Tag Archives: NFL

The NFL: True Stand Against Domestic Violence or a Quick Attempt to Save Face?

December 18, 2015


By Talina Handel – Thompson Rivers University JD Student

On February 15, 2014 the prized running back for the Baltimore Ravens, Ray Rice, was arrested for assaulting his wife, Janay Palmer, at a casino in Atlantic City. Four days later video footage surfaced of Rice dragging his wife’s unconscious body from an elevator at the casino. During this time the NFL declined to comment on what, if any, sanctions they would place on Rice.

On March 27, 2014 Rice’s charges were increased to aggravated assault, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. In an arguably delayed response to the now very severe domestic violence charges, the NFL imposed a two game suspension on Rice in July 2014, four months after Rice was criminally charged. In August 2014 the NFL showed its first of what would be many inconsistencies in the months to come, and publicly stated that they “didn’t get it right” with the two game suspension. They then proceeded to issue a domestic violence policy for the entire NFL league.

Curiously, eleven days after the NFL issued their new domestic violence policy the full video footage of the incident between Rice and his wife went public and the brutal reality of what actually transpired in the elevator that evening was on display for the world to see: Rice punched his wife directly in the face causing her to fall to the ground unconscious. On the same day this video was released the Baltimore Ravens announced they were releasing Rice from his contract and the NFL subsequently announced that Rice would be suspended from the league indefinitely, a major shift from the initial two game suspension imposed on Rice.

The precarious conduct of the NFL draws the league’s motives into question. Was the domestic violence policy and Rice’s indefinite suspension issued as a true stand against domestic violence and an assertion that the Rice incident was both “violent and horrifying”? Or, was it an attempt to save face in the public eye? This begs the more specific question: did they really not see the video until the public saw it? Or did they in fact see the video, bank on the hope that it would never be released to the public and issued their new domestic violence policy in a meek attempt to cover their bases in the event that the video was leaked?

The possibility that Rice would be playing in the NFL today had the full video not been made public is a very real one. The timing of the NFL’s decision to implement a domestic violence policy is questionable. The policy was an arguably delayed response to the event which triggered it, coming six months after Rice’s arrest but curiously, only eight days before the full video was made public. Rumors swirled that the NFL had in fact seen the full video, with an unnamed law official reporting to the Associated Press that he had a twelve second voicemail from an NFL office number confirming that they had received the full video, a report that the NFL has vehemently denied.

It is highly probable that the NFL likely saw the video before the public did. They were in full cooperation with the police throughout the incident, a fact they asserted in the first six months of Rice’s investigation and then recanted when the video went public. They likely suspended Rice indefinitely simply because they had to. The public was already critical of the weak two game suspension and not imposing a stricter sentence in light of what the video depicted was simply not an option. The NFL needed to save face. And in their attempt at doing so they muddled the waters even more around their stance against domestic violence. Eyebrows were raised in response to the league’s inconsistent conduct and whispers of the NFL’s fumbling are still present today, almost two years after Rice’s arrest.


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Scraping the “Leftover” Homophobia in Sports in the Trash: It’s Time to Do the Dishes

November 14, 2015


By Danielle Oliver – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student

Society has made tremendous bounds in the direction of equality and squashing discrimination in sports. However, progress can still be made in respect to discrimination of LGBT athletes or in other words, the “leftovers” which remain of discrimination need to be scraped in the garbage.

We can thank the hard workers and ground breakers such as Branch Rickey (he wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty), who ushered change by hiring Jackie Robinson to join the Brooklyn Dodgers during a predominately white era. Appropriately, people are still committed to ensuring racial equality in professional sports; NBA commissioner Adam Silver dropped the hammer down on former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling in light of his racist remarks by banning him for life. Likewise, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell banned the use of the “n-word” by players and management to discourage racism on the field. This last move was contentious whether it remedied the issue of racism or not and has even been seen as a form of racism itself. Despite the controversy, many can agree that Goodell is a strong advocate for racial equality and is well intentioned.

