A Legal Proceeding To Watch For…

A little more than a month ago, the Tennessee Titans traded for Julio Jones.  The price the Titans paid for a top shelf WR seemed awfully meager at the time even considering that Jones is 32 years old which for most WRs means that he is likely on the downside of his career.  To refresh your memory, here are the details of that trade:

  • Titans get Julio Jones plus a 2023 6th round pick
  • Falcons get a 2022 2nd round pick plus a 2023 4th round pick.

Jones only played in 9 games last season, but his career numbers are eye-opening.  He has been in the NFL for 10 seasons and has been selected for the Pro bowl 7 times and has been a first team All-Pro twice.  Jones has led the NFL in receiving yards twice and has led the league in yards per touch three times.  The more I looked at the stats, the more I thought the Titans got a great deal here – – absent the injury bug of course.

Then last week, a story broke that might cast a pall over the trade.  Julio Jones and former NFL WR, Roddy White, are partners in a non-football business venture and the two of them are being sued by a company called Genetixs LLC.  The fact of the lawsuit is not of imminent concern; it is the allegation made by the plaintiff that caused me to react:

  • The folks who run Genetixs LLC accuse Jones and White of diverting “cannabis products from an otherwise legal cultivation and distribution operation in order to make black-market sales.”
  • The suit goes on to assert that Jones and White – – and presumably others – – have sold about $12M worth of “black market cannabis” since March 2021 and have been involved in money-laundering practices to cover the tracks of that revenue stream.

I think  you will agree; that is not your garden-variety civil lawsuit.  I think you will also agree that it is not surprising that legal council for Jones and White says that the claims made in the lawsuit are without merit.  Given the pace of lawsuits through the courts, I would say that there is about zero probability that this case might be heard anytime during this year’s NFL season – – and maybe not even next year’s NFL season.  As far as I can tell, we have not yet even had the pro forma motion by counsel for Jones and White to dismiss the case  without even a hearing because it is baseless and frivolous.

What does present a potential problem is the illegal nature of the actions alleged to have been undertaken by Jones and White.

  • Marijuana laws – and cannabis laws – have changed dramatically in the last several years.  But I do not recall reading that  “black market sales” and “money laundering” have been made legally acceptable in any jurisdictions.
  • That nexus could bring the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy into play here.  For better or worse, the NFL has more than a little precedent for handing down punishments to players in matters where no criminal charges were ever filed let alone situations where players were convicted of wrongdoing.

As I said, I have no expectation that this case or any police investigation into matters alleged by the plaintiffs in this case will materialize during this NFL season.  However, Jones’ current contract has him being paid $38.3M through the end of the 2023 season.  This is obviously not something the Titans anticipated as they negotiated the trade to acquire Julio Jones.

Moving on … In yesterday’s Washington Post, Kevin Blackistone wrote a column urging the NFL – and all sports leagues including the NCAA – to lead by example and require COVID vaccinations for all players and fans and – – you get the idea.  You can read this wide-ranging column here.

I have no problem with the thrust of Blackistone’s piece; this is not an example of some sort of corporate conspiracy to take over the hearts and minds of everyday Americans.  Taking his encouragement to some sort of end point, what it would do would be to create a situation whereby adults – – players and coaches and referees – – could make a choice about whether they want to be part of the NFL or not.  The NFL is not an entity that would be covered by some sort of Constitutional guarantee; employment by the NFL is not a God-given right nor was it allegorically mentioned in the US Constitution back in 1789.

The second step in reaching a logical endpoint from the column would be that fans would then get to choose whether they want to take in an NFL game in person or not.  Admission to an NFL game is a privilege that one purchases; it is not something guaranteed to every person in the country.

There are two significant barriers to consider regarding why the NFL might not want to be at the sharp end of this “movement”:

  1. There might be an attrition of some players from the league but that is probably a minimal problem since there are plenty of people who will gladly step in and take the NFL’s minimum salary for rookies who never played a down in the NFL – – $660K for 17 games.  A much bigger hesitancy comes from the potential for an immediate loss of revenue from fans who would stay away and the unknown factor of how those fans might be willing to “return to the fold” once COVID is but a dark memory.  NFL owners do not like to mess around with their revenue streams.
  2. The second barrier is one that I wish Blackistone had acknowledged and analyzed.  That barrier is the NFLPA.  Somehow, I doubt that the union would just sit back and nod their heads in agreement as about 100 of its dues paying members were kicked to the curb as a consequence of choosing not to be vaccinated.  Even if the Commish and the owners thought they would win in the end, does it make sense for them to stir up a controversy with the union – and with fans who might side with the players on this issue – when they do not have to?

