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Continued: Football greats fight NFL with millions at stake

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 1, 2013 - 11:56 PM

Cross, who will serve on a panel with former University of Minnesota and Green Bay Packers star Darrell Thompson to help distribute the settlement money, denies accusations that have circulated that he is selling out his colleagues by accepting the proposal. “No, we’re not selling out. We’re giving ourselves to those guys who need it,” said Cross, who spoke as he sat next to Thompson. “You would sell out if you walked away” and did not accept the settlement.

Added Thompson: “I don’t think anyone would call Jim Brown a ‘sellout’ — not to his face.”

Too little?

But former players opposing the settlement argue that accepting it means that they would forever be giving up their right to be compensated every time the NFL uses their image.

“I’m going to give it up to a bunch of billionaire NFL owners for nothing?” said Ron Pritchard, a nine-year player for Houston and Cincinnati. “That’s not even American.” Pritchard said he intends to opt out of the settlement — all former players this summer will be asked to formally endorse or reject the proposal — and pursue his own legal claim against the NFL.

Like others, Pritchard also said that the NFL’s ability to deduct legal fees from the settlement should be a reason to reject it — not a reason to accept it.

“There is a punitive spirit that’s in this document,” Fred Dryer, the original lead plaintiff, told a roomful of former NFL players at a conference in Las Vegas in May. Dryer, whom Ciresi is now representing, played for the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Rams before becoming a successful television actor.

Value of film unknown

Much of what Ciresi and his clients want to do is focus on the real value of NFL Films, which they claim may be worth hundreds of millions of dollars and whose images of former players the NFL regularly uses to promote itself. The film catalog — which NFL Films touts as the world’s largest sports film library — features narrators such as actors Burt Lancaster and Orson Wells, has sound of football legend Red Grange dating back to 1925 and has produced videos that have more than 100 Emmy Awards.

The film library includes footage of more than 9,000 games and of more than 500 coaches and players who wore microphones during a game.

One film clip shows the infamous “wrong-way” touchdown run in 1964 by Marshall, the former Vikings standout. Marshall said the proposed settlement would amount to $22 a month for each player. “If you don’t stand up and fight for it, what’s left?” he said in explaining why he wants to proceed. If “you just go along with whatever they want to give you, [you] feel less than human.”

Zimmerman and others pushing the settlement, however, said the value of NFL Films was disclosed privately to the plaintiffs, and that sifting through hundreds of hours of film to find how often a particular player was featured — most players were, in fact, not stars — would be a monumental undertaking. Ron Mix, an attorney and Pro Football Hall of Fame member, said the task would involve finding plaintiffs who “showed up only as bit players” on film and then trying to determine “how long they were on the field.”

“To me, there’s a major risk that if this moves forward [you] could get nothing — absolutely nothing,” Mix told the crowd in Las Vegas. “Could you have held out for more? [I] don’t think so.”

But Ciresi said the legal fight goes to the heart of what built the NFL. “This game is about the players — that’s what it’s about. It was built on their backs, their blood, their sweat, their creativity, their athleticism, their grace, their brute strength — all of that,” he said.

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