Without taking away any merit from the uproar of racial equality, one must ask why the silence on protecting against homophobic discrimination. Penalization for homophobic slurs in the NFL is being considered says the league but what exactly is there to consider? LGBT youths are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their “straight” peers. This is often derived from feelings of being “shut out of the game of life”. Due to the prioritization of national sports in society, they cannot be spared as a contributing factor to this reality.

New data from a recent study found that homophobia is still very prevalent as 81% of the Canadians surveyed witnessed or experienced homophobia and 66% claimed they would feel unsafe in spectator areas if they were open about their sexuality. Furthermore, as the U.S. ranks worst for homophobia and with the NFL being under particular scrutiny due to the shocking numbers of players who are open about their sexuality (only six have come out in their retirement and before Sam Michael, there has never been a player who has been publicly out while playing), they are perfect candidate to initiate change.

National sports have led social progress where politics and religion have failed. This includes transcending national differences, fostering universal values of fair play, and mutual respect. Commissioners and team owners should use this tremendous power to make some suds, wash away homophobia, and encourage society to embrace and accept LGBT youth who feel isolated.

Regretfully, the issue is being “tip-toed” around, and frankly, it is not good enough. Goodell attempts to put rest to these concerns by stating, “We do things the right way. We will give [athletes/managers] that education and training. I hope that will solve the problem.” You, I, and even Goodell himself, know his prediction is flawed. If that were the case, discrimination, would be wiped clean by now. Additionally, his claim also lacks conviction as he himself implemented a policy change in addition to education to discourage racial discrimination in the NFL.

Thankfully, times are changing and, by no coincidence, laws are taking the plunge. In light of the legalization of gay marriage in the U.S., it is unlikely the U.S. Supreme Court will even acknowledge laws that deny people equal protection on the basis of their sexual identities. This extends to sports and members of the LGBT community have the right to protection through laws against discrimination similar to the laws in sports protecting against gender and racial discrimination. If that isn’t enough encouragement, the risks of banning LGBT discrimination in sports are low. Much lower than Rickey introducing Robinson thanks to a pre-existing movement towards societal acceptance of LGBTs despite the residual hard-to-reach, discriminating grease left to scrub away.

All things considered, I strongly agree with Dr. John Fitzgerald Gates, a national diversity expert and former Associate Dean of Harvard College, that professional sports commissioners and team owners have no excuse for avoiding their chores and should take the lead in cleaning up every last dish of discrimination “in the locker room, in boardrooms and contracting, and among fans and employees.”



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A Crucial Catch, er, Drop

November 14, 2015


By Tajinder Rathor – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

Every October, the National Football League (NFL) takes part in Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The NFL, along with its owners, players, and the NFL Players Association teams up with the American Cancer Society to run a campaign called “A Crucial Catch.” The campaign is “committed to saving lives from breast cancer and addressing the unequal burden of cancer in underserved communities.”

Many associate the colour pink with breast cancer, and the NFL and the American Cancer Society use this association to raise breast cancer awareness. Throughout the month of October, all players, coaches, and officials take part in the campaign by wearing pink apparel – pink cleats, pink hats, pink gloves, pink finer tape, pink socks etc. – at NFL games. Teams also support the cause by having additional branding on the field and within the stadium. Fans have the opportunity to support the cause by purchasing branded merchandise. The NFL donates 100% of the proceeds to the American Cancer Society.

This is a great cause, but the NFL has recently come under fire for a decision made by league executives. DeAngelo Williams, a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, lost his mother to breast cancer in 2014. To support the campaign, Williams requested that he be able to wear pink throughout the entire season. This request was denied by the NFL. The league went on to say that Section 4 of Rule 5 of the 2015 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League would not allow a player to wear “non-team colours” during a football game. The league also informed Williams that he would be subject to a monetary fine if he were to disregard the league’s equipment rules.

Such a decision seems counter-intuitive to the goal of the campaign. As already mentioned, and explicitly stated on the NFL website, the league claims to be “committed to saving lives from breast cancer and addressing the unequal burden of cancer in underserved communities.” While the league ought to be commended for its “A Crucial Catch” campaign, it arguably does come across a little petty to prohibit a player from showing his commitment to fighting breast cancer throughout the entire season.

