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Report: Desmond Howard sued for his image, understands Manziel issue

By Mike Singer | CBSSports.com

Desmond Howard may join the O'Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA. (USATSI)

Johnny Manziel may have one prominent supporter amidst the latest alleged autograph-gate, and he's one of the few guys who could perhaps relate to Manziel's plight -- 1991 Heisman trophy winner Desmond Howard.

The reason Howard can partially sympathize with Manziel is that the former Michigan star is currently being sued for the rights to a photo bearing his own image, according to Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel.

The iconic image -- that of Howard's famous Heisman pose following a touchdown return against Ohio State -- was taken by Brian Maske, a staff photographer for the Muskegon Chronicle.

That photo has been published in Sports Illustrated, used in various commercials, donned video-game covers, and despite Howard's obvious role in the photo, the former NFL-star-turned-ESPN-broadcaster hasn't been fully compensated.

The legal minefield is complicated, but basically, as Wetzel explains, it's "about copyright laws, statute of limitations, and whether Maske did enough, in a timely manner, to control full ownership of the photo."

Howard became embroiled in the legal suit after the image was used on his website, apparently without Maske's permission. It has subsequently cost Howard almost $100,000 in lawyer fees.

"It's costing me all this money to defend myself over a picture ... of me," Howard said. "I never sold the picture, I'm just being lumped into it. His entire business is a picture of me."

Given Howard's unfortunate legal troubles stemming from the use of his likeness, it should come as no surprise that he's considering adding his name to the looming O'Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA, which seeks compensation for this exact purpose.

"I'm seriously contemplating it," Howard said of the case, which is currently in a holding pattern as a federal judge debates the merits of a class-action certification.

So, to bring this back to Manziel, Howard actually understands the exploitation that Manziel is publicly dealing with.

Not that Howard condones the report alleging Manziel received money for his signatures. "There are no excuses [for risking suspension]," Howard said of Manziel. "This is the most selfish act a player can do to his teammates."

But part of Howard's fight is to prevent this same thing from happening in 20 years.

"I still think it's ridiculous that some 20-odd-years after the fact that someone can not only feel like they own the right to my likeness, but they can sue me and affect me," he said.

"And because of that, Johnny is in trouble. ... It's the same reason Johnny should be able to sign a picture of himself and be compensated," Howard said.

"Going through what I'm going through right now and to feel the helplessness that I do, it makes you want to do what you can do so other players never have to experience this."

Should Howard join the O'Bannon case, he would instantly become the highest-profile ex-football player to side against the NCAA, potentially causing a seismic shift in the way the NCAA operates.

Johnny Football can only hope.

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