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Volume 24 No. 113

Leagues and Governing Bodies

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).

MLB today will announce the "creation of a formal task force help reverse the decline" of African-American players on active rosters, according to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY. The 17-member committee will "consist of owners, executives and coaches," including Baseball HOFer Frank Robinson, White Sox Exec VP Kenny Williams, Rays Owner Stuart Sternberg and Southern Univ. baseball coach Roger Cador. The league is "alarmed by its historic low 7.7 % of African-American players on opening-day rosters this season." That percentage is a drop from 8% last season and the lowest since the Red Sox became the "final team to integrate its roster in 1959." The Cardinals, Giants, Mariners and Rangers all opened the '13 season "without a single African-American player" on their rosters (USA TODAY, 4/10). In N.Y., Tyler Kepner noted Tigers President & GM Dave Dombrowski will serve as chair of the committee, which "includes several other front-office executives." Stanford AD Bernard Muir, MLB Scouting Bureau Senior Dir Frank Marcos and former Mets manager Jerry Manuel also will be involved. Society of American Baseball Research Dir Mark Armour said that the "highest percentage of African-Americans playing in the majors ... was 19 percent in 1986" (, 4/9). In Seattle, Larry Stone noted the "paucity of black faces has definitely caught the attention of Mariners announcer Dave Sims, the highest-profile African-American in the organization." Sims said, "I'm focused on it all the time. ... There are so few black American guys in baseball, it's disturbing for me." He noted that the "most common explanations generally center on the cost of the sport." That includes "equipment and joining the traveling teams now widespread in youth baseball." Stone noted there also is what Sims calls "'the coolness factor,' a reference to the fact that baseball doesn't have the same cachet in the black community as basketball and football" (SEATTLE TIMES, 4/7).

LOOKING IN THE MIRROR: ESPN's Stephen A. Smith said the RBI Program is “something that has become synonymous” with MLB, and fans can fault MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB “on a plethora of issues over the years, (but) this is not one of them.” Smith said Jackie Robinson “breaking the color barrier was because blacks were not allowed” in MLB. Smith: "Once we are allowed, we make our own decisions. That’s all baseball is obligated to do, and I think they’ve gone beyond that and have done other things to try to generate interest from the African-American community. ... If more African-Americans are not interested in playing (baseball), that’s not Major League Baseball’s problem. That’s ours” ("First Take," ESPN2, 4/10). 

WHO SUCCEEDS SELIG? In Phoenix, Bob McManaman notes if Selig follows through on his pledge to retire at the end of his current contract in December '14, whoever succeeds him will "have a lot on his plate." Issues include the "extended use of instant replay, the future of the World Baseball Classic, further globalizing the sport, increasing sanctions on proven drug users, and if the new one-game wild-card format really works." A "realistic short list" of candidates likely would include MLB Exec VP/Baseball Operations Joe Torre, who is "certainly well-respected and liked throughout the industry." However, Torre turns 73 in July and it is uncertain whether he would "accept the gig even if they offered it to him." Former Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa "can rub some people the wrong way, but who's to say that isn't what baseball needs?" MLB Senior VP/Standards & On-Field Operations Joe Garagiola Jr. has "got the clout," and he is "about the right age" at 62. But MLB Exec VP/Economics & League Affairs Rob Manfred "might be the most logical choice." He has "played a prominent role in collective-bargaining negotiations, he's entrenched into baseball's economics, and he has Selig's ear" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 4/10). SportsBusiness Journal's Eric Fisher last month identified several possible successors, with Manfred, MLB Exec VP/Business Tim Brosnan and former U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) heading the list.

UFC yesterday “publicly released its official Fighter Code of Conduct,” and its aim is not to punish violators but "to educate and prevent embarrassments," according to Kevin Iole of YAHOO SPORTS. Among the things the code covers are “usage of performance enhancing drugs, criminal offenses, unlawful possession of a gun or other weapon, violent, threatening or harassing behavior; conduct that presents danger to the safety of another; intimidation; and any conduct that undermines the UFC.” The MMA promotion based its policy "upon similar codes" used in the NFL, MLB and NHL, and was aided in its development by DC-based law firm Covington & Burling. UFC Exec VP & General Counsel Lawrence Epstein said, “We’re trying, hopefully, to push guys in the right direction and make sure they’re being respectful and not being disrespectful to any race, gender, etc.” Iole notes UFC has been “plagued by a series of thoughtless comments in social media over the last few years that were meant as jokes but which came off as anything but.” By publicly releasing the standard of conduct it “expects from its fighters, the UFC has taken a strong step toward reducing the flippant comments that create a media sensation and which slow the business of arranging and promoting fights.” One such example occurred Monday, when fighter Matt Mitrione “ripped into transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox." UFC later that day “quickly denounced Mitrione's words and announced his indefinite suspension.” UFC co-Chair & CEO Lorenzo Fertitta said that the move “doesn't mean he'll be cut, or suspended long-term, or even fined.” But UFC will “review the incident and, at the very least, try to educate Mitrione about why his comments were harmful.” Iole notes the code of conduct is a “good first step, but the key to its success is whether the company is vigilant in enforcing it and educating the athletes about their mistakes.” Iole: “Hopefully, the upshot of the code of conduct’s implementation is far less tasteless jokes, far less PED usage and far more enlightened behavior” (, 4/10).