The NFL Commissioner Asks for Labor Law Reform?

Nov 6, 2009

By Paul Secunda
Who knew that the commissioner of the NFL was such a labor law aficionado? From Yahoo! News and the Assocxiated Press:
Frustrated by court decisions that blocked the suspension of two football players who tested positive for banned substances, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is asking Congress for help.
“We believe that a specific and tailored amendment to the Labor Management Relations Act is appropriate and necessary to protect collectively bargained steroid policies from attack under state law,” Goodell said in testimony prepared for a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing Tuesday.
Recent court decisions “call into question the continued viability of the steroid policies of the NFL and other national sports organizations,” Goodell said.
I have written previously about the interesting state law questions lurking in the case concerning the suspension of two Minnesota Viking players. Here is the summary of that case again that started all of this:
In Williams v. NFL (8th Cir. Sept. 11, 2009), the appeals court affirmed three legal conclusions of the district court: 1. the Minnesota statutory claims alleged by Kevin Williams and Pat Williams of the Minnesota Vikings were not preempted by section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act; 2. their Minnesota common law claims were preempted by section 301; and 3. the arbitrator’s award upholding the player’s suspensions for using banned substances would be upheld. The NFL Players Associations was at least initially successful in getting it claims heard that they had some statutory defenses to the suspensions under the Minnesota Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace Act and the Minnesota Consumable Products Act.
My colleague Matt Mitten, director of the National Sports Law Institute here at Marquette, thinks the court got it wrong:
“The court gives no consideration to a national professional sports league’s need for uniform rules by permitting state law to invalidate the terms of a collectively bargained anti-doping program. It conflicts with other federal appellate cases holding that state labor, antitrust, administrative, and tort laws cannot be used to regulate national sports leagues and governing bodies, which require rules that must be applied and enforced consistently nationwide. It’s almost certain the NFL will petition the Supreme Court for cert., and I think there’s a reasonable chance the Court will grant its petition.”
Major league baseball also believes in a legislative fix:
Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of labor relations, also discussed a legislative remedy in his testimony, saying “a narrowly drafted statute could solve the problem faced by professional sports” while preserving the role of collective bargaining in drug programs without interfering with states’ prerogatives.
Legislatively or judicially, it would not be surprising if what came out of all of this was some changes in the law which permit professional sports leagues some form of preemptive power to maintain uniformity in their substance abuse policies.
Secunda is an Associate Professor of Law at the Marquette University Law School. This post originally appeared on the “Faculty Blog.”


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