Rock Hill sub shop owner removes Clowney's name from sign, adds agent's

dworthington@heraldonline.comJanuary 24, 2014 

— As promised Sub Station II owner Charlie Ruffalo has removed Jadeveon Clowney's name from his marquee — and replaced it with a reference to Clowney's agent, Bus Cook.

The marquee now reads "Owner on the lam, hiding from the Bus."

Ruffalo made the change Friday.

"I did what I said I would do," Ruffalo said. "I removed Clowney's name."

But the owner of the shop on Cherry Road is mum on whether Clowney's name will return to the marquee. He has hinted he plans to use the name of the star from South Pointe High School and the University of South Carolina again.

Ruffalo said he has not heard again from Cook, who threatened legal action if the sign was not changed.

The sign controversy has gotten Ruffalo national attention. He originally put up a marquee that read "Hurry in for our Jadeveon Clowney sub it goes really fast."

Ruffalo said the message referred to the two speeding tickets Clowney got in December before the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla., a 34-24 South Carolina victory over Wisconsin.

The sub shop does not have a Clowney item on the menu, and Ruffalo maintains his sign is "all in good fun." He said the Clowney sign has not increased business.

Now that the issue has attracted more attention Ruffalo said Friday that "I think it's just silly. It's not that much of an issue. To me there are much more other stuff in the world to worry about than this."

Ruffalo said he is not sure how long the reference to Cook will be on the Sub Station II marquee. Messages on the sign usually are displayed for several weeks.

"It may change it Monday, but I may let it ride," he said.

Ruffalo said he had several ideas that referred to Cook's request, but this was the one his buddies liked the best.

Ruffalo said doesn't expect a call from Cook. "There's no issue here. I did what I said I would do," he said.

Ruffalo said he is considering other celebrities for future messages. Pop singer Justin Bieber "is a tempting target," he said. Cook could not be reached for comment.

Ruffalo has maintained this is an issue of free speech, not commercial speech where Clowney could argue he should be compensated for the use of his name. Mark Herring, dean of the Winthrop library services, said Friday that while the gap between free and commercial speech has narrowed, Clowney is a public figure who has committed "public missteps" with the speeding tickets.

"He doesn't have a leg to stand on and it would hard to show anyway," Herring said.

The burden of proof, Herring said, would be on Clowney and his agent to show that Ruffalo made money from the sign.

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