SBJ/October 17-23, 2011/Labor and Agents

NFL: Benson’s charge against union won’t stop discipline

Liz Mullen
While Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson’s unfair labor practices charge against the NFL Players Association could take months to resolve, that charge in itself will not prevent the NFL from disciplining him for off-the-field actions this past summer, an NFL spokesman said last week.

“I am not aware of how it would,” said Greg Aiello, NFL senior vice president, public relations, in an email.

Benson, who filed the charge against the NFLPA late last month, is one of eight players whom the NFLPA reportedly agreed to allow to be disciplined for being arrested or charged during the NFL lockout. He appeared before the Cincinnati office of the National Labor Relations Board last week regarding the charge, which alleges, among other things, that the union did not adequately investigate whether the NFL could discipline him for conduct that occurred during the lockout.

GETTY IMAGES
Benson says the NFLPA didn’t properly
investigate whether he could be disciplined.
Benson was not under contract to the Bengals and was an unrestricted free agent when he was arrested on misdemeanor assault charges in July. In addition, the arrest happened at a time when NFL players were unrepresented by a union that had disclaimed interest in representing players.

Benson also has filed a non-injury grievance against the NFL to prevent him from being suspended for conduct that occurred when he was locked out and not represented by a union.

The NFL and the NFLPA reportedly entered into an agreement or side letter to the collective-bargaining agreement they reached this summer that stated that players would not be fined or otherwise disciplined for conduct when they were locked out and not members of a union. However, according to sources and published reports, an exception was made for eight players who were not first-time offenders — including Benson, whose individual exception is noted in the NLRB charge.

“The NFLPA arbitrarily, capriciously, without investigation, and without notice excluded Cedric Benson from the disciplinary agreement,” the charge states.

George Atallah, NFLPA assistant executive director, external affairs, said in a text message to SportsBusiness Journal, “Despite the claim from Cedric and his attorney, we will do everything we can to defend our rights and his rights.”
 
Benson’s attorney, David Cornwell, said, “We filed the unfair labor practices charge out of an abundance of caution. The players association has taken the position the [side letter] does not mean what it appears to mean, and frankly we hope they are right.”

Labor lawyers said it is not unusual for an employee to file an unfair labor practices charge against his union, alleging that the union did not represent him in good faith. What is unusual is for an employee to allege a union reached an agreement with his employer during a period of time in which the union did not represent him.
 
ROSENHAUS ON ‘60 MINUTES’: Agents across sports were talking last week about the feature on Drew Rosenhaus that aired on “60 Minutes” on Oct. 9 in which he said, among other things, “I really believe that the NFL would fall apart without me.”
 
Rosenhaus told SportsBusiness Journal last week: “What I meant in the interview was agents as a whole have a very important function. And the NFL would fall apart without agents as a profession. I wasn’t referring to myself specifically, but to the agent profession.”

The “60 Minutes” feature also stated that Rosenhaus represented 170 players in the NFL. Rosenhaus told SportsBusiness Journal that he represented about 140 NFL players as of last week but that he did represent 170 earlier this year. Rosenhaus said the number of clients fluctuates because of a number of factors, including players retiring.

As of last week, the NFLPA website listed Rosenhaus as representing 123 players in the NFL. That is the most of any NFL agent.

ASM SIGNS PLAYERS: ASM Sports founder and NBA agent Andy Miller has signed Washington Wizards forward Andray Blatche and former NBA forward Kenyon Martin, and he negotiated Martin’s one-year deal to play for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers during the NBA lockout. Additionally, Miller has signed guard Roger Mason, who played for the New York Knicks in 2010-11. Blatche previously had been without an agent, Martin had been represented by Brian Dyke, and Mason had been represented by Dan Fegan.

Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

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