Merriman announced plans to sue global apparel giant Nike on Monday after the company introduced a "Lights Out" line of merchandise, according to NFL Network's Albert Breer:
Shawne Merriman announces he's suing Nike for copyright infringement ... Nike has introduced a "Lights Out" line of apparel.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) April 14, 2014
Earlier this month, Nike released an all-black version of its CTR360 Maestri III, a cleat mostly used for soccer. The shoe is a limited edition and was given the "Lights Out" moniker, which Merriman feels infringes on the copyright of his famous sack dance. The online Nike store also features baseball pants with the same slogan.
Merriman, 29, was endorsed by Nike during his playing career. He appeared in numerous commercials for the brand, most notably during Nike Football's "Leave Nothing" campaign. The "Lights Out" phrase has been used in several off-field ventures and is largely associated with his name.
"I earned my 'Lights Out' nickname in high school when I knocked out four opposing players in one football game," Merriman said in a press release sent to Bleacher Report. "I made things official by securing the federal rights to my LIGHTS OUT trademark and have been using it ever since. I am suing Nike as a last resort, not only to protect my brand, but to protect other athletes who are trying to develop a brand."
In February, Merriman announced a partnership with Lights Out Disposal, a waste-removal company. He has also appeared in advertisements with PETA that prominently feature his nickname. In 2008, Merriman sued a company called Lights Out Sportswear for copyright infringement, claiming he had previously opened a clothing line with a similar name. By 2009, he seemed to be promoting the brand.
Nike has not commented on the suit at this time.
Merriman officially retired from the NFL in March 2013, citing the myriad injuries he suffered during his career. A Pro Bowler in each of his first three seasons and the NFL's sacks leader in 2006, Merriman floundered following a 2008 knee injury. After recording 39.5 sacks during his Pro Bowl campaigns, Merriman had only six more spread out over his final five years.
He appeared in only 33 games his last five NFL seasons due to injury and performance issues. Overall, Merriman recorded 45.5 sacks and 258 total tackles across six seasons with the San Diego Chargers and two with the Buffalo Bills.
Since retiring from the NFL, Merriman has dabbled in professional wrestling. He first appeared at the WWE's Performance Center in October after an invite from Triple H, who, in addition to his wrestling duties, also helps run the company's creative branch. Little was said after Merriman's initial appearance until he showed up this month at the WWE's WrestleMania XXX pre-show as a commentator.
Brendan Darr of SB Nation's Testudo Times blog indicated Merriman had officially joined "the WWE family." He is currently training at the WWE Performance Center, ostensibly readying for an in-ring debut.
WWE wrestler Rey Mysterio let the cat out of the bag a bit at WrestleMania, tagging an Instagram photo of he and Merriman #FutureWWESuperstar:
Merriman's in-ring training is unlikely to be affected by anything related to the lawsuit. In many cases, both parties prefer out-of-court settlements to avoid the prohibitive cost of a civil trial. It is also possible that Nike files a motion to have his lawsuit thrown out of court under the assumption that no one would confuse its line with the former linebacker's name.
Regardless, it's safe to say the relationship between the two parties has frayed since Merriman was one of the faces of Nike's football brand. He is seeking "statutory damages of up to $2 million per content mark per type of goods or services sold, offered for sale or distribution,” as noted in the complaint.
The suit also demands an injunction from current and future sales involving the Lights Out slogan.
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