Jocks Vs. Nerds: Former College QB Sues NCAA, Videogame Company Over Use of Athletes' Names and Likenesses

Those videogame nerds stole your likeness, Ogre...

The plot of many a 3 a.m.-caliber movie has featured the put-upon nerd matriculating to vast wealth in the computer industry -- while the bullying quarterback peaks before age 22. Yet in San Francisco Federal Court you could call it "Revenge of the Jocks."

Samuel Keller, a San Ramon High School graduate and former quarterback at Arizona State and Nebraska, on Tuesday filed a class action suit against Bay Area-based videogame company Electronic Arts -- and, while he was at it, the NCAA -- over the use of unpaid student athletes' names and likenesses in games.

The suit opens up strong, claiming in its first sentence that it "arises out of the blatant and unlawful use of National Collegiate Athletic Association ('NCAA') student likenesses in videogames produced by Electronic Arts ... to increase sales and profits." This, the complaint continues, is abetted with a wink-and-nod assist from the NCAA, which "intentionally circumvents the prohibitions on utilizing student athletes' names in commercial ventures by allowing gamers to upload entire rosters, which include players' names and other information, directly into the game in a matter of seconds."

This, the suit alleges, is a symbiotic relationship between the NCAA and EA that leaves the student athletes -- who make this whole venture possible -- empty-handed. 

The suit goes on to state that the NCAA's own bylaw 12.5 prohibits the commercialization of a student athlete's "name, picture, or likeness." The athletes themselves must even sign an affidavit confirming they "read and understand" this rule regarding the maintaining of their amateur status.

So it rankled Keller to note that "with rare exception, virtually every real-life Division I football or basketball player in the NCAA has a corresponding player in Electronic Arts' games with the same jersey number, and virtually identical height, weight, build and home state. In addition Electronic Arts often matches the player's, skin tone, hair color, and often even a player's hair style."

In other words, the complaint contends it was no coincidence that, say, Kent State running back Eugene Jarvis is redshirt junior from Pennsylvania wearing No. 6 who stands just 5-foot-5 and weighs 170 pounds -- and the "randomly generated" Kent State RB in EA's NCAA 2009 game also happens to be a redshirt junior from Pennsylvania wearing No. 6 and standing 5-foot-5 and weighing 170 pounds (who also has the same dark skin tone as Jarvis).

Many such examples are named in the suit -- leading, of course, to "Quarterback No. 9" At Arizona State and "Quarterback No. 5" at Nebraska. That, it would appear, is Sam Keller.

The QB demands a jury trial -- as well as disgorgement, actual, statutory, and punitive damages as well as an injunction, and the destruction of the offending video games (perhaps they could dump them into a New Mexico landfill next to the old Atari cartridges of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial nobody bought).   

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