While colleges give promising athletes a free education in exchange for playing on the school’s sports teams, colleges and universities earn it all back and much more, not just through ticket sales and advertising space at games, but other promotional opportunities featuring their student athletes. With schools raking in millions of dollars that the athletes never get to see, many students are left wondering just what a college athlete’s image is worth, and how much (if any) of a claim those athletes have to their own images.
This issue has been addressed most recently in a lawsuit against Ohio State University, which named Honda and IMG Worldwide, Inc. as co-defendants. The lawsuit was filed in federal court by Chris Spielman, a former linebacker for Ohio State, after his image, along with images of other former Ohio State athletes, appeared on a series of banners that were sponsored by Honda and displayed around Ohio Stadium.
The series of banners is just one of several such programs listed by the lawsuit, which accuses Ohio State, Honda, and IMG of unjustly monopolizing the images of former student athletes for profit. The lawsuit is seeking an end to the marketing program, as well as $75,000 in compensation for the former Ohio State athletes whose images appeared in the program. Although that dollar amount is standard for these kinds of claims, the complaint points out that Ohio State is currently making millions of dollars through merchandising programs like the banners that were displayed around the stadium.
In September, the university filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the case hasn’t met the requirement for this type of antitrust lawsuit, and that federal courts don’t have jurisdiction over this case.
IMG and related entities are supporting the university’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying there is no evidence of Ohio State having done anything wrong and that the university is immune from the lawsuit. It also claimed that Spielman’s complaint did not specifically allege any wrongdoing on the part of IMG, or any attempted wrongdoing that should be prevented by the injunction the lawsuit is seeking.
Spielman’s lawsuit is just the latest in a string of such cases alleging colleges and universities exploit their athletes for political gain. While schools continue to protest that the athletes get a free education, which they claim is sufficient compensation for playing on the schools’ sports teams and the use of players’ likenesses in various marketing campaigns, an increasing number of student-athletes disagree.
Not only do the colleges make millions off their student-athletes, but students claim the sports programs are as demanding as full-time jobs. Without the time or energy to devote to their studies, more and more student-athletes are accusing their schools of taking advantage of them and their athletic abilities, raking in millions and leaving nothing for the students who brought in all that money.
While the court has yet to determine Ohio State’s culpability in Spielman’s complaint, the string of lawsuits may have less to do with the current law and more to do with attempting to change student athletics programs across the country.
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