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White Sox great sues Reebok over use of "Big Hurt" in retro campaign

By Kenneth Lowe | Mar 24, 2014

A newly-minted Baseball Hall of Famer and hometown hero to Chicago's South Side is suing a shoe manufacturer, claiming it plastered his nickname all over an ad campaign without first asking him.

Frank Thomas filed suit against Reebok International Ltd. last week in Chicago's federal court.

Thomas, a two-time MVP, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in January. Known as "The Big Hurt," a nickname he previously licensed, Thomas' achievements include helping the Chicago White Sox in its march to the 2005 World Series Championship.

Thomas had a licensing agreement with Reebok in 1995 that allowed the company to use his nickname and other parts of his identity in its shoe advertising, but he asserts that arrangement ended in 1998, prior to the ad campaign at issue in the suit.

"Since 1998, Thomas has never given Reebok permission to use his identity, the Big Hurt mark or his endorsement in connection with the sale of shoes or the Reebok Classic Retro (advertisement) campaign, and Reebok had no authority to do so," the suit asserts.

Yet, in December of 2013, Thomas alleges he discovered Reebok was using his brand again, without his permission, as part of the company's Classic Retro ad campaign.

"Reebok's unauthorized use of Thomas' identity and the Big Hurt mark was made a part of Reebok's international advertising campaign that involved other former professional athletes and public figures affiliated with Reebok, including Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson, Rick Ross, French Montana and Swizz Beatz," the suit states.

It adds, "Thomas has been damaged by Reebok's unauthorized commercial use of his identity and the Big Hurt Mark which, among other things, violates Thomas' right of publicity and falsely implies Thomas' endorsement of Reebok."

Thomas alleges Reebok knowingly used his brand, noting that it approached him for permission only after it had used the Big Hurt mark in connection with the ad campaign.

"Reebok's use of Thomas' identity was willful because it used Thomas' identity intentionally and with knowledge that its use was not authorized," the suit states. "Indeed, Reebok only requested permission to use Thomas' identity after the fact."

The suit alleges Reebok's acts "created a likelihood of confusion or misunderstanding as to Thomas' sponsorship or approval of Reebok's goods, or created a likelihood of confusion as to Reebok's affiliation, connection of association with Thomas."

Thomas's five-count suit against Reebok alleges violation of the Illinois Right of Publicity Act, false endorsement and false designation of origin under the Lanham Act, violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Trade Practices Act and unfair competition.

He is seeking damages including Reebok's profits, punitive damages, attorney's fees and a permanent injunction requiring Reebok to refrain from any use of his identity and the Big Hurt mark without prior authorization from himself.

"Reebok's conduct in violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Trade Practices Act was willful and outrageous, perpetrated by evil motive or with reckless indifference to the rights of others," the suit alleges.

Thomas is represented by Chicago attorneys Steven J. Thompson and Alexandros Stamatoglou of Ungaretti & Harris LLP and California attorneys Ralph C. Loeb and Jeremy F. Smith of Krane & Smith APC.

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