Instead, executives decided to strictly abide by the equipment rules and force Williams to wear his team colours. Some even argue that the decision was made because it would not fit with the image and brand of the NFL. Millions of people watch NFL games every week. Who would want to see one player on the field standing out from the rest of his team in pink cleats or pink socks; a colour coordinated team looks much better.

Williams has taken this decision in stride. Instead of trying to fight the NFL on this issue, he has come up with creative ways to get around the rules. He will be dying the tips of his dreadlocks pink and may resort to painting his nails pink. There are no “equipment” rules that stipulate the colour of a player’s hair and/or nails. He will also be paying for 53 mammograms – in memory of his mother, who was 53 years old when she passed away.


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Attention NFL, NBA, & MLB: There’s A Big World Out There

November 7, 2015


By Douglas Cottier – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

In the next fortnight, the World Series will culminate and Major League Baseball will have a new titleholder. When this happens, it will be yet another occurrence of an American-based league making an outrageously abhorrent claim which should be legally prohibited: the winner of MLB baseball will be anointed “World Champions”.

Along with the MLB, the NBA and the NFL are also guilty of this appalling claim. Throughout the history of these three leagues, the championship teams have hung banners in their stadiums and bejewelled their players with rings that read “World Champions” having only bettered competition from the United States of America (and one team from Canada in the case of the NBA and MLB).

The common justification for this fallacy is that the best athletes in the respective sports play in these leagues, therefore their champions are surely capable of defeating any external opposition. Whether or not this is true is absolutely irrelevant. You are either a champion of the world or you are not, there is no place for opinion or speculation. It is entirely a matter of fact and the undeniable certainty is that a team that only competes in approximately one two-hundredth of the geopolitical globe is not a world champion, and there is no explanation that makes it even remotely justifiable.

The best basketball players in the world play in the NBA, which for the sake of argument provides the highest level of basketball competition on the planet. Any basketball savant would agree and would likely also agree that the next best quality of basketball is played in Europe, in the Euroleague. In the past season across the Atlantic, twenty-four clubs from twelve different European countries (who have surpassed clubs from even more countries in qualifying rounds) competed for the Euroleague title. The victors were Real Madrid of Spain who are the current European Champions of club basketball. This title cannot be disputed as any worthy opponent from any European country had the opportunity to compete. Despite reigning supreme over an entire continent, the Euroleague has the humility to never even have the faintest notion of using the term “World Champions”. This is fundamentally due to its outright incorrectness, but more practically because roughly three-quarters of the world would be unrepresented.

The Golden State Warriors won the NBA Finals this past June, making them the best of twenty-nine American clubs (and one Canadian club), and will raise a “World Champions” banner at the commencement of the new NBA season. Less than two percent of the countries of the world are represented by the NBA. The incontestable reality is that the Warriors are NBA Champions, no more and no less. Not only is the use of the term “World Champions” factually wrong, it is shockingly arrogant and egotistic, and only these American leagues have the audacity to make such a disgraceful assertion. This is illustrated by the fact that this trend does not extend to the National Hockey League, a league which is 23% Canadian, whose titleholders are accurately designated “Stanley Cup Champions”.

The problem is that these leagues erroneously feel entitled to make a statement that is one-hundred percent incorrect, which generates a completely unsubstantiated superiority complex amongst impressionable followers. The detestably vain use of the term “World Champions” will perpetuate in American-based professional sports leagues until it is legally forbidden; perhaps foreign leagues could file an action in fraud or misrepresentation. A more probable resolution would be rational thinkers in the public eye like longtime San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich (whose team is the only one to aptly hang “NBA Champions” banners) communicating its categorical incorrectness. Coach Popovich made the following statement in 2010:

“There are no World Champions in the NBA, so anybody that has the flag up that says world champions is not correct, it’s not appropriate. The world champions, I believe, are the Spanish team right now. USA is the Olympic champion. The Lakers are the NBA champion. It doesn’t make sense for an NBA team to call themselves world champions. I don’t remember anybody playing anybody outside our borders to get that tag. Isn’t that true? I keep waiting for somebody to tell me I’ve missed something. The world’s bigger than North America. I know sometimes we as arrogant Americans don’t respond to the rest of the world, but it’s true. There’s a big world out there.”

