SBD/Issue 81/Leagues & Governing Bodies

NFL Vs. American Needle Lawsuit Could Impact Labor Relations

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear American Needle's case against the NFL, a lawsuit challenging the league's exclusive licensing contract with Reebok that "also could have a major effect on labor relations," according to Daniel Kaplan of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. American Needle is suing the NFL for antitrust law violations, and the apparel company contends that its case "could have a sweeping effect on the sport's relationship with its players." American Needle in an amicus brief filed last month said, "The immunity (the NFL) seek(s) would instantly legalize a broad array of actions previously subject to antitrust constraint, such as fixing of ticket prices to NFL games and restriction or elimination of competition for players." The brief continued, "The teams dismiss this latter concern based on their collective bargaining relationship with the NFL players. But antitrust constraints have played a critical role in that relationship, and the union has in the past decertified itself and looked to the antitrust laws to oppose restrictions on competition for players" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 1/11 issue). The Obama administration, "siding partly with American Needle, has urged the court to rule that judges should review sports antitrust disputes on a case-by-case basis" (USA TODAY, 1/11).

TAKING A STAND: Saints QB and NFLPA Exec Committee member Drew Brees in a special to the WASHINGTON POST wrote the American Needle case "could have a profound impact not only on my sport but on all of American professional athletics." The NFL after winning its original case with the apparel company "asked the Supreme Court to dramatically expand the ruling and determine that teams act as a single entity." Brees: "It was an odd request -- as if I asked an official to review an 80-yard pass of mine that had already been ruled a touchdown. The notion that the teams function as a single entity is absurd; the 32 organizations composing the NFL and the business people who run them compete with unrelenting intensity for players, coaches and, most of all, the loyalty of fans." If the Supreme Court again sides with the NFL, the "absence of antitrust scrutiny would enable the owners to exert total control over this multibillion-dollar business." Brees noted the owners then could "agree to end or severely restrict free agency, continue to enter into exclusive agreements that will further raise prices on merchandise, lock coaches into salary scales that don't reward them when they're promoted and set higher ticket prices." Brees added, "Historically, players have made significant gains, such as free agency, by challenging the NFL on antitrust grounds. If the Supreme Court rules that the league's 32 organizations constitute a single entity that is exempt from antitrust laws, players will lose this important leverage" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/10). In S.F., Gwen Knapp wrote fans "should applaud" Brees for the article. He had "nothing to gain personally from standing up to the league, and a lot of grief looming if the Saints miss the Super Bowl after he committed one of the great taboos in sports, making a political statement" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 1/10).

Brees' Op-Ed In The Washington Post Sparks
Dramatic Reactions On Twitter This Weekend
UP IN ARMS: Brees' Op-Ed sparked a flurry of reaction on Twitter this weekend. NFL Exec VP/Communications & Public Affairs Joe Browne wrote, “Just read Sunday by-line piece 'by Drew Brees' in Wash paper re nxt week's SCOTUS hearing on foot biz case. Feel bad for gd guy Brees. ... Why would NFLPA lawyers subject good guy Brees2 criticism he is now getting from legal writers-bloggers a wk b4 biggest game of career?" Browne added, "Error-prone and misinformed piece with Drew's by-line should not taint great season he had on field. Wish him only the best next Sat." Former NFLer Nolan Harrison III, in response to Browne, wrote, "Interesting that you would assume that he is being handled? He is an elected official and entitled to his voice his opinion. … What exactly is misinformed about the piece, his opinions have been voiced by academics and attorneys around the country." Sports Media Consultant Erit Yellen also replied to Browne and said, "1) please do tell what it is that Drew was misinformed on and 2) So writing this piece makes him not a good guy? … Also admirable that a player is expressing an opinion in an area that others would not that is essence of a professional." NFLPA Assistant Exec Dir of External Affairs George Atallah yesterday wrote, "Now that this game is over, let me share briefly my reaction to @NFLonTheHill comments on Brees: stay classy Joe Browne." SBJ's Liz Mullen wondered, "Interesting the uproar it causes when smart, young athlete like Drew Brees expresses his opinion. Why?" Sports agent Ian Pulver, in response to Mullen, said, "Why? Because it is the truth." Sporting News' Dan Levy wrote of Brees' Op-Ed: "Either he had help or I'm hoping he runs for Senate like, the day his career ends. Really well done."

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