Football teams are not museums. That’s something Daniel Vitale learned the hard way after he loaned the New England Patriots Hall of Fame a rare American flag autographed by Tom Brady.
Vitale is suing the Patriots for allegedly ruining the autograph flag by displaying it using improper techniques, which faded the autograph and possibly reduced the value of the flag by up to $1 million.
Let’s break down this case.
According to the suit, the autographed flag is very rare. It’s an American flag that flew at Foxboro Stadium in 2001, the year Brady took over as starting quarterback and the final year of the stadium’s existence. There’s a patch sewn onto it commemorating the final season at Foxboro, along with the date and the matchup when that flag flew (Dec. 22, 2001 against the Miami Dolphins). It was autographed by Brady a few years later, and the flag and autograph are fully authenticated.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame passed on displaying the flag, but the Patriots Hall of Fame was interested, so the two parties struck an agreement. The HoF presents itself as a museum, with a man named Kurt Evans as its curator, and the loan agreement reflects that, allegedly saying that the flag would be handled and displayed “using accepted professional library and museum techniques and standards.”
In fact, Evans allegedly assured Vitale several times that the HoF was a museum and his flag would be handled with care. Vitale claims that due to the language of the agreement and Evans’ assurances, he decided not to insist on insurance.
The museum’s promises are the crux of this suit, because Vitale claims the flag wasn’t handled like a museum piece at all. The complaint details how Vitale found out the autograph on the flag had been faded, and it’s almost like a sitcom plot.
In Nov. 2021, about five months after the loan, Vitale and his fiancée stopped by to view the flag. But it wasn’t on display. A museum attendant identified as Ken allegedly assured Vitale that the flag was fine, but that’s when Vitale noticed that the autograph on a different display item was severely faded. This is what Ken allegedly said in response.
“I know, I’ve been telling them for years that they need to switch out the lighting and glass. It is not the right stuff for this type of display.”
If this was a sitcom episode, that’s where the audience would laugh uproariously. Because in Jan. 2022, Vitale finally heard from Evans for the first time in months and was told that there had been some “slight fading” to the autograph when it was on display. Evans allegedly claimed that the blue Sharpie autograph faded just due to contact with the air, because the lighting and glass were all museum quality.
So imagine Vitale’s surprise when he spoke to the man in charge of the HoF and found out that it was not a museum and no one on staff had any experience with memorabilia preservation or museum practices in general, despite the signed agreement stating that it would be handled like a museum piece.
The amount of money Vitale is seeking wasn’t specified in the suit, but he’s seeking damages, interest and cost for the HoF’s breach of contract and their fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation, which he claims reduced the value of the flag by up to $1 million .