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Concussed in the NCAA: What does it mean in the context of the NFL decision?

November 7, 2015


By P. Kyle Sandulescu – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

In the wake of the NFL concussion lawsuit settlement that came down in April, the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) is facing a similar class-action lawsuit launched by former college football, hockey, and soccer players who sustained concussions during their college sports careers. While the NCAA technically operates as a non-profit association, it makes profits that eclipse many major professional sports leagues. Therefore, if the plaintiffs can prove that the NCAA knew of the long term effects of concussions and failed to protect their student-athletes from head injuries, a judge will likely be persuaded to awarded compensation to former players, similar to the NFL settlement agreement.

In the class-action concussion lawsuit brought against the NCAA, Walker, et al. v. National College Athletic Association, former college athletes alleged that the NCAA breached its duty to educate players on the dangers of concussions, and breached its contractual obligation to ensure that member institutions complied with NCAA Regulations on enhancing the physical and mental wellbeing of student-athletes. The plaintiffs also claimed that the NCAA fraudulently concealed information on the long term effects of concussions. The plaintiffs initially sought a $70 million NCAA-funded monitoring program to provide early diagnosis and treatment of head injuries over a 50 year period. In June however, Adrian Arrington, the face behind the class-action lawsuit, fired his attorney and rejected the proposed settlement. One can expect that the plaintiffs will seek a considerably larger settlement perhaps approaching the one awarded to former NFL players.

There are important distinctions, though, between the NCAA and the NFL which make the NCAA lawsuit more complicated than the lawsuit against the NFL. First, in the NFL the players are in a contractual relationship with the league which is governed by the standard player’s contract, which directly imposes a duty on the NFL, whereas in the NCAA regulations govern the relationship between the NCAA and the universities that are members in the Association. However, a duty to protect players might be established by looking into the NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook which explicitly states that student athletes can assume that the NCAA’s member institutions have taken reasonable precautions to minimize the risk of injury from athletics participation. The plaintiffs would hence make the case that the NCAA owes a duty to the players who participate in sporting events on behalf of their universities.

With nearly $1 billion in annual revenue, the NCAA resembles less a non-profit association than it does a professional sports organization. The sheer volume of cash flow into the NCAA’s coffers has proven sufficient to attract interest in a class action lawsuit similar to the NFL suit. A key distinction between the two lawsuits is that the claim against the NCAA involves athletes from different sports and not just football, and does not preclude athletes from non-contact sports from bringing an action against the NCAA.

Simply put, there is a need to protect the majority of student athletes who do not go on to have professional careers. Adrian Arrington and countless others who did not have professional sports careers sustained head injuries while playing college sports under the NCAA. Many of them were left unable to work or utilize their degrees. The vast majority of student-athletes have to use their college sports careers as a means of getting an education and obtaining a degree. Therefore, former players should be compensated if they sustain an injury that prevents them from functioning in the work force when their college careers are over if the damage could have been prevented through proper monitoring and testing by the NCAA. With the resources and funding available to the NCAA, there is no reason to treat them differently from a professional sports league that fails to take action in minimize the risks faced by their athletes.

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Will Cheers From The South Motivate CFL Cheerleaders To Take Action?

October 18, 2015


By Cassandra Milne – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student

South of the Canadian border, professional cheerleaders in the National Football League (NFL) have been raising their pom-poms not only in support of their teams, but also in support of basic employee rights.

In January 2014, two former Raiderettes turned their pom-poms against the NFL Raiders by filing a class action lawsuit. The lawsuit claimed that the Oakland Raiders paid their cheerleaders less than minimum wage, withheld their paychecks until the end of the season, and failed to reimburse cheerleaders for business expenses. The Raiders initially defended their actions by claiming the cheerleaders were independent contractors but eventually opted to settle out of court in September 2014. The Raiders tripled the pay to their new cheerleading squad and paid out a total of $1.25 million to 90 women who cheered between 2010 and 2013. In addition, Raiderettes now receive a ten minute break during NFL games and will no longer be subjected to illegally deducted wages for minor rule infractions such as showing up a few minutes late to rehearsals, wearing the wrong color nail polish, or failing to bring the correct pom-poms to practice. Since the Raiderettes’ class action suit, four other NFL cheer teams have brought forward similar actions.

