Ed O’Bannon once took on the NCAA in an antitrust suit and won (before it was eventually appealed).
Now the former UCLA star forward is divulging the details from the case in a new book “ Court Justice: The Inside Story of My Battle against the NCAA,” released Tuesday.
The suit became notable when O’Bannon initally sued video game maker Electronic Arts over the use of his likeness without compensation. A character based on O’Bannon — sharing the same height and weight, owning the same bald head and skin tone, wearing the same jersey number and even shooting left-handed — was in the game NCAA Basketball 09 as part of a classic 1995 UCLA team. O’Bannon filed a suit on behalf of all college athletes whose likenesses were being used in college athletics games with NCAA branding and logos.
The suit resulted in EA and the Collegiate Licensing Company settling for $40 million. It also painted O’Bannon as a villain trying to take down the products devoted gamers enjoyed on an annual basis.
Even Kirk Herbstreit — who isn’t without bias on the matter, considering he voiced the color commentary for the NCAA Football series from 2002-2014 — got involved, saying “I can’t believe Ed O’Bannon took that game away from us,” in an interview with SEC Country in 2016.
In an excerpt published on SI.com, O’Bannon is firing back against everyone who criticized him as the one who ended the wildly popular series:
The NCAA told EA that the video game publisher couldn’t pay for the complete identity rights of college players. So that stopped EA from obtaining them. If the NCAA had let EA pay us, all of you gamers out there would have your college sports games. So don’t blame me. Blame the NCAA for refusing to change its rules in the face of basic common sense, not to mention consumer demand.
The former Bruin also shot down allegations he was solely out for monetary gain:
The “why” critique was an easy question to answer. And no, I obviously wasn’t “money hungry.” If I were, I wouldn’t have spent eight years of my life litigating a case where I knew that if I won, I would get the same amount of money as if I lost: zero dollars. In fact, all things considered, I likely lost quite a bit of money on the case. Rosa and I spent some serious funds on travel, and both of us took time away from work—and, remember, I sell cars. So when I’m not at work selling cars, I’m not getting a commission and I’m not getting paid.
O’Bannon goes on to explain the facts of the case, and that he also wants the games to return, but with proper acquisition of player likenesses. He and others aren’t asking for a king’s ransom — “Most players would love to be in the video games,” he writes — but just “a small amount of money to show they count. It’s really about respect.”
Whether his book leads to EA getting closer to reaching a licensing deal and bringing the games back is anyone’s guess. There’s been little-to-no public movement on the issue in recent years (predictably, Herbstreit said he would “do anything I can do to help be a part, to lead a cause, bring that game back”). But O’Bannon is making it clear with the platform of his book: The true bad blood exists only between O’Bannon (and those he represented in the class-action suit) and the NCAA.
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