A BASN Exclusive: True Victory

By Michael-Louis Ingram
Updated: November 11, 2008

Editor’s Note: The following is a continuation of a series of articles first broken by BASN last September; regarding the plight of many of the football players who laid the foundation for the NFL’s rise in becoming the number one spectator sport in America. Throughout the duration of this series, BASN staffers will offer their opinion and contribute pieces to a very convoluted puzzle.

***image1** PHILADELPHIAThis past Monday, over 2,000 retired professional football players scored a major legal victory in a San Francisco courtroom when they were rewarded $28.1 million in a verdict against the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) and its licensing and marketing division, Players, Inc.

The Hon. William Allsup, presiding over U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, ruled that NFLPA and Players Inc. must compensate thousands of retired players.

Citing a “breaching of their fiduciary duty” on the part of the defendants, jurors, in addition to finding the two entities culpable, ruled for $21 million to be handed over in punitive damages.

The jury of eight women and two men concluded NFLPA and Players, Inc. failed to market retired players’ licensing rights under a group licensing authorization contract covering the licensing of electronic games, collectables and other merchandise.

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Listed as point men on the original suit was Pro Football Hall of Fame safety Herb Adderley and former Cleveland Browns’ defensive back Bernard Parrish, with the original claim filed approximately two years ago.

Adderley, whose career was laced with accolades and championships, received everything he could from football — except proper compensation after his retirement in the early 1970s, barely surviving on $125.86 as his pension during his 12 years in the NFL prior to the filing.

Mr. Adderley and the victorious former NFL players were represented by attorneys from the national law firms of McKool Smith, P.C., and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP. The McKool Smith team included firm principal Lew LeClair, senior counsel Jill Naylor and associates Brett Charhon and Anthony Garza.

The Manatt, Phelps group included firm partners Ronald S. Katz, Chad S. Hummel and L. Peter Parcher, in addition to associates Ryan S. Hilbert and Noel S. Cohen.

“This verdict is a great victory for the men who devoted their lives to building professional football,” says Mr. LeClair of McKool Smith, attorney for the retired players. “We are thankful the jury decided to right this wrong.”

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Throughout the three week trial, several former NFL stars testified about the benefits promised by the union that were never received, and the difficulties in gaining information about the NFLPA’s finances and licensing agreements.

First & Goal

While the verdict provides some long overdue git – back, there is a downside to this. The numbers, on their face sound justifiable, but I beg to differ.

Just as insurance companies are wont to do, these numbers, even with the addition of punitive damages factored in, calculate surprisingly low; and this is something I feel the League expected it would take a beating on, as I feel this judgment represents acceptable losses by the League. If you breakdown $28 million over 2,000 players, it comes out to $14,000 apiece.

When you consider the timeframe of two generations; and the fact the League was drowning in liquidity from television packages, international revenue through expansion of the game to Europe, Japan, Mexico and Canada, the concept of the Super Bowl, facilitation for Electronic Arts (EA Sports) to put a stranglehold on the electronic video game business and the creation of the League’s own cable television network, it would be hard for me to fathom NFLPA and Players, Inc. appealing any decision.

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But Liffort Hobley thinks these jokers got off easy. Hobley, a defensive back who played seven seasons in the NFL with the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Dolphins, says the amount is even less. “The NFL should be ashamed of itself,” said Hobley, “in allowing this to fester into going to court.

“The money that the players finally get won’t be more than ten grand a head; and while it may offer some immediate relief, it doesn’t speak to some of the long – term concerns many of these veterans have.”

Hobley, now an account executive with Thomson Reuters in Dallas, Texas, says this first check should be an appetizer for a main course in the very near future. “It’s not like these guys (owners and union) were ever in danger of missing a payroll – and no one in NFLPA had the decency to do the right thing by the former players.

“You knew this wasn’t going to be a situation like the USFL debacle, where you kicked out three bucks in damages; but it may as well have been for what little you’re paying out now.”

//<![CDATA[ //]]> LeClair confirms Hobley’s numbers. “At the beginning of the lawsuit, 2,074 players were listed on the class action. 12 opted out, so by the time of the decision, 2,062 players are eligible for the payout.

“But it looks like the NFLPA legal counsel will appeal the decision, and given it takes upwards of two years before anyone sees a check, the per – person breakdown comes out to somewhere between eight and ten thousand per man.”

While that cash will be a welcome sight to those who need it and earned it right now, I’m thinking about the dozens of players the NFL callously let die because they waited for something they knew they were entitled to, but were told otherwise.

I can see a direct correlation between former NFL players dying prematurely to people who were killed after the big gasoline shortage in the 1970s. Motorists were killed for wanting gasoline; jumping ahead of lines, hoarding, etc. – but the oil companies were never taken to court in class action or personal litigation to my recollection because of the preposterous notion these companies aided and abetted someone losing their life – for wanting to fill their gas tank would remain beyond adjudication.

Or how about the hundreds of players whose lives spiraled into depression, pain, blues and agony because of conditions developed from playing a collision sport compounded with stress from continuous denial by NFL doctors refusing to acknowledge said affects as cause.

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To conclude that men in their 40s, 50s, 60s and up were in damaged condition due to “natural wear and tear” is tantamount to spitting in their face; but the propaganda machine will remind you of what “noble gridiron gladiators these stout men were” – complete with martial music in the scale of C and John Facenda’s bellowing baritone.

Sure, these cats knew the job was dangerous when they took it – but so did you, you greedy bastards. Why couldn’t you just share and be fair with the understanding that it would be good business in taking care of those who helped you become stinking rich? It wasn’t like you were scrambling to make a payroll…

Show Me The Money!

Which now brings us from the Old Heads to the Young Bloods – the self – indulgent, the clueless (not all, but some); the ones who dance and gesticulate but miss the big picture even after seeing a Kevin Everett or an Anquan Boldin’s life change in one play.

What I’d be asking myself right now if I were a current player or recently retired one collecting what would seem to be a nice check is this: “If they went to such a great extent to screw these cats out of their money, what makes me think they’re not screwing me out of my money?

If you stretch out $14,000 over 20 years, that’s an average of $700 yearly; over 40 years, $350. I’m no accountant, but you would have to include a cost of living adjustment over a similar time frame, then, allowing for inflation, compute how much that would have accumulated if even a third of whatever cash was allowed to sit and accrue interest for a reasonable assessment of what each player really deserves.

It has been said often, and bears repeating: football players have the lousiest contract situation in all the major sports. Your bonus – if you get one – is your foundation. If you get hurt, all those numbers on your contract are as valuable as a roll of Charmin; and your usefulness to that organization after the fact makes you as valuable as the used Charmin that just got flushed away.

Suffice to say this cash should represent the first deposit in a workman’s compensation/royalties/ reparations condition; to be expedited to those who need it with all deliberate speed. //<![CDATA[ //]]>

The NFLPA and Players, Inc. ran their B.S. marathon; now it’s time for the money to talk.