Now I think ya going to see a guy who will go that inch with you. Your gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team, because he knows when it comes down to it your gonna do the same for him. That’s a team gentlemen, and either, we heal as a team, or we will die as individuals. That’s football guys, that’s all it is. – Al Pacino, Any Given Sunday
Troy Pelshak In Brief
When Troy Pelshak started his rookie year with the St. Louis Rams in 1999, the team had the worst record in the league. The year before his rookie season the Rams won four out of sixteen games. At the start of the 1999 – 2000 season, the Rams had the longest shot at winning Superbowl XXXIV. According to Pelshak, the Rams could not get its team combination correct. Throughout his football career he had never played linebacker or on the defensive line. The Rams coach, Dick Vermeil decided to position Pelshak as an outside linebacker and defensive end.
Vermeil’s coaching decisions proved effective because the Rams started beating teams left and right and putting up amazing numbers. Pelshak said, “the crowning victory [of that season] were they were able to win [the Superbowl] for a great coach.” He described the feeling of winning the Superbowl as “becoming the president” there is no higher achievement that can be met.
The game of football is adversarial at every level. There is the contract negotiation with the player and the team that is seeking to sign the player. The main element of an NFL contract is the money is not guaranteed. The only money that is guaranteed is the money up front. The NFL is the only sport where this is the case. A team can void the player’s contract at any time.
Pelshak’s time in the league taught him many valuable lessons. He recommends that players structure themselves as a business, by forming corporations. He suggests that players conduct all business transactions through their company, including having the NFL sign the corporation rather than the player. Pelshak says this will limit the player’s personal liability on contracts. He also advises players to partner with a good attorney that has the legal acumen to protect the player’s corporation and brand.
The images we see of the NFL portray its glamorous side, but at its core it is a game embedded in risk and uncertainty. Last week, over 2,000 NFL players filed a consolidated master complaint against the NFL. The complaint alleges, “The NFL, like the sport of boxing, was aware of the health risks associated with repetitive blows producing sub-concussive and concussive results and the fact that some members of the NFL player population were at significant risk of developing long-term brain damage and cognitive decline as a result.”
During our phone interview, Pelshak said he does not know who is liable in the NFL head injury lawsuit. He stated the “NFL approves the best equipment out there.” In response to the lawsuit, the NFL stated that, “The league in partnership with the NFL Players Association has spent more than a billion dollars on pensions, medical and disability benefits for retired players.” Pelshak pointed out that retired NFL players have to make monthly payments to maintain certain benefits…it’s similar to COBRA. The issue is that many former players cannot afford to make the payments to continue the long-term disability coverage offered by the League. This is because scores of formers players earned less than $100,000 or have lost most of the money they earned during their time in the league.
J. Paye In Brief
Troy Pelshak offered several ways players can protect themselves during his interview. Forming a corporation does provide certain benefits. A player should talk to a knowledgeable business law attorney to evaluate whether forming a business entity is in his best interest. A player can protect himself by having a lawyer review and negotiate terms into his business contracts that limit his personal liability.
The NFL head injury lawsuit is complicated on many levels. The players will have to show the multiple head blows and concussions they sustained during their NFL career caused their head injuries. This is going to be difficult because, the players in the suit could have experienced head trauma during their high school or college football careers that could have caused the symptoms and illnesses described in the complaint. Additionally, the players could have engaged in activities after their NFL careers, which could be the source of their injuries.
Each team self reports the number of concussions suffered by each player on the team to the League. The problem is not every concussion gets reported to the League. The players in the suit will have to show the law imposes a duty on the League to protect players from unknown concussions and sub-concussions.
In 2010, the NFL earned about $9 billion in revenues. The NFL is facing the possibility of paying billions of dollars in damages to the over 2,000 named plaintiffs, who are growing in number everyday. With this level of liability, the NFL will seek to end this case in the early stages. Both the NFL and Riddell have until August 9, 2012, to file a responsive pleading, which will most likely be a Motion to Dismiss.
Many of the players in the suit sacrificed themselves physically, for their team, the League and fans. The outcome of this lawsuit will determine if the NFL will be able to heal as a team or if players will continue to die as individuals as they struggle with cognitive complications like depression, paranoia, panic attacks and early-onset dementia.
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