A federal jury handed a partial victory to a class of more than 2,000 retired professional football players, finding that the National Football League Players Association, at least in part, breached its contract with the retirees, violated their fiduciary obligations, and deliberately acted contrary to their interests.
Specifically, the plaintiffs were awarded $28.1 million, including $21 million in punitive damages.
The class action, Herbert Adderley v. National Football League Players Association (07-943, U.S. District Court, San Francisco), was initiated by Adderley, 69, who played in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Adderley led the class of retired players, who contended that they signed agreements entitling them to shares of licensing revenue from deals negotiated by the union. The plaintiffs’ attorneys contended that over the years, the union actually “paid little if anything to the players and ignored significant marketing opportunities, including EA’s wildly successful Madden Football videogame franchise, (which) could have been extremely lucrative for retired players, favoring instead the financial interests of the union and its for-profit licensing subsidiary Players Inc.”
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP litigation partners L. Peter Parcher, Ronald S. Katz, and Chad Hummel represented the plaintiffs.
“The jury saw through the smoke screen that the union put up at trial and sent a clear message that, for years, these retired players were shamefully disrespected and ignored by their own union,” said Katz in a statement.
Acting NFLPA Executive Director Richard Berthelsen, who promised the union would appeal, countered in a statement that “we have learned over the years that court cases are more than a one-round fight, and we fully intend to win this on appeal.”
He also added that “it is significant that the jury did not buy the retired players’ claim that they were entitled to an equal share of the active players’ group licensing money, which was the principal claim in the case. If the retired players had prevailed on that claim, their claimed damages would have been close to $90 million as opposed to the $7.1 million awarded.”