MINNEAPOLIS (CN) – Retired football players want discussions to stop between the NFL and its active players, led by Tom Brady, claiming the Brady class is selling out retirees as active players cut a deal with the NFL and team owners over billions of dollars in TV revenue.
“(T)he NFLPA is sacrificing the rights and benefits earned by and owed to NFL retired players in order to increase the revenues to active NFL players,” according to the 64-page amended federal class action. “The settlement talks among the Brady plaintiffs, the NFLPA and the NFL and its member clubs with respect to former NFL players was intended to, and did, circumvent and harm retired NFL players for the benefit of the NFLPA and the NFL and its member clubs. Through the settlement they are forging, the Brady plaintiffs, the NFLPA and the NFL defendants are conspiring to set retiree benefit and pension levels at artificially low levels.”
Led by Carl Eller and Franco Harris, the retired players sued the NFL, the team owners and the class led by Tom Brady, in a Second Amended Class Action Complaint and Crossclaims.
Eller claims the active players and the league are conspiring against retirees, “by depriving them of the ability to receive the level of retirement, health and medical benefits that they could have obtained in a market free from the alleged restraint.”
The Eller plaintiffs want to stop “discussions between the NFL and the NFLPA [NFL Players Association] aimed at injuring retired NFL players … and to preclude any agreement among defendants that depresses or limits the benefits given to former NFL players from being implemented.”
The Eller plaintiffs also seek “a declaration of rights that the NFLPA cannot represent the interests of retired NFL players in the settlement or prosecution of this [Brady et al. v. NFL] litigation.”
The 64-page amended complaint is accompanied by a 6-page memo in support of a motion for leave to file it.
The Eller plaintiffs say that when the NFLPA decertified their union – a move the team owners regard as a charade – the decertification meant that the active players and the NFL were no longer protected by antitrust immunity.
The Eller plaintiffs claim that it became clear in June that the Brady plaintiffs “were negotiating issues relating to retired NFL players.” They cite a June 22 “public tweet” from Nolan Harrison, the NFLPA senior director of retired players, who wrote: “[at] each session the interest of former players have been well represented by Hall of Famer Cornelius Bennett and others.” But, the Eller plaintiffs say, “No one among the Eller plaintiffs authorized the NFLPA or the Brady plaintiffs to assume that role.”
The Eller plaintiffs add that during recent years the relationship between the NFLPA and retired NFL players has become increasingly adversarial.
When George Martin, president of NFL Alumni, tried to discuss the NFL lockout and retiree benefits with the NFLPA in March this year, he said the “atmosphere was very defiant, accusatory and outright disrespectful,” according to the complaint.
The Eller plaintiffs claim the NFLPA has been acting in “concert with the NFL in keeping retiree benefits low for many years” and “that practice was carried on in the period after its renunciation of union status.”
The Eller plaintiffs take particular exception to a statement attributed to New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, one of the Brady plaintiffs. Claiming Brees “voiced his antipathy for NFL retirees,” the Eller plaintiffs quote Bress as saying: “There’s some guys out there that have made bad business decisions. They took their pensions early because they never went out and got a job. They’ve had a couple divorces and they’re making payments to this place and that place. And that’s why they don’t have money. And they’re coming to us to basically say, ‘Please make up for my bad judgment.”
Sam Huff, a retired Hall of Fame lineman, responded by saying: “Drew Brees should keep his mouth shut. We [he and his Giants teammates from the 1950s and 1960s] would put a target on his back. I don’t understand all this crap.” (Brackets in complaint.)
The Eller plaintiffs claim the NFL and the Brady plaintiffs violated the Sherman Act and the NFLPA and Brady plaintiffs breached fiduciary duty. Their lead counsel is Mark Feinberg with Zelle Hofmann Voelbel & Mason.