The ex-college football star leading a class-action lawsuit against Ohio State University that alleges improper use of ex-athletes’ likenesses is one of the school’s most well-known, high-profile and loyal athletes.
Linebacker Chris Spielman played at Ohio State from 1985 to 1987. He was a two-time All-American and three-time Big Ten player, and winner of the 1987 Lombardi Award honoring the country’s top defensive player. He set a school record for career solo tackles with 283.
At Ohio State, a major breast cancer research center carries the name of his late wife, Stefanie Spielman, who died of cancer in 2009. Spielman’s fundraising efforts for that fund are well-known.
Spielman has already said he’ll donate any of his own proceeds from his lawsuit to the Ohio State Athletic Department.
The antitrust complaint filed Friday by Spielman accuses Ohio State and talent management giant IMG of using athletes’ likenesses in promotional campaigns that rob the athletes of compensation. It also names, Honda and as co-conspirators.
Spielman said in a radio interview Friday he considers the ability to negotiate the use of his name and image by companies a “basic human right.” He said he didn’t want to file the lawsuit but felt he had no choice.
“You just can’t, in my opinion, sell my name and likeness to any company you want to,” Spielman told 610 WTVN Radio. He said he’ll continue to be an ambassador for the university.
Spielman’s devotion to Ohio State is well-known, a fact underscoring the seriousness of the allegations, said Ellen Staurowsky, a sport management professor at Drexel University.
“So many of these plaintiffs, the last thing in the world that they want to do is actually have to challenge institutions that they love,” Staurowsky said. “And yet they do it because they also know that those institutions have not treated them well.”
Another Ohio State great, Archie Griffin, released a statement in support of the lawsuit but isn’t one of the lead plaintiffs. He stands to benefit, though, as one of several players whose photos were used in a Honda-sponsored marketing campaign that hung banners around Ohio Stadium. Griffin is the country’s only two-time Heisman Trophy winner.
An Ohio State spokesman said he was looking into the matter. Messages were left for IMG and Honda.
Spielman, 51, was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1988 and played eight seasons, earning NFL All-Pro honors. He played for the Buffalo Bills in 1996 and 1997, setting a team record of 206 tackles in 1996.
A neck injury requiring surgery cut short his 1997 season, and he took the 1998 season off to care for his wife, Stefanie Spielman, who was suffering from breast cancer. He joined the Cleveland Browns for the 1999 season but another injury ended his career.
Chris Spielman became an NFL studio analyst for Fox Sports Net in 1999 and joined ESPN in 2001. He returned to Fox last year as an NFL and college football analyst. He also has a weekly radio show in Phoenix and Columbus.