Deflategate Decision: What It Means For The Future Of Pro Sports

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Tom Brady won again this week, but not on the football field. U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman threw out the reigning Super Bowl champion quarterback's four-game suspension. Brady was banned from four games by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his alleged role in the 'Deflategate' scandal. The NFL has appealed the ruling.

Sports attorney Alan Milstein was in the courtroom during the arbitration and joined Bill Littlefield to talk about what the decision means for all professional athletes.

I’ve said that this case is a little bit like a 'Seinfeld' episode: about absolutely nothing -- about one ball being perhaps 2 PSI light.

Alan Milstein, sports attorney

BL: Alan, this seems to be the story that will not go away. Has this all just been too much fuss over too little substance?

AM: Well, you know, I’ve said that this case is a little bit like a "Seinfeld" episode: about absolutely nothing — about one ball being perhaps being 2 PSI light.

BL: But as a matter of law, is this case worthy of all the attention it's gotten?

AM: As a matter of law it is. What this opinion says is even if you’re contractually obligated to arbitrate, you’re still entitled to fundamental fairness and an impartial arbitrator.

I think it’s important for all of us to know that even if we have to arbitrate instead of going to court, we’re entitled to a neutral arbitrator. We’re entitled to produce the evidence that we need and to call the witnesses we need to call.

BL: We are conducting this discussion on a fairly high plain because I don’t think what you and I have been talking about is why so many people have been obsessed with Deflategate, do you?

AM: No, I think people are obsessed with Deflategate because it’s Tom Brady, arguably the best quarterback in the history of the game, and the New England Patriots, arguably the best franchise in the history of the game.

BL: You took the NFL to court back in 2003 as the lead attorney for former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett. Has taking on the NFL become any easier over the past decade or so?

Certainly in the last 50 years, the power of these aristocrats has greatly diminished.

Alan Milstein, sports attorney

BL: [laughs] Because he would have screwed it up?

AM: He would have screwed it up! Yeah, I think it definitely has become easier. But it’s also the players are much wealthier than they used to be, so suspensions really mean a lot of money, and there’s just a lot at stake.

BL: Are athletes going to court more often? Or are we just hearing about their cases more because there’s more money involved, the stakes are higher?

AM: No, I think they are going to court more often. There are more kinds of issues. When I went to law school, a sports law class was primarily tax law with a little bit of antitrust. Now of course, virtually every kind of issue gets into litigation involving athletes.

It ranges from bio-ethical issues such as whether an athlete can be compelled to give a DNA sample to issues like what occurred at Oklahoma State University with a kid, really, who was denied access to an attorney and was suspended. So it’s not just athletes suing leagues; it’s athletes suing the NCAA. It’s really individuals sticking up for their rights.

BL: Now that athletes are more likely to know those rights, and the professionals, at least, are likely to have plenty of money to hire lawyers, should sports leagues and team owners be more worried than they have been in the past?

AM: Well, certainly in the last 50 years, the power of these aristocrats has greatly diminished. And I think that’s a good thing. The NFL is still a lot different than Major League Baseball. In major League Baseball, the league is very good at celebrating its players. The league understands that the players are the game. The NFL still thinks it’s the game, the team is the game, not the players.

This segment aired on September 5, 2015.



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