Eighteen politicians from eight states across the United States have written the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, requesting that he “correct this economic injustice” by requiring all teams to pay their cheerleaders minimum wage. The National Football League has maintained that cheerleader pay is a team issue and adamantly supports fair employment practices that comply with federal and state law.

Politicians have since taken action by working to enact and implement new legislation. New York state is currently tabling the Cheerleader’s Fair Pay Act and in January 2016 a California state law will come into force demanding professional sports teams to provide their cheerleaders with basic employee rights such as minimum wage pay and sick leave.

The implications and actions taken by cheerleaders in the United States have yet to trickle up into the Canadian Football League. Currently, many Canadian cheerleaders are occupying what are deemed to be volunteer positions. The Edmonton Eskimos boast that their cheer team is composed of “ultimate volunteers with the hundreds of service hours they give to the community.”

The BC Lions Cheerleaders, the Felions, are paid per game and for appearances. Besides attending the games, Felions are expected to attend weekly practices for nine months and are not paid for their time. In addition, Felions are required to sell the team calendars. However, they are compensated with two season tickets and sponsored services such as gym memberships, tanning, clothing discounts, and hair styling. Despite these advantages, are CFL cheerleaders being fairly compensated?

Section 16(1) of the Employment Standards Act of British Columbia states that, “An employer must pay an employee at least the minimum wage as prescribed in the regulations.” An employee is defined in section 1(c) “as a person being trained by an employer for the employer’s business.” It is arguable that the Felions are trained at rehearsals for the BC Lion’s games and, therefore, fall within the definition of an employee. Furthermore, the British Columbia Supreme Court in HMTQ et al v. Emergency Health Services Commission et al, stated that, “… courts and tribunals have stretched the meaning of “employment” to ensure that the purposes of human rights legislation are not thwarted in the sense that the targets of discrimination are not left without any remedy.”

It is estimated that cheerleaders are worth $8,250,000 USD each game day to the NFL. Despite promoting the NFL brand, cheerleaders are just starting to earn minimum wage. The desirability of becoming an NFL or CFL cheerleader allows team franchises to negotiate low wages. Logically, this too should apply to male football players, as the desirability of playing football in a professional setting is extremely high.

Football players are able to avoid this supply-demand phenomena by continually bargaining for higher compensation. For example, the share of its revenue that National Football League paid to its players increased from 17% in 1956 to 53% in 2012. Cheerleading, a predominately female field, has been left out of these negotiations.

Society has allowed professional sports organizations to underpay their cheerleaders based on the notion that they love their job. But, by that logic, many professional athletes should be underpaid for their job. Worker compensation has nothing to do with how much one likes or dislikes their job; at the very minimum it should meet the requirements required by law.


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Contract Negotiations – Seattle Seahawks and Kam Chancellor

October 5, 2015


By Salman Karim – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

This September Kam Chancellor, strong safety for the National Football League’s Seattle Seahawks, did something that the league’s players have very rarely done in the past. He extended his holdout into the NFL’s regular season and lost significant game cheques for the first two games of the Seahawks regular season.

Chancellor, who has three years remaining on his five-year deal signed in 2013, expressed his displeasure in his contract by sitting out for all of training camp. The Seahawks organizational policy is to not re-negotiate contracts with more than two years remaining.

Kam Chancellor and agent Alvin Keels demanded additional monetary guarantees in the contract, partly due to the compensation Chancellor’s other successful teammates had received. He felt underpaid in comparison to other lynchpins of the vaunted Seahawks defence, such as Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Bobby Wagner. His positon is understandable given the significant risk of injury and the typical short length of an NFL player’s career. Unlike contracts in other professional sports leagues such as the NHL, NFL contracts are not fully guaranteed and thus a player can be cut well before his contract expires and never see a large amount of that money they signed for.

