A U.S. District Court jury in San Francisco has awarded $28 million to a group of 2,062 retired pro football players in a class-action lawsuit against the National Football League Players Association. The NFLPA is the union which represents active NFL players.
The jury returned a $7 million verdict against the NFLPA and then piled on $21 million worth of punitive damages.
While Madden publisher Electronic Arts was not a party in the case, the NFLPA’s negotiations with EA over licensing the images of retired players was a central piece of evidence in the trial, which lasted for three weeks.
As GamePolitics reported before the trial began, lawyers for the retired players uncovered several "smoking gun" e-mails which indicated that the NFLPA not only sold rights to the retired players at below market value, but deliberately undercut potential competition from rival sports publisher Take-Two Interactive.
Those critical e-mails include a message from former NFLPA exec LaShun Lawson to Madden producer Jeremy Strauser:
For all retired players that are not listed… their identity must be altered so that it cannot be recognized [by Madden players]… Hence, any and all players not listed… cannot be represented in Madden 2002 with the number that player actually wore, and must be scrambled.
In an apparent reference to Take-Two’s failed All-Pro Football 2K8, an e-mail from NFLPA exec Clay Walker touches on how Take-Two lost out in the union’s deal with EA:
Take Two… went after retired players to create an “NFL” style video game after we gave the exclusive to EA. I was able to forge this deal with [the Pro Football Hall of Fame] that provides them with $400K per year (which is significantly below market rate) in exchange for the HOF player rights. EA owes me a huge favor because that threat was enough to persuade Take Two to back off its plans, leaving EA as the only professional football videogame manufacturer out there.
At issue was the depiction of old school players on classic NFL teams included with Madden. The Los Angeles Times reports that each retired player involved in the lawsuit will receive $13,000. Lead plaintiff Herb Adderley, who wept when the verdict was read, told the L.A. Times:
If you look at the 1967 Green Bay Packers in that game, you’ll know that the only left cornerback that year had to be Herb Adderley, but they scrambled my face and took the number off of my jersey. Yet, they had my correct height, weight and years of experience.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that defense lawyer Jeffrey Kessler expects the jury’s verdict to be overturned, calling it "unjust as a matter of law." An appeal to the 9th Circuit Court by the NFLPA seems virtually assured.