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Marshall stabbing highlights ambiguity of lockout contact rules

Brandon Marshall, Tony Sparano AP

On Thursday, Commissioner Roger Goodell called Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco, despite a supposed bright-line preventing contact between management and labor during the lockout.  They spoke for an hour, despite a supposed bright-line preventing contact between management and labor during the lockout.  The league initially explained the one-hour call away as “normal social interaction,” despite a supposed bright-line preventing contact between management and labor during the lockout.  And the league justified the do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do perception created by the interaction by explaining that the teams are permitted to engage in “normal social interaction” as well, despite a supposed bright-line preventing contact between management and labor during the lockout.

So when Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall caught on Friday night the point of something other than a football, the Dolphins were allowed to engage in the “normal social interaction” that would follow a stabbing, right?

Wrong.

“We are aware of the reports and our thoughts are with Brandon at this time,” the team said after the incident.  “We will look into the matter, but because we are not allowed to have any contact with any of our players, we will refrain from making any further comment.”

In other words, the league office’s attitude remains, “Do as we say not as we do.”

NFL executive V.P. of business ventures and CFO Eric Grubman confirmed that position, in a roundabout way, during Friday’s session with Associated Press sports editors.  “I don’t think either players or league and club employees will reach out more because the Commissioner talked to Chad Ochocinco, and may talk to another player,” Grubman said.  “I think the rules of the road are very clear that charity events, purely happenstance, social-type interactions — that’s going to happen and there’s really no issue with that from either side.  Anything that has to do with a player’s health to the extent that there was an injury prior to the work stoppage has very specific rules.  There can be interaction and the interaction is defined.  Anything else is prohibited and won’t occur.  I don’t think as time goes on that the tendency will be for those interactions to go up.  That’s actually the other way around.  I think when people stop talking to each other and time goes on, they talk less, not more.  I think that’s what’s really unfortunate about not being in negotiations.”

In other words, the Commissioner can call players and shoot the breeze for an hour or longer, but teams and coaches can’t, even though the Goodell call to Ochocinco was explained by suggesting that teams can do the same thing Goodell had just done.

The league’s concern arises in part from the possibility that one of these phone calls will become evidence in one of the various potential pending or future legal proceedings between the league and the players.  With each interaction, the possibly increases that a player will claim that something was said that wasn’t really said — something that helps the players’ position on a specific issue in controversy.

“When the litigation attorneys take over, you have to view everything through that lens,” Grubman said.  “So the instructions to the clubs are, while this particular behavior may be OK, that’s not the way a litigator will look at it, and therefore, the guidelines are, don’t call.  Does that mean if there were a death in the family, or a baby born, that somebody wouldn’t call or send a note of congratulations?  No, but people have to understand the risks of all that stuff being viewed by a litigator from the other side.  So the consequence of that is that clubs get their instructions from the league, and then they give their instructions to the employees.  The easy thing to do is say, you can’t call.  That’s the best protection.  It doesn’t hurt anyone whose motivations are genuine.  To the extent that somebody bumps into one another at the cupcake shop, that’s not going to be an issue.”

That’s fine, even with the reference to a “cupcake shop.”  But shouldn’t that same attitude apply to the Commissioner?  Perhaps the league office is confident that Goodell won’t say anything he shouldn’t say, given that he routinely must navigate while speaking extemporaneously the potential land mines that could hurt the league’s position in litigation.  Or perhaps the league is confident that a player like Chad Ochocinco won’t try to twist and turn Goodell’s words — or that if Ochocinco tried a lawyer like David Boies would successfully twist Ochocinco into 85 knots.

NFL executive V.P. of football operations Ray Anderson justified the double standard by pointing out that permitting communications between players and teams could tilt the playing field, if abused.

Further, one of the impetuses behind that prohibition is to make sure that you’re not getting a competitive edge — coaches or scouts — talking to players during this time,” Grubman said.  “So the prohibition is so that each of the 32 teams understands — don’t try to get an edge by having these conversations that are charading as social.  Just don’t do it.  In addition to the litigation risks, that is really important to preserve a competitive, level playing field.  But we also advise common sense.  If I’m going to a wedding and I run into an assistant coach who is a very good friend with a running back, I’m going to have a glass of champagne and toast with him.  I’m just not going to talk about X’s and O’s and the labor issues.”

Again, that’s fine.  But if that’s the case, the league shouldn’t have tried to justify Goodell’s call to Ochocinco by implying that it would be permissible for coaches to engage in similar “normal social interactions.”

Bottom line?  The league office can, and the teams can’t.

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20 Responses to “Marshall stabbing highlights ambiguity of lockout contact rules”
  1. kissbillsrings says: Apr 24, 2011 12:47 PM

    Again, this is the commisioner talking to a random player not a coach talking to a random player or one of his own….I don’t see how this is even an issue in comparrison of the two….

  2. puregreed says: Apr 24, 2011 12:48 PM

    Who cares if the commish talks to the players?
    That would have to be the longest article about nothing I have ever seen, sorry did not read. I come for the comments the articles on this site suck.

  3. prmpft says: Apr 24, 2011 12:52 PM

    “Marshall stabbing highlights ambiguity of lockout contact rules”
    *********************************************
    marshall stabbing highlights the rampant existance of IDIOCY among NFL players…

  4. hoobsher says: Apr 24, 2011 1:19 PM

    i would rather talk to a stab victim than talk an hour on the phone with ochocinco

  5. fooath says: Apr 24, 2011 2:03 PM

    Bottom line? The league office can, and the teams can’t.
    ——————————————————

    What is the issue anyway? The rules are like this for a reason, and it’s not to prevent the Commissioner from…what, convincing OchoCinco to sign with the Jets? Talk to him about the Bengals offense? I’m