Finally, since much of my tone today was pessimistic, let me close with this observation by the French scientist, Jean Rostand:

“My pessimism extends to the point of even suspecting the sincerity of other pessimists.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



Serious Stuff – Perhaps – Today …

As the calendar turns from July to August, let me once again revisit the website that tracks all the MLB players who have been on the Injured List in 2021 and compiles data of the time served, and the guaranteed money earned while “on the shelf” by those players.

As of August 1, 2021, here are the data:

  • 653 different players have appeared on the IL between April 1 and August 1.  Some players have been on the IL more than once, but this is the total number of players who have been out of action – – yet being paid – – during the 2010 season.
  • 381 of those players on the IL this season are pitchers.
  • Those players on the IL have spent a cumulative 29,319 days hors de combat.
  • While on the IL, the total amount of money paid to players who could not play for all of MLB was $532,676,768.

The combination of guaranteed contracts and injuries have caused an outflow of money from owners to players of more than half a billion dollars so far this year.  When the negotiations for the next CBA between MLB and the MLBPA bog down and there are thinly veiled advocacy pieces published depicting the plight of the players, remember these numbers.

The next topic for today is either a tempest in a teapot or a huge bleeping deal.  Let me set the stage.  Evander Kane is a forward for the NHL San Jose Sharks.  Kane and his wife, Anna Kane, are obviously having a rough patch in their relationship because – – according to reporting in the Washington Post – – Anna Kane wrote on social media:

“How does the NHL let a compulsive gambling addict still play when he’s obviously throwing games to win money?  Hmmm, maybe someone needs to address this.”

That posting is a serious indictment, but it needs to be put in context because – as I said- it appears as if Evander Kane and Anna Kane are not in a harmonious state at the moment.  In addition to that bombshell message, Anna Kane has also alleged that she was forced to sell her wedding ring so that her husband could “afford his partying habits” and that her husband abandoned her while she was pregnant with their child.  Even without ever being in the same room with either party here, I feel confident in concluding that everything is not lovey-dovey in the Kane household these days.

There is – evidently – some sort of basis for a piece of Ms. Kane’s  charge here.  According to reports, Kane was in hock to a Las Vegas casino to the tune of almost $500K and the casino sued him to collect on that debt.  One would assume that Evander Kane should be able to pay off the casino and to provide more than adequate financial coverage for his family because he just finished the third year of a seven-year contract that will pay him an average of $7M per year with the Sharks.

Forget for a moment if you think these allegations have any of a variety of ulterior motives; the NHL – and the NHLPA – must take these allegations seriously or at least make it appear that they are taking them seriously.  If in fact – – I said “IF” – – the NHL has a player who is betting against his own team and then playing in a manner to make them lose games he has bet on, the league and the union need to figure all of that out and make it go away.  Unless they do that, the NHL runs the risk of becoming viewed through the same lens as pro ‘rassling.  While pro ’rassling – and pro ‘rasslers – are highly regarded by a segment of the sports and entertainment audience, the entire vibe of NHL hockey and the vibe of pro ‘rassling are completely unharmonious.

So far, the NHL has played this story down the middle with the following statement:

“The integrity of our game is paramount and the League takes these allegations very seriously.  We intend to conduct a full investigation and will have no further comment at this time.”

If there has been any statement or reaction from the NHLPA, I have not found it; but if I might offer a suggestion to the mavens there, this would be a good time to do some virtue signaling and say that the integrity of the games – – a key foundation piece in the how and why your members collect multi-million dollar salaries in the first place – – is as important to you as it is to the league itself.  To borrow one of the buzzwords of the day, it would be a “bad optic” for the union to say nothing here  and then to fight the league about the outcome of any investigation IF in fact an investigation were to turn up incriminating evidence.

And speaking of things that a pro league needs to “look into”, consider the reporting from the LA Times saying that LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook met with one another several weeks before the trade between the Wizards and the Lakers sent Westbrook to LA.  The LA Times is a more than reputable news outlet; the paper may make a mistake in its reporting occasionally, but most of that they put in the paper is factually accurate.  So, on the assumption that this report is accurate:

  • How can such a meeting/discussion/chat between those 3 players be construed as anything other than tampering?
  • Russell Westbrook was under contract to play for the Washington Wizards at the time of the alleged “meeting of the minds”.  If that  “conversation” had been with the Lakers’ coaching staff or the Lakers’ owner(s), it would be tampering so why do two players get a pass here?

Finally, apropos of nothing and because I have served on 3 juries in my lifetime, let me close with this observation by H. L. Mencken:

“The penalty for laughing in a courtroom is six months in jail; if it were not for this penalty, the jury would never hear the evidence.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………