John Hogan’s Notes from the University of Baltimore Sports Law Symposium
Our good friend and player advocate, disability attorney John Hogan, was able to attend that Symposium held at the Baltimore School of Law on Thursday. Here are his notes from that day:
The University of Baltimore School of Law’s
First Annual Sports Law Symposium
From Rookie to Retirement:
The NFL Universe in the New Economy
I was very impressed with the overall program. Law School Dean Phillip J. Closius should be commended for the effort.
It was announced that with the support of the Ravens and Orioles, the Law School will be starting a Sports Law Institute, under the direction of Associate Professor Dionne Koller. So, hopefully it may become a forum to discuss and educate on the issues facing retired NFL players.
The speakers were lined up by Tom Condon, a 1981 graduate of the law school. Most of the other agents/speakers were also grads of the law school, including Pat Moriarty of the Ravens.
The primary audience for the seminar was law students and a smattering of attorneys who were thinking about the possibility of trying to become sports agents.
While the seminar title indicated that it covered topics to retirement, there was very little discussion (or interest) about retired players’ issues.
Rather amazingly, not a word was said about the recent Class Action victory in the Adderley v. NFLPA case. Nor was there any mention about the selection of the new NFLPA Executive Director until in the last segment, I asked a question about it.
The last panel was composed of active players James Hall (Rams) and Visanthe Shiancoe (Vikings) as well as Baltimore native and recent retiree, Antonio Freeman. I asked them if the general active player population had any input into the process. “No, that’s what we elect player reps for,” was the reply.
Regrettably, leading Executive Director candidate Trace Armstrong was unable to attend as scheduled.
Much of the seminar was devoted to the interaction among agents, players and management.
Richard Berthelsen and Harold Henderson gave a good history of the dealings between the League and the union over the years, including strikes, union de-certification, the free-agency lawsuit of Freeman McNeil, and the current CBA status. I believe it was Henderson who indicated that if there is no extension of the CBA, or a new one in place, there could be a lockout, as they apparently do not intend to use non-union players (i.e. – scabs).
The big stalemate between the parties was explained quite well – there is a dispute over what constitutes revenues and how much revenue is being generated by the teams and League. Berthelsen stated that they cannot get a look at the books to ascertain the true amounts of revenue.
Berthelsen, who has been an attorney with the Union for his entire legal career (since 1972; becoming general counsel in 1983) stated that an economic study they commissioned found that the average value of every NFL team was over $1 Billion Dollars, and that the average value grew about $ 113 Million last year. (Are the layoffs at the NFL and the cut in Roger Goodell’s pay a subterfuge going into the next CBA?)
Berthelsen was obviously quite proud of the fact that the average salary of an NFL player will be pushing $ 2 Million “…with very good benefits.”
Henderson stated that the Union’s view of the League’s revenues was “greatly distorted” and that they did not take into account “the money it costs to make money.”
The only portion of the seminar which touched on retired players’ issues was an all-too-brief session given by Sarah Gaunt, Director of the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Retirement Plan, and Groom Law Group partner Doug Ell, counsel to the Plan. Ell’s very brief remarks were a repeat of what he has said many times before: That the disability benefits offered under the Plan are the most generous in the industry. (As I have said many times before, I agree with that. However, they are also the most difficult to obtain under any disability program!)
Sarah Gaunt had some news: They have hired Stephen Haas, M.D. as the Plan’s Medical Director. (I believe he is an orthopedist and he has an extensive sports background.) Also, the Plan office will now assist retired players in filling out their application and they will have an on-line application process available. However, she was quick to point out that the Plan is supposed to be a neutral party between the NFL and Union. They cannot serve as advocate for the retired players. Quite interestingly, she stated that the Players’ Association was supposed to be their advocate! (I guess she didn’t get Upshaw’s memo regarding the Unions’ obligation to retired players: Zip!) She also inappropriately quoted Upshaw who used to say, “When these guys are has-beens, they’re permanently has-beens.”
Ms. Gaunt also indicated that they have “15,000 players in their files.” (I don’t know if that includes deceased players.)
In a new twist to the gauntlet known as the Bell/Rozelle disability adjudication process, she stated that disability applicants will have the option of going for a functional capacity examination if they are denied after a neutral exam. They have approved only three facilities in the U.S. to conduct these exams. (I will need to investigate this further. FCEs can be a great tool to help demonstrate that someone cannot sustain full-time work, and to delineate what their work-related restrictions are if done by a competent and honest examiner. Also, they are useful only for physical impairments and limitations and would be useless for someone suffering from the various consequences of concussions.)
Unfortunately, Gaunt and Ell spoke briefly and only took two questions before leaving.
Dick Cass, President of the Ravens was the luncheon speaker. He seems like a very nice man, but he obviously operates from the League/Owner viewpoint. He is one of three NFL Management Council appointed members of the Bell/Rozelle Plan Retirement Board. (As they generally vote in a block to deny claims, I cannot have much respect for them, as I believe that the Plan and ERISA law require them to have a fiduciary duty of loyalty and care to the players seeking benefits – not their “party.”)
The Law School was a very gracious host, and I applaud them for this seminar. I did not feel that it was the time, place or audience to raise cane about retired players’ issues, particularly since they will be starting a sports law institute, which could become a good forum for discussion of our issues. I will be writing the Dean and Professor Koller to give them information about retired players’ issues and request that they give us a future forum to discuss them.