Considering their salary cap structure, the Seahawks were forced to set a strong precedent in this dispute. As a team loaded with young talent, Seattle’s salary cap situation is a very tricky one to manage. By the nature of the business, good players will come and go, but the idea is to keep the core of great players together. Chancellor’s leverage to re-negotiate was weakened due to his 2013 contract compensating him as a top two player at his strong safety position already. Re-negotiating Chancellor’s deal this early would create discontent with other players, such as defensive end Michael Bennett, who also feel that they are worth more. Having signed a four-year deal last summer, the Seahawks management took a firm stance against this and Bennett decided holding out was not beneficial to his position. Although dissatisfied, he attended all of training camp and is honoring his contract.

As the NFL regular season was set to begin, the Seahawks chose to negotiate with Chancellor and proposed shifting $3 million salary from 2017 to 2016, bringing his salary to $8.1 million from the originally scheduled $5.1 million. This would then reduce the 2017 salary from $6.8 million to $3.8 million. Chancellor declined and his camp termed it as “a bandage solution”. As days wore on, the sides got as close as $900,000 apart but could not reach a resolution. It was reported that Chancellor’s camp had called the Seahawks “petty” over this small discrepancy. The owner of the Seahawks, Paul Allen, then publicly stated that they would not give anything more in the negotiations. This was serious given that Paul Allen rarely comments on team issues. It appeared that this holdout was headed for the regular season.

Chancellor missed the first two games of the Seahawk’s season; both losses where his absence was felt. In week 1 against the St. Louis Rams, Chancellor’s replacement Dion Bailey slipped and fell allowing Rams tight end Lance Kendricks to catch the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. This sent the game to overtime where the Seahawks lost 34-31. After their 27-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers in week 2, pressure appeared to be mounting. However, two days after that loss, Chancellor announced he would return to the team.

Chancellor accrued more than $2 million in fines from his holdout and returned without any changes to his contract. Some of the fines will be rescinded by the Seahawks, but how much is to remain confidential. Chancellor has made it clear that he would like to re-address this issue next summer when he has two years remaining on his deal. Precedent for this was set last summer when the Seahawks shifted some money around for running back Marshawn Lynch whose contract had two years remaining. It appears as though Chancellor would have been better off playing through this season and attempting to re-negotiate next year rather than holding out with little leverage. His motivation is understandable but Seahawks policy made the situation a very difficult one. Caving in a situation like this could have been disastrous for the team’s competitive future. In the end, the Seahawks stood firm and set a strong precedent for upcoming contract negotiations.

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Non-Guaranteed Contracts, Guaranteed Injuries

October 5, 2015


By Harman Toor – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

Football is inherently dangerous. The term contact sport doesn’t apply to football, collision sport does. While those playing football know the risks, there are certain injures and concerns that have recently garnered considerable attention. Concussions and how to combat player injuries has become a highly dividing topic. Recently, the NFL reached a settlement with more than 5,000 retired players who accused the NFL of not warning players and hiding the damages of brain injuries. This settlement, numerous medical studies and the fear of North America’s most profitable sport eventually failing have led to numerous changes in an attempt to make football safer. However, the one item that is undermining any progress made when it comes to player safety is non-guaranteed contracts.

In 2013, the NFL implemented a concussion protocol in which independent doctors and neuro-trauma specialists examined players who were believed to have suffered a concussion. This was a welcomed change from years past where team physicians would administer tests and decide whether a player was fit to return to action, having to choose between the needs of the team and the wellbeing of a player.

Takings steps to identify concussions as well as changing rules is ignoring a much larger issue; the requirement of players to play through injuries to avoid a loss of wages. Darnell Docket, former player for the Arizona Cardinals stated, “…we know if we don’t play hurt and injured, we’ll be released just the same…the NFL says it wants us to report concussions, but its actions say differently.”
Of the four major North American sports leagues, the NFL is the only one where the contracts of players are not fully guaranteed. This means that when players sign a contract they are only guaranteed a portion of their salary, and may be released without receiving the total amount they signed for. For example, Aaron Rodgers, a Super Bowl winning quarterback recently signed a contract for $110,000,000 of which $54,000,000 is guaranteed. In comparison, Wes Matthews who suffered a major ACL tear, signed a $70,000,000 deal with the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks that is completely guaranteed. Many football players know that they will not see the entirety of their contract fulfilled, thus they try to negotiate as much guaranteed money upfront as possible.

