The future of the Butkus Award, given annually to college football's top linebacker, is unclear after a judge ruled that the Downtown Athletic Club of Orlando no longer has the right to say the Hall of Fame linebacker supports it.
The club was sued by Butkus last year because the former Illinois and Chicago Bear standout felt the club had squandered fund-raising opportunities. In addition, the club had declined requests by Butkus to move the award to Chicago.
The judge has yet to rule on a trademark issue surrounding the award. It is that trademark — Butkus Award — that gives control of the award itself.
Chip Landon, the president of the club, told the Orlando Sentinel: "If you ask me now, 'Can we present the award next year?' I don't know the answer to that. We are convinced that we can."
Bob Helfing, who represents Butkus, said the ruling was a clear victory for his client. Helfing said the judge also ordered the club to pay Butkus' attorney fees, which amount to about $200,000.
"This is a great thing for Dick because this means he is free to start his own award program. He wants to bring it to Chicago," Helfing said. "He thinks [Chicago] is going to be a much better venue for him to raise funds for the charities he supports.
"The only thing that remains to be decided is who owns the trademark 'Butkus Award.' But regardless of who owns that, Dick is free to operate his own award."
A jury trial is set for June 5 in Los Angeles.