The NFL, NFLPA legal wrangling has left many deflated
Nearly nine months have passed and frankly, I’m worn out. Had it. I’m deflated.
No, I didn’t give birth or anything crazy like that. I’m simply breathing a sigh of relief that U. S. District Court Judge Richard Berman put an end to the madness that we got to know as “Deflategate.” At least for the time being.
I read lots of legalish documents during the National Football League offseason and too many times, I came away embarrassed for the NFL, a league that’s been a part of my life personally and professionally, the former since I could speak. Was this the same league that grew to be must-see for more people than anyone could imagine?
The NFL fought a case against New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady and the National Football League Players Association for nearly nine LONG months using more vague language than the teenage me when my parents asked where I was going. The generalities didn’t work at home, and they didn’t work in the court of law, either.
Benefits of Deflategate
The only “good” to emerge from the last nine months of NFL/NFLPA craziness were new public relations case studies and sports law curricula. As Brady eluded in a Facebook statement, there were no winners in this case. (Although lawyers that logged a bevy of billable hours might dispute that.)
In what could be NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s lone positive PR move in awhile, he announced that he will not attend the National Football League’s season opener September 10 when the Pittsburgh Steelers visit the New England Patriots. For a leader whose image been sillied, I think it’s smart for him to lie low.
From the outside looking in during the last two years, the League doesn’t much care about public relations as long as it generates millions of dollars. The latter is undisputed. From domestic violence to concussion cases, however, the NFL has had to deal with real life issues that seemed to catch it off guard. Goodell handed down punishments, shortened punishments, lengthened punishments and lost in courts when his decisions were overturned. As ugly as those episodes seemed (some are ongoing), who knew that it would be an alleged breath of air that would lead many to question the NFL leader’s power or abuse of it?
Questions began long before Judge Berman released his 40-page decision that outlined how the NFL’s case circumvented labor law. The last nine months have led many NFL players and a league-supportive public to look at it sideways when information is released. Is it real? Was it leaked? It’s simply lost the trust of many, and that’s not a good look for a multi-billion dollar business that produces a product for fans. And make no mistake – this is BIG business.
Why do we care?
Log onto any news website and you know that Deflategate’s details appeared in general news logs, not just sports. Brady is a model-material, married-to-a-model headliner, Goodell has had his fair share of publicity and all of those people that buy tickets and merchandise and tune into games care. Whether it’s because of their fantasy teams or simple curiosity, the NFL moves the general news needle.
Drivers of Deflategate
Attitude and ego seemed to drive an NFL case against Brady that bore inconsistencies and no “smoking gun.” I understand that its leaders wanted to defend its multi-million dollar Wells Report, but it didn’t take a gaggle of attorneys to see that it held more hot air than all of a week’s footballs. If I learned one thing from my late dad, sometimes you just have walk away from an argument you can’t intelligently support. (Trust me, Commissioner, I’ve been there. I get it.)
Yet, the NFL chooses to prolong its case against Brady on appeal, which shows that turning the page and starting anew, which is advised by many of my PR peers, isn’t in its immediate plans. I feel sorry for fans that will have likely tuned out, and then are hit over the head with stories next year, which is when the appeal could hit the court docket.
It didn’t have to be this way.
This public relations debacle could have be avoided. I know all about Article 46, and chances are you’ve heard more about it than you want to. It’s the part of the NFLPA’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that “grants the person who occupies the position of Commissioner the ability to judiciously and fairly exercise the designated power of that position.” However, Goodell could and should have delegated the case to a neutral arbitrator. (The CBA further states that only the commissioner has the authority to discipline. That deputy Troy Vincent did so if only on paper, or the case shouldn’t have gone this far, are ongoing debates for other blogs.)
Today an NFL-loving public, including me, is anxious to see games on the field. Team owners, that have long reaped the benefits of Goodell’s true talent of being a savvy marketer, still win because people buy all that’s NFL, including Brady merchandise, which is reportedly selling 100 percent higher than what it was a few days ago. Say it Oprah: You get more dollars and you get more dollars!
As far as credibility and public relations, however, I beg the NFL to truly protect the shield. Repave it. Reconsider prolonging this case. Because really, we’re wiped. Deflated. Let’s collectively vow to move forward.
(Copyright, Gail Sideman, PUBLISIDE, 2015)