The natural tie-in to the Johnny Manziel autograph story is the debate over whether or not athletes should be allowed to profit off their name, image and likeness. And the natural tie-in to that discussion is the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit vs. the NCAA, EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing Company.
Desmond Howard, the former Michigan wide receiver who now works as college football analyst and color commentator for ESPN, told Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports that he has given a lot of consideration to the possibility of joining the case. Howard is currently involved in his own legal battle over the use of a certain iconic image of him (which is a fascinating story by itself and well worth a read).
Like the signed pictures of Manziel that may have run afoul of NCAA rules and has prompted an investigation, Howard too is embroiled in a dispute over a picture of him – a picture that has cost him tens of thousands of dollars defending a lawsuit against him and has led him to the brink of action.
Howard told Yahoo! Sports he is considering attaching his name to the O’Bannon v. NCAA lawsuit that is challenging long-held NCAA business practice.
“I’m seriously contemplating it,” he said.
Howard would be the most high-profile person to join the O’Bannon case to date, at least as far as the college football angle is concerned. But Howard’s comments create an interesting dynamic because his employer, ESPN, is the biggest rights holder for college football games and programming. The current rules within the NCAA say student-athletes aren’t entitled to a cent of the billions of dollars that make up media rights agreements in college athletics.
O’Bannon plaintiffs aim to change that model, but they would need the judge presiding over the case to rule in favor of making it a class-action lawsuit before that’s even a possibility. Adding Howard to the list of plaintiffs, which now include current athletes, wouldn’t change the direction of the case one way or the other, but it would add another layer of intrigue given his role as a major media personality in the sport.