Examining the Retired NFL Player’s Class Action Lawsuit
A class action lawsuit recently filed by a group of 28 former NFL players, including 25 Pro Football Hall of Fame players, is giving ex-players hope for benefit improvements beyond what’s detailed in the new collective bargaining agreement.
The lawsuit was filed by the law firm of Hausfeld LLP against the NFL Players Association, DeMaurice Smith, and two of the plaintiffs in the Brady v. NFL action, alleging that the NFLPA had no right to negotiate with the NFL on behalf of retired players because this right belonged to the Carl Eller I plaintiffs.
A copy of the complaint was published in a September 13, 2011, Yahoo! Sports article.
It details how retired players were excluded from meetings between the League and the Brady plaintiffs, and presents the reasons the new Eller class believes the original Brady plaintiffs gave the Eller I plaintiffs the full right to negotiate with the NFL on behalf ex-players. Eller II plaintiffs also allege that the NFLPA was involved with negotiations after they decertified the union, that they helped finance the Brady lawsuit, and they intentionally interfered with the prospective economic advantage of retired players.
The lawsuit contends that even though former player benefits have been improved, they do not sufficiently address existing needs, stating, “The shortfalls and inadequacies in the retirement system are, in part, the result of the NFLPA sacrificing the interests of the rights of retired NFL players to the benefit of active players both within and outside of the context of the CBAs with the League.” While the current ten-year agreement includes approximately $900 million in benefits for former players, the complaint maintains an earlier NFL proposal amounted to $1.5 billion in ex-player benefits. That’s a $600 million difference from what the NFLPA ultimately agreed to.
Apparently the NFLPA thought that the attendance of Cornelius Bennett and Jim McFarland at bargaining and mediation sessions would provide adequate representation for former players, and the complaint cites a “tweet” from Nolan Harrison, the NFLPA’s Senior Director of Retired Player Services, which said, “[a]t each session the interest of former players have been well represented by hall of famer Cornelius Bennett [and] others.”
The problem with this is that Cornelius Bennett and Jim McFarland are members of the NFLPA Former Player’s Executive Committee, and as such, they spoke only on behalf of their members. Unfortunately, that left out the interests of a large number of former players that are not members of the NFLPA, including many Hall of Famers that have gone on record denouncing the NFLPA as their representative at the bargaining table.
In the “Prayer for Relief,” where the plaintiffs tell the court what they want from the defendants, the complaint demands a jury trial and compensatory and punitive damages.
One published report quotes Mike Hausfeld as saying the goal of the suit is “to readjust the deal to better reflect the interests of the retirees which would’ve been done by the retirees themselves… This deals with the rights of retirees and how they were shortchanged by a process that negotiated their rights without input from them and then reached an agreement without the retirees’ right to be heard.”
If certified as a class action that is ultimately won by former players, it will be interesting to find out how the deal would be readjusted. In my opinion, if the lawsuit has a chance to provide us with benefits that are better than what is currently offered in the new CBA, then it’s hard to imagine why any former player would be against it.
As I have said before, we need to use every available tool in our bag to ensure our voices are heard loud and clear. If that means court action, then so be it! Even if the plaintiffs do not prevail on this lawsuit, or the other lawsuits that have been recently filed, at least they are bringing the issues of retired players to the attention of our elected and appointed leaders, the media, the U.S. Congress and the public at large.
If there is one thing that football taught us, it is this: Never give up until the game is over.
There is still time on the clock.