The NFL yesterday adamantly denied it had purposely misled retirees about the risks of playing football, a main claim in a lawsuit filed against the league by more than 4,000 retirees. The league so far has legally focused on arguing past CBAs immunized the league against claims it had misled players, instead of answering allegations directly. But speaking after yesterday’s oral arguments in the head trauma case, NFL outside counsel Beth Wilkinson said, “We strongly deny those allegations.” She spoke directly after NFL outside counsel Paul Clement answered a question about the league misleading players. Clement said that at the moment, the league was focused on the legal question of whether the claim could even be brought and it was not necessary to answer the question factually. About an hour later, NFL retirees counsel David Frederick said the NFL was looking for immunity from all claims and the courts would reject it. The retirees hosted reporters at a hotel a few blocks from the Philadelphia court house, where retirees and widows, often through tears, told their stories. Frederick said that even if the NFL did not purposefully mislead, it was willfully ignorant about the risks of playing football. He expressed optimism about how the day had proceeded. Similarly, speaking shortly after Wilkinson and Clement, NFL VP/Legal Affairs Anastasia Danias said the league was very pleased with how the day went (Daniel Kaplan, Staff Writer). ESPN’s Andrew Brandt said the lawyers representing the two sides are “major heavy hitters who really have experience most with the Supreme Court.” That shows the "stakes involved -- with billions at stake -- here in the NFL case” ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 4/9).
WHAT COMES NEXT? NFL Network’s Albert Breer said the next step for Judge Anita Brody is "making a decision on what she’s going to do here." Yesterday was the "last day in court until that happens, and speaking to some people who have an idea what the process if going to look like going forward, they say it could be three to six months before Brody comes to a decision and rights her opinion.” Breer said Brody either is “going to agree with the league and this thing gets dismissed and gets sent back through the CBA process, or she’ll allow this case in some form to go forward” (“NFL Total Access,” NFL Network, 4/9). In DC, Rick Maese notes regardless of how Brody rules, there will be “no quick resolution.” While the plaintiffs will “try to move to discovery as soon as possible, appeals would likely follow, as well as other motions to dismiss” (WASHINGTON POST, 4/10). Attorneys said that Brody is “known as one of the quickest-moving judges in the district, meaning a decision should come down around June” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/10). In N.Y., Belson & Hurdle note even “without appeals, the discovery process could take years,” and Brody also could “ask the plaintiffs to pick several cases to be tried as tests” (N.Y. TIMES, 4/10).
MUCH TO SORT THROUGH: USA TODAY’s Jarrett Bell writes there is “a lot to sort out.” If the case continues, debate issues “could explore the acceptance of the inherent risks of playing football.” They also could include whether the NFL “should be liable for neurological problems that might have originated on another level, such as college or high school,” and whether the NFLPA “did enough to protect its members” (USA TODAY, 4/10). ESPN's Brandt said Brody can “hit home runs for either side.” A win for the NFL would include dismissing the case and having it go "through arbitration according to the CBA.” A players' win means it "all goes forward and we start doing the depositions and we start doing the discovery and we start getting into the case" (“Outside The Lines,” ESPN, 4/9). Newsday's Bob Glauber said, “The best guess is Anita Brody will allow some wiggle room for both sides so you won't get a definitive victory for either side” ("PFT," NBC Sports Network, 4/9).