Shame In The Game

By Ronald Glover
Updated: November 17, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — My love for the NFL stems from Sundays when my father and I would sit in front of the television while my mother was at church (I only had to do one service on Sundays) and my sisters played around the house.

I learned the history of the game through NFL Films, the voice of the late great John Facenda, the melodic symphony that played in my head playing rough touch with my friends as I became one with Jim Brown or O.J. Simpson (I can’t front on Juice the football player) and finally the grainy reels of footage that taught me the names of players, coaches and numbers that have become a part of its history.

History is pure, it is sacred; never to be tampered or compromised it is to be revered as life. Except when it comes to the almighty dollar.

In last week’s class action ruling in favor of over 2,000 former players being rewarded for having their images and likenesses used without the consent of the NFLPA.

The focus of the suit was the NFLPA’s $35 million licensing contract with the ” Madden NFL” video game series. Under the existing deal only current players were compensated.

But Madden has over 100 vintage teams made up of retired players. The players are not given details faces, names or numbers, however likeness is depicted in the players attributes, position, height and weight.

Former Green Bay Packer and Dallas Cowboys cornerback Herb Adderly spearheaded the charge claiming that retired players were entitled to a share of the proceeds and also that they were intentionally cut out of the contract.

Citing a letter written to EA Sports by an NFLPA Executive asking that the images of retired players be scrambled to avoid any royalty payments.

The excerpt below is from LaShun Lawson of the NFLPA to Jeremy Strauser of EA Sports (creators of the Madden Franchise) dated May 31, 2001.

Dear Jeremy:

The following is a detailed explanation of the approved use of retired players for the upcoming video games per our discussion at E3. The Addendum that was signed last July was a three-year agreement that granted Electronic Artists the rights to use the images and identities of players listed in Attachments A and B. For all retired players that are not listed in attachments A or B, their identity must be altered so that it cannot be recognized.

Regarding paragraph 2 of the pending License Agreement between Electronic Arts and Players Inc, a players’ identity is identified as his name, likeness (including without limitation, number) picture, photograph, voice, facsimile signature and/or biographical information.

Hence any, and all players not listed in Attachment A and B cannot be represented in Madden 2002 with the number that the player wore and must be scrambled.

Along those lines, the only active players that can be included in this licensed product are those players that have given their licensing rights to Players Inc. Substituting as players name with their jersey number is unacceptable. If a player has not given his rights to Players Inc, his identity as defined above cannot be used within the game.

The NFLPA claimed that there was little market for the images of retired players and that the market generated the $35 million for current players. The 10-member jury agreed, but it found that the NFLPA has nonetheless breached its duty to represent the interest of retired players.

For example, the Madden ’92 on SEGA Genesis(pre-Playstation) consisted of vintage teams from the Super Bowl years. Let’s use the ’85 Bears as an example; no names were used but Walter Payton would be identified as No. 34, Jim McMahon No. 9 and so forth.

On today’s platform the ’85 Bears are still as such but the numbers are scrambled; the halfback for the ’85 Bears may read as HB No. 21 but still have the attributes of Walter Payton. One player whose likeness could not be used — Joe Montana was excluded because he had a game out, Joe Montana Football on SEGA Genesis and was not included in the contract agreement.

Coaches’ likenesses are a high commodity as well. To the true gamers, two of the more high profile coaches are exempt from the sidelines. Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells’ images are not on the game because they are not members of the NFLCA.

Gamers are allowed to edit the rosters of the vintage teams for historical accuracy.

Last season SEGA Sports introduced All-Pro Football 2k8, an eventual successor to the ESPN and NFL 2K series, the game is composed of the likeness, names and numbers of former NFL greats including, O.J. Simpson, Jerry Rice and Barry Sanders.

The game has over 240 retired NFL players who are compensated.

I’m sure the question that everyone wants answered is if John Madden was in on the deal. I’m pretty sure he’s not in on the nuts and bolts but he does have a look at the final product cover to cover what businessman doesn’t.

If that’s the case and Madden knew what was going on he’s screwed the some of the same men that he’s coached and openly admired and I wouldn’t put it past him.

He was conscious enough to have gamers download a second title cover to reflect Brett Favre in a New York Jets uniform. It would be hard for me not to believe that he didn’t know retired players were being altered.

The Madden Franchise to date as grossed over $2 billion.

Madden hasn’t submitted any comments regarding this issue.

This suit against EA Sports is only part of a larger, uglier picture, one in which retired players struggle with health benefits, pensions or injuries suffered as a player that are not covered under their current health plans, The NFLPA has not put forth the effort needed to afford these men the benefits that they are entitled to.

Talk about spitting in the face of history.