Any time a professional athlete’s name or likeness is used, there is usually money to be made. This is particularly true when a group of athletes have succeeded in making something very specific famous. The problem with using the athlete’s name or likeness in order to make money is the fact that the athlete is the sole owner. Therefore, any time that the likeness or name are used, the athlete must be informed and given a share of the profits.
Even those of us who are not football fans have probably at least heard of the “Super Bowl Shuffle”. It was a music video created by the six members of the 1985 Chicago Bears, also known as the “Shufflin’ Crew”. Now those members have filed a lawsuit claiming that the music video, which they say was intended to help families in need, has been used for non-charitable purposes without their permission.
The lawsuit alleges that the Super Bowl Shuffle rights owner, Julia Meyer, and Renaissance Marketing Corp., Meyer’s agent,” have marketed, distributed and sold licenses relating to the Super Bowl Shuffle Crew members’ identities, images, names, photographs, likenesses, voices and performances in the Super Bowl Shuffle without the Shufflin’ Crew’s permission.” The lawsuit further alleges that, since Red Label Records assigned its interest in the shuffle to Meyer’s husband in 1986, the defendants have benefited financially from the Super Bowl Shuffle without the consent of the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit was filed in Chicago on behalf of the six members of the “Shufflin’ Crew”, Richard Dent, Steve Fuller, Willie Gault, Jim McMahon, Mike Richardson, and Otis Wilson. However, Gault was the one who discovered that the music video was allegedly being misused and alerted the other members of the “Shufflin’ Crew” and now it looks like he might be the main plaintiff in the case. “I certainly put my name into [the lawsuit] because they made a whole lot of money off of us,” Wilson said in a statement. “Now that things are coming to light, I left it up to Willie to handle it. So I am 100 percent behind him. For my opinion, they used us and they made a lot of money and now is the time to pay up.”
Walid Tamari, a Chicago-based attorney who is representing the athletes in the current lawsuit, said that “The lawsuit provides that an important, and stated, objective of the Super Bowl Shuffle when it was produced in 1985, was to give back to Chicago’s neediest families”.
According to the lawsuit, the defendants allegedly either failed or refused to inform the members of the “Shufflin’ Crew” of the revenue that they had been receiving from manufacturing, advertising, sales, licensing and merchandising of the Super Bowl Shuffle. The lawsuit also alleges that the former football stars were also not made aware of the financial benefits received from the use of their likenesses, names, voices and performances, both in and out of the shuffle.
In order to ensure that something like this does not happen again, the lawsuit is seeking, among other things, the establishment of a constructive trust for charitable purposes that they select in order to continue the Super Bowl Shuffle’s charitable objective.