifices they made to make the NFL what it is today.” One example identified in the Amended Complaint was that safety Toby Wright sought to use his name, likeness and identity as an NFL player to promote two businesses, one a sports bar and the other a training facility. In response, the NFL informed him that he would have to pay the NFL $100,000 to use his own identity. Because he did not have the funds, the safety was effectively “blocked” from using his own identity.
Only time will tell if Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, who is also a Purple People Eater, will join the class action and whether the Purple People Eater Jim Marshall and the other retired players can beat the NFL off the football field.