In late January 2011, the legendary basketball star Oscar Robertson (“Robertson”) joined Ed O’Bannon and a class of others in their fight against the NCAA. Robertson is a member of the College Basketball Hall of Fame and the NBA Hall of Fame and uniformly considered a class act and a strong member of the community. Robertson was a member of the University of Cincinnati’s basketball team concluding in 1960 and at seventy-two (72) years old is far removed from his days running on the hardwood. As reported by Yahoo Sports, Robertson indicated the NCAA signs licensing deals without his direct consent and the University of Cincinnati gets a fee each time his image is used on a trading card, yet he does not receive a dollar. In the new complaint on file with the United States District Court in San Francisco, Robertson states his “collegiate image continues to be licensed without his consent…and sold for profit” without his approval, which is contrary to Robertson’s arrangements relating to the use of his image as a professional athlete.
As many recall, O’Bannon filed suit in 2009 alleging that the NCAA’s use of student-athletes’ images in perpetuity violates antitrust laws under the Sherman Act and common law rights of publicity. Specifically, the suit claims the NCAA has illegally deprived former student-athletes from revenue streams including DVDs, video games, memorabilia, photographs, television rebroadcasts and use in advertisements. This issue has been discussed and debated at length by commentators and journalists and many believe the NCAA should be validly concerned by this litigation. Unlike other lawsuits relating to student-athlete images and likenesses, the present litigation only pertains to student-athletes who have exhausted their eligibility like Ed O’Bannon and Oscar Robertson.
Robertson is not afraid of a legal fight. He was the head of the National Basketball Player’s Association and the lead plaintiff in NBA players’ fight for free agency. This one just got a little more interesting and is worth following.