The number of former National Football League players who are objecting to a $50 million settlement over the league's longtime use of their names and images without compensation seems to be growing.
But a federal judge in St. Paul complained loudly Wednesday over how they are going about it.
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson criticized lawyers for former NFL players Curley Culp and the late Jack Tatum, saying their new lawsuits were jeopardizing a proposed settlement the judge is overseeing. The two new lawsuits together have more than 500 former NFL players as plaintiffs, including many well-known players such as John Riggins, Forrest Gregg and former Vikings stars Joe Kapp and Ron Yary.
"I see this thing, and I will tell you counsel, it just plain shocks my conscience," the judge said. "I don't like it."
Former NFL players had until Aug. 30 to opt out of the proposed settlement, but a list of how many have done so has not yet been made public. The new lawsuits were the clearest sign that the number of those opting out is at least in the hundreds — the league has roughly 20,000 retired players — and might climb higher. The more players who formally opt out, and complain that the settlement reached in March is flawed and the $50 million is not enough, the more the settlement could be in jeopardy.
"There's been an explosion of opt outs since the filing of the Culp case," Dan Gustafson, an attorney representing the settlement, told the judge Wednesday.
Magnuson said the new lawsuits were only confusing an already complicated issue, and said a former player might not be officially opted out "until I say you're opted out." The judge told lawyers who have filed the newest lawsuits that "I am really concerned that you have got the cart before the horse."
Magnuson said he planned to issue a ruling Thursday to try to clarify the issue.
The issue of compensation has split many former NFL players — with former stars Jim Brown and Irv Cross, the former co-host of the CBS' "NFL Today" pregame show, endorsing the settlement and others such as Roman Gabriel and Dave Casper opposing it.
The NFL has an estimated $9.5 billion in annual revenues and NFL Films owns more than 100 million feet of game film.
Attorneys for the disgruntled former players have also pointed to popular NFL Films shows such as "Big Blocks and King Size Hits", which among other images shows Tatum hitting the Vikings' Sammy White during Super Bowl XI and knocking his helmet off.
Jason Shipp, an attorney representing the Tatum lawsuit, said the legal action was filed in Pittsburgh where one of the NFL's most often-shown plays occurred — the so-called "Immaculate Reception" by Franco Harris that involved Tatum and led to a decisive Pittsburgh Steelers touchdown.
"We thought that was the greatest symbol of the rights the players were giving up," Shipp said Wednesday in St. Paul.