Since Japan is about to sink, drown, or blow up, you might have missed the fact that 32 or so billionaires officially can’t figure out how to share profits with a few hundred millionaires. That’s right, the National Football League — the most successful sports association ever — is in a stage of lockout. The owners and the players can’t agree, and now both sides have lawyered up and are heading to court.
The NFL owners have locked out the players, and the players have asked for an injunction preventing the lockout. Welcome to Brady v. NFL.
Naturally, I’m on the side of the marginally greedy, financially illiterate players over the unimaginably greedy, financially irresponsible owners. Bill Simmons perfectly captures the real core of this fight that the owners are picking with their employees.
And there are all kinds of funky legal issues swirling around the case: the player’s union “sham” decertification, the NFL’s T.V. revenue war chest they should have been sharing with the players all along, and enough Sherman Antitrust Act angles to fill a casebook.
And there’s legal star power: as we mentioned this morning, David Boies has joined the fight on the side of money grubbing owners who would happily sacrifice the long term health of their employees for some more short term profits.
But this morning we should focus on the man who could be “the Decider,” U.S. District Judge David Doty. The man has such a history of frustrating the NFL owner/oligarchs that simply getting the case into his courtroom could force the owners back into negotiating in good faith. We should know more about this guy.
Remember, the 1994 Major League Baseball strike was settled by a judge — and her name is Sonia Sotomayor — only she’s got a better title now. Just saying….
The New York Times has a great profile on David Doty and how the NFL owners got dragged into court in Minnesota in the first place. It could well be that the NFL owners lost this battle 40 years ago:
But how did this Midwest court become the focal point for so many N.F.L. legal battles and, in effect, the home field for the players? The answer is apparently in a request that [John] Mackey, the Baltimore Colts’ Hall of Fame tight end, made decades ago when he became the president of the players union in time for contract talks with the league.
“Two members of his negotiating committee, Pat Richter of the Washington Redskins and Ken Bowman of the Green Bay Packers, were in law school at the University of Wisconsin,” Ed Garvey, a former executive director of the union, said in a telephone interview. “So Mackey said, ‘Ask your law professor who we should hire as labor counsel.’ ”
Their professors pointed them to a Minneapolis law firm and one of the partners there had the bright idea that the players stood a better chance against the powerful NFL in open court than they did at the collective bargaining table.
Enter David Doty. He wasn’t the first Minnesota judge to preside over NFL labor disputes, but he is the one that NFL owners fear:
Since soon after his appointment to the bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, Doty has regularly ruled against the league. In 1988, he found against the league, in the Marvin Powell case, but was reversed on appeal. He then presided over the jury trial in 1992 that found that the league’s Plan B system of limited free agency was a violation of antitrust laws; Doty said he would impose his own version of free agency if the league and union did not negotiate their own, which they did in early 1993.
From then until Friday, Doty oversaw what became known as the Reggie White settlement and the N.F.L. labor agreements that followed. Much of that oversight dealt with appeals of decisions made by a special master. He has upheld some of the special master’s rulings in favor of the league. But this month, he reversed one, saying that the league acted against players’ interests in failing to maximize revenue from networks when it renegotiated its current television deals. He could thus prevent the league from using $4 billion in television revenue during the lockout.
The owners claim that Doty is biased against them. Right, 32 NFL owners who enjoy almost inscrutable wealth can’t conceive of a world where reasonable people think they are wrong.
Doty seems to have the proper perspective on all of this:
In another interview, in Sports Business Journal three years ago, Doty looked back at the Powell case and said that team owners “pretend they’re getting beaten around.”
“Well, they did, initially, but they had a position that was not legally sound,” he added. Referring to Paul Tagliabue, who was a lawyer for the league and went on to become its commissioner, he said, “I think if you ask Tagliabue, he would say, ‘The whole thing has come our way.’ ” Although the owners have complained, Doty added, “all they’ve done is make tons of money.”
But the owners would give it all up for just a little bit more.
Currently, Doty isn’t assigned the Brady v. NFL case. But the players will argue that it should go to him because the current dispute arises out of his previous rulings.
If David Boies can prevent that from happening and keep this case out of Doty’s courtroom, he’ll have earned whatever the NFL is paying him.
But the owners are still in court in Minnesota. I bet Doty isn’t the only judge up there who is relatively unsympathetic to the petulant desires of 32 billionaires.