According to a report at CBSSports.com last week, Jon Gruden is “mulling his legal options regarding potential claims against the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell.” Serendipitously, I happened to bump into a friend who is a retired attorney and asked what might be the basis for such a lawsuit. He is an avid sports fan and was familiar with Gruden’s firing based on emails that the NFL had collected in its investigation of the toxic work culture that existed in the Front Office of the Washington Football Team. He tried to explain to me the concept of “tortious interference”. Here is what I understand from that 10-minute conversation:
- Gruden lost a job for which there was a contractual relationship between Gruden himself and the Las Vegas Raiders.
- The cause of his loss of job – and therefore an economic loss – was the release of emails that were in the possession of the NFL and were nominally to remain private.
- Gruden will assert that the release of emails was intentional and not accidental.
- Ergo, the NFL – or someone at the NFL with access to those emails – inflicted a loss on Gruden by interfering in his relationship with the Raiders even though he had nothing to do with the “toxic work culture” being investigated which caused the emails to come into the possession of the NFL and neither did the Raiders.
Please make of that skimming of the surface of this aspect of contract law what you will. To me, this potential legal action means two things:
- This matter is not dead and could come back to life with a bang.
- This is a trial where I would like to be a juror; the testimonies and cross-examinations here could be extremely interesting.
While I am treading very lightly in the area of legal matters and the NFL, let me return for a moment to the Henry Ruggs II incident where Ruggs was arrested after a car crash that killed a woman in another vehicle. The authorities say Ruggs was driving at 156 mph and had a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit. Obviously, these charges need to be proven in court before the legal aspects of the case are decided; however, the NFL has a precedent for the way it might treat Henry Ruggs II once the Nevada authorities have completed their actions.
In 1999, Leonard Little (a defensive end for the St. Louis Rams at the time), was in a car accident that resulted in the death of a woman in another vehicle. Little’s blood alcohol level was 2.4 times the legal limit at the time of the accident. After the legal actions were resolved – Little was sentenced to 90 days in a workhouse, a thousand hours of community service and five years of probation – the NFL suspended him for the first 8 games of the 1999 season.
Times have changed since 1999 but in matters of crime and punishment, it seems to me that precedent is still an important element in balancing those two aspects of a case. One can argue that what the NFL did 22 years ago was ”insufficient” in some way and that the league can now set a “more proper standard” for sanctions in matters such as these. I believe that would be a difficult position for the league to take so I would expect something along the lines of an eight-game suspension to be the NFL’s action at the end of the legal process here.
Let me switch sports here but remain in the “legal realm”… The CBA between MLB and the MLBPA expires 3 weeks from today on December 1st. Normally, this is the time in negotiations where lots of things happen quickly as the deadline gets close; however, that does not seem to be happening this time around; there are no reports of progress at all.
Moreover, that three-week window to find a way to avoid a work stoppage includes the week of Thanksgiving. I do not suspect that all the parties will take off on Wednesday and remain incommunicado for 3 or 4 days, but I do think there will be some “fallow times” during that week. Given the choice, I suspect that folks on both sides of the negotiating table will prefer to be at a family Thanksgiving dinner table that week.
Baseball free agency has already begun – it started on November 7th – and it has been more than merely “quiet” since then. Clearly, teams and player agents want to know what the new CBA is going to say about salaries and luxury taxes and arbitration and the like. So, a lot of individual negotiating and a lot of trade proposals will have to be put on a back burner and then carried out in a condensed time frame if there is a work stoppage as of December 1st.
The union probably wants to find a fast-track for the younger star players to be paid in accordance with their on-field production. Owners will want some significant concession(s) to relinquish the control they now have over their young stars. If the union cannot get a lot of movement on that front, it would likely try to get an increase in the minimum salary for all players thereby moving the young stars up the economic ladder just a bit. As always, this is about money and control; given where things stand now, I do not see a new CBA rising from the ashes in the next 3 weeks.
So, MLB is probably going to have a work stoppage. In labor relations terms:
- If the players initiate the stoppage, it is a strike.
- If the league initiates the stoppage, it is a lockout.
- If you are a baseball fan, it is frustrating no matter the label.
Finally, since I began today with a comment about a possible lawsuit by Jon Gruden against the NFL, let me close with a definition offered up by Ambrose Bierce:
Lawsuit, n. A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………