SXsports: League vs. Player
Sports attorneys focus on the battles off the field
By Kahron Spearman,
4:30PM, Sat. Mar. 12, 2016
An hour was not nearly enough to cover the expansive – and progressively treacherous – terrain related to league/player relations, which are becoming increasingly litigious with the signing of each league’s collective bargaining agreements.
Attorneys abound, the attention quickly turned to curious and recent league adjudications of criminal and civil cases, not theoretically effecting league play.
Of course, there was an inevitable focus on the NFL, given the connections of everyone on the panel – especially opinionated 10-year pro Scott Fujita and current ESPN NFL legal analyst Andrew Brandt. The league, traveling within the confines of violent hurricane’s eye, maintains a tenuous balance.
The league that owns Sunday has become one of “constant battles over interpretations," as well as “political and liability-driven,” says Fujita, former Saints and Chiefs linebacker turned film producer. Brandt says NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell represents a “sea change,” noting that the power he’s wielded has actually always been available to the office – but that he’s the first to test its parameters and limits.
Moderator and Tulane law professor Gabe Feldman explained that the NFL, compared to the other top professional leagues, had actually managed to find itself in many more federally adjudicated cases – though the league had set provisions for avoidance of outside interference. Relating to Tom Brady’s Deflategate fiasco (which went to federal court) and many others coming forth, agent/attorney Kelli Masters wonders if the player has been put behind the 8-ball in regards to lawful notice. Has the athlete been given sufficient notice of rule breaking, and – to Fujita’s point of interpretation – what constitutes sufficient notice?
Talks also turned to the meat of the matter: economics. Both Brandt and Fujita, a former VP of the NFL’s union, sees viable strategies used in the labor struggles of the NBA and NHL – decertification and (more) litigation – as possible answers, in the battle of millionaires versus billionaires. Now that labor battles have strayed away from basic rights, like pensions and medical benefits, how does a union combat a contentious league set on taking back every dollar it’s claimed to have “lost,” and even more?