You may recall a couple of years ago that a little story came out about Derek Jeter becoming a founder/executive/investor/spokesman for an underwear company. But not just any underwear company. Rather, this was special underwear that was designed to keep your manly bits cool and refreshed and supported in ways that manly bits are presumably happier being. The company was called RevolutionWear and their underpants were called “Frigo.”
This morning Kevin Clark, a Twitter follower of mine alerted me to an ongoing lawsuit between Jeter and the underwear company. There was a preliminary decision in it last week in which, for the most part, the claims against Jeter were allowed to continue. It’s a lot of the standard business lawsuit stuff — fraud and misrepresentations and violations of duties and things like that — but once you cut through all the legal crap it’s actually kind of interesting as it relates to how celebrity endorsements work and how athletes like to style themselves as moguls.
The short version: Jeter was never a founder or an executive of the underwear company. He was a paid endorser, just like Jim Palmer was selling Jockeys back in the day. Jeter and the company created the fiction of him being a founder, however, to make it appear that it was more than just an endorsement and, rather, that Jeter was putting his money where his manly bits were. The company was to get the appearance of one of the most respected and powerful athletes in all of sports as a key executive and Jeter was to get the appearance of being a businessman and not just a soon-to-be retired shortstop hawking glorified banana hammocks.
Except, according to the lawsuit, Jeter reneged on portraying himself as a founder/executive. He wouldn’t allow himself to be publicized that way and, the suit claims, went out of his way to not be portrayed as one. Meanwhile, it is claimed, he used his power in an effort to actually take control over company decisions, effectively trying to turn his fake executiveship into a real one. That didn’t work, really. For what it’s worth, Jeter has asserted claims against the underwear company too, but that’s the general gist of the suit.
Why would Jeter do this? The underwear company alleges that, in addition to trying to take over their company, he was trying to stay out of trouble with Nike, for whom he has long been an endorser. They claim Jeter wasn’t truly allowed to endorse sports gear besides Nike so Jeter tried to have the Frigo underwear characterized as a “fashion underwear” rather than a sports garment, which is what it was intended to be. They also claim that Jeter lied to them about what Nike would and would not allow him to do and withheld documents from them which would’ve revealed it. They claim that Jeter duped them, basically.
Maybe this bores you, but it fascinates me. Both on the endorsement side and on the “athletes-as-moguls” side. Some of them get truly involved in business, others just sort of pretend. Musicians and other entertainers too. Jeter is a media mogul of sorts with The Players Tribune, but is he really running stuff? Jay-Z is an “owner” of the Nets and Magic Johnson is “an owner” of the Dodgers, but they really don’t own much beyond a tiny percentage, likely granted for appearance’s sake. Going from the labor side to the management side of things is hard, even for multi-million dollar celebrities, because the real management side of things tends to multi-billionaires. Though I’m guessing the underwear dudes aren’t.
Worth noting that the lawsuit is still in a pretty preliminary stage. The linked decision is just one denying Jeter’s motion to dismiss the claims against him and his losing that motion has nothing to do with the truth or falsity of the underlying claims. It may turn out Jeter is totally vindicated. But it’s still a pretty cool look behind the scenes of this sort of business.