For the majority of NFL players who are not considered “franchise players”, their leverage for guaranteed money is greatly reduced. Thus, those that know that the fulfillment of their contract hinges on their ability to play are far more likely to ignore their own personal safety in the hopes of continuing to collect a paycheque. Retired linebacker Ted Johnson recalled in The Concussion Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic suffering a concussion in a 2002 preseason game. In fear of losing his roster spot and non-guaranteed Johnson partook in a contact drill at practice and suffered a second concussion.

This season Kam Chancellor, starting safety for the 2014 Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks held out in the hopes of restructuring his contract. Numerous outlets have heralded him as greedy and not fulfilling his contractual obligation. However, while owners, fans and the media firmly believe a player owes loyalty to his team, due to the nature of the profession, rarely does a team show loyalty to their players. Prior to the 2015 NFL season numerous players had their team options declined, contracts restructured or were released outright by their team, never making it to the end of their contracts. This batch of players included Vince Wilfork, Andre Johnson and Troy Polamalu, all staples of their organizations.

In data released by the NFL, diagnosed brain injuries from 1996 to 2007 showed a significant decrease in the last five years of the sample. However, tight ends, linebackers and defensive backs (also known as safeties) have seen an increase in the rate of injury with defensive backs experiencing 291 documented brain injuries, more than any other position. Another study recently conducted by the Department of Veteran Affairs and Boston University found that 96% of former NFL players tested positive for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease. As more studies reach similar conclusions, the idea of player holding out in the hopes of securing a more lucrative contract is seen less as disloyal and more as a smart business decision, especially without the assurances of a guaranteed contract.

The NFL has made great strides in attempting to make football safe. However, taking one step forward followed by taking two steps back can only get you so far. If players were able to sign guaranteed contracts, there would be less incentive to put your current and future health in harm’s way. The move towards guaranteed contracts would not eradicate the risks associated with football but would alleviate some of the issues. If the NFL’s goal is to improve player safety, then a move towards guaranteed contracts is long overdue. If the goal of the NFL is to avoid future legal battles for putting their players at risk, this move may be the difference between leaving it all on the field or leaving it all in the courtroom.

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The saga of Adrian Peterson

November 23, 2014


By Jeanine Ball – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

NFL star running back Adrian Peterson, who has been touted as one of the best players in the NFL will face a hearing on the fate of his future with the League this coming Monday.

In early September, allegations broke that Peterson abused his four year old son. His son was injured when hit by a wooden switch or stick, including bruising and cuts on his body. Peterson was indicted for reckless or negligent injury to a child. Last week he bargained for a plea deal to a lesser charge of misdemeanor assault. The terms of the plea included 80 hours of community service work, two years of “deferred adjudication” (which is similar to probation), a fine of $4,000, and a requirement to attend parenting classes.

Throughout the ordeal Peterson has been suspended from his team, the Minnesota Vikings, while still receiving his annual salary of $11.25 million.

Issues of race, domestic violence, and the intense scrutiny on professional athletes have brought this story to a fevered pitch on social media.

Peterson has had a chaotic year. His two year old son was murdered in October of 2013. Peterson returned to play just days later. Since the indictment for abuse of his four year old son in September, his arrest was considered after he admitted to “smoking a little weed.”

Now he has pled guilty. What does this mean for his future in the NFL?

The NFL guidelines for domestic violence were amended in August following the Ray Rice scandal. A six game suspension is now the punishment for a first offence (it was previously just two games). The player’s union on Peterson’s behalf is arguing for immediate reinstatement. Neither option seems a just solution under the circumstances.

Peterson offered some justification for his actions towards his son as Peterson used disciplinary techniques used on him as a child growing up in Texas. His mother has defended his actions and has emphasized they were acts that were motivated by love. She has been quoted as saying, “When you whip those you love, it’s not about abuse, it’s about love. You want to make them understand that they did wrong.” Regardless of his personal history, causing harm to a child contravened both United States federal and international Law. A $4,000 fine to an individual making a salary of $11.25 million and some hours of community service and probation time is not a significant penalty considering the circumstances of the offender.

Likewise, a six game suspension may serve a purpose in terms of deterrence, but the time involved is insufficient to allow substantive recovery or reconciliation for Peterson with his family. A leave of absence from his team and the NFL would give him time to receive counselling and increase the chance for him to restore a healthy relationship with his son and focus on parenting out of the media glare. Continuing to play in the NFL is not a context that will allow Peterson to rehabilitate from these personal issues.

In order to move towards positive outcomes, the discussion should shift to a focus on healing at a number of levels. Seemingly forgotten in the hysteria around Peterson’s punishment is that a four year old boy was physically and emotionally abused and that concern for his rehabilitation – not those of his famous father back into the NFL – should come first.

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Concussion Lawsuits: Is settling fair for the players?

November 23, 2014


By Ryan Monty – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student

A recent concussion lawsuit filed against the Barrie Colts of the Canadian Hockey League reminds us that no contact sports league in North America, professional or otherwise, are immune to these legal proceedings. John Chartrand, a former player for the Colts, claims the medical staff of the team was negligent in clearing him to play even though he suffered a concussion in a car accident only days earlier. Although Chartrand’s original injuries occurred off the ice, it is still relevant in questioning the medical procedures and the culpability of the team and league when assessing the risks of allowing an athlete to return to play after suffering a head injury.

What amount of liability should the leagues governing these sports accept? One argument is that the players accept the inherent risks when playing contact sports like hockey. Any injuries or long-term side effects are their responsibility to deal with because it was their choice to participate. However, others argue the leagues were aware of the risks, and had more information regarding the long-term repercussions of head injuries than what was available to the players, making the teams culpable for allowing players who had recently sustained a concussion to return to play too soon. They also claim the leagues had the money to prevent players from suffering these on-field injuries but ultimately failed to do so. The National Football League settled a lawsuit with 1,400 former players for nearly $1 billion but as the case was not decided by a court, there isn’t an answer to what the duty of care is owed, if any, by the leagues and teams to their players, if they breached their standard of care, and what amount of compensation would be fair.

Some of the NFL players in the deal mentioned above are opting out because they believe the amount is insufficient. The process is also being stalled by players who are launching legal action against the deal itself in the hopes of preventing it from going through. As reported by USA TODAY, this has pitted the lawyer for the players, Craig Mitlick, against former players like Sean Morey. Mitlick believes that Morey, and players like him, are being greedy and hurting the other plaintiffs by delaying money that would fund their much needed medical treatments, while Morey feels the deal is not enough and is benefitting third parties, like the lawyers involved, too much. It is impossible for us to know who is right without the proceedings of a trial, but with the sheer amount of players seeking compensation, and the still relatively unknown extent of the long-term damages of concussions, the potential that former players accepting a deal from the leagues which is less than fair is increasingly more probable.

There is also the question of why no star players have been involved in any of these suits. Surely the settlement amount would be significantly higher with more high profile players attached. The highest profile athlete to date would have been Dan Marino, the former superstar quarterback of the Miami Dolphins. He was attached to a lawsuit against the NFL, along with 14 other players, but ultimately decided, days after the suit was made public, to remove his name from the list of plaintiffs, claiming it was a big misunderstanding.

Is it possible that higher paid athletes aren’t exposed to the same level of risk as other players? Unlikely. It’s more plausible that they do not want to alienate the game that made them rich, along with the fact that many former elite players, Marino included, end up working for the league or teams after retiring which makes the preservation of a positive relationship essential. This is where I believe the fallacy lies – the players, who are suffering from quantifiable damage, are either left with taking less than they should, or forced to suffer through the pain, holding out for a better deal because the players are not a unified group. There is no solidarity between the lower tier athletes and the elites, and until there is, or until one of these suits finally goes to trial, the players might not get the compensation they deserve.

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