Football Urban Legends Revealed #13

This is the thirteenth in a series of examinations of football-related legends and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of all the previous football legends.

This time around it’s a special “ALL LAWSUITS!” edition of Football Legends Revealed!

Let’s begin!

FOOTBALL LEGEND: Monster Cable sued the Chicago Bears for their nickname “Monsters of the Midway”

STATUS: False (with some truth mixed in)

Big corporations have a pretty big advantage in the world, particularly when it comes to lawsuits, so it almost feels wrong of me to sort of come to the defense of one such company over what I think are misleading statements about them, but hey, when something’s inaccurate, it’s inaccurate.

And in this case, the company that has been getting some very rough press over the past few years is Monster Cable, the San Francisco cable and entertainment company that has been in the news a lot over their aggressive defense of their trademark.

You see, they gained a trademark on the term “Monster” in a pretty wide area, and as such, they have protected that mark in a pretty wide area.

As you may or may not know, if you own a trademark and you do NOT protect your mark, you lose it. So if, say, your company is Eagle Appliances and you have a trademark on that name and you find out that a new company just formed calling itself Eagle Tools and Appliances, if you DON’T sue them you lose your trademark, as you’re effectively conceding that there isn’t a problem with the two companies being confused for each other (which is what trademarks are intended for – to avoid consumer confusion between companies).

Well, with a name like “Monster,” there are going to be a LOT of companies out there using that name, and Monster Cable has gone after many of them, and most of the time they win (by “win,” the other company will either change their name or agree to license the name FROM Monster Cable or do SOMEthing to differentiate themselves from Monster Cable).

In 2004, Monster Cable purchased naming rights for Candlestick Park, the home of the San Francisco 49ers, labeling it Monster Park.

Therefore, when the Boston Red Sox sought out trademarks for certain terms related to their famous fence, the Green Monster, Monster Cable took issue (since they had just gotten their own “Monster Park”).

And the Red Sox backed off.

The most recent case that made the news is when Monster Cable took issue with trademark registrations by the national chain of mini-golf courses, Monster Mini-Golf. Now, the first misconception is that they had a problem with the name Monster Mini-Golf. They did not. However, Monster Mini-Golf ALSO sought out trademarks for “Monster Entertainment” and “Monster” in terms of entertainment and recreations activities.

It is THOSE two trademarks that Monster contested, and, honestly, that sounds pretty reasonable to me if you have a Monster Park, you presumably would not want someone to be able to open up a Monster theme park.

Anyhow, along the way, a story sprung up that Monster Cable also sued the Chicago Bears for their nickname “The Monsters of Midway.” This is not true, but it’s close.

The Bears sought out a trademark on the the term “The Monsters of Midway” in 2005 for usage on T-shirts. At the time, Monster Cable asked the United States Patents and Trademark Office to hold off on ruling on the trademark for 60 days while Monster Cable determined whether they had a problem with the Bears’ attempted mark. The USPTO agreed, and once that time was up, Monster Cable did not have a problem and the mark was registered.

So no, they never sued the Chicago Bears.

FOOTBALL LEGEND: A lawsuit by an injured rookie very nearly eliminated the NFL draft!

STATUS: True

James McCoy Smith (born in Yazoo City, Mississippi, which led to him getting the nickname “Yazoo”) was drafted in the first round by the Washington Redskins as the twelfth overall pick.

The defensive back signed for $50,000 and proceeded to suffer a neck injury in his first season in the NFL, ending his career as soon as it began.

Sounds familiar enough – plenty of sad stories like that in the NFL.

However, Smith decided to DO something about it. In 1970, He sued the NFL under the assertion that the NFL Draft was a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, and that the draft was an unreasonable restraint against trade. He should have been able to negotiate a contract for his services on the open market, and if that were the case, he surely would have made more than $50,000. So he wanted the NFL to reimburse him for the money he lost due to the draft.

Well, the district court agreed with Smith and he was awarded nearly $300,000 in treble damages. Remember, only Major League Baseball has antitrust protections from the government, so the NFL was in a tough spot.

They naturally appealed to the Court of Appeals, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled AGAINST the NFL in 1977, determining that the draft “inescapably forces each seller of football services to deal with one, and only one buyer, robbing the seller, as in any monopsonistic market, of any real bargaining power.”

WOW!

That’s some heady stuff right there.

That’s the sort of thing that could have eliminated the draft ENTIRELY!

The NFL knew this, of course, so while the case was going on, they pursued a different angle. The courts had recently ruled in a couple of notable cases in the 1960s that an exception to the anti-trust laws DID exist – it just had to be agreed on by the union of those affected by the monopoly.

So before the Court of Appeals even issued their ruling, the NFL had worked out a new agreement with the Player’s Association specifically codifying the draft under the agreement of the Player’s Association (the Player’s Union has never been a friend to rookies, as the Union heads are, reasonably enough, veteran players).

Thusly, the NFL narrowly avoided what could have been a game-changer throughout the world of sports!

Thanks to Eriq Gardner for his brilliant article on Slate on the topic. He goes into much greater detail on the subject here. Be sure to give it a read!

FOOTBALL LEGEND: A fan sued EA Sports because his famous mask was used in Madden 2005.

STATUS: True

The “Dawg Pound” is the name to a certain section of fans in the bleachers at Cleveland Browns Stadium that are, how should we say, particularly zealous in their enthusiasm for the Cleveland Browns.

One of the most famous members of the Dawg Pound is John Big Dawg Thompson (his name is legally John Big Dawg Thompson), who wears jersey number 98 and wears a distinct dog mask.

One of the most famous video games around is Madden Football, a yearly football game from EA Sports. It is known for its attention to detail. Well, in the 2009 version of Madden Football, that attention to detail went too far, at least according to Thompson.

You see, in the game, when playing in Cleveland, there is a fan who looks like Thompson, with a mask like Thompson and a jersey number, 92, that is pretty darn close to Thompson’s.

So Thompson filed a lawsuit against EA Sports, asking for $25,000 in damages and for EA Sports to remove the character from the game.

About a month after the suit was filed, it was dismissed – the details are secretive, but the odds are pretty good that Thompson settled for some monetary figure, and I bet the agreement that the Big Dawg character will no longer appear in the games (or if it does, it will be through a license from Thompson).

I guess this is one of those times where EA Sports’ slogan, “It’s in the game” worked against them!

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

One Response to “Football Urban Legends Revealed #13”

  1. I’m shocked that Nebraska is joining the Big Ten. The upcoming year promises to be challenging for the competition. Go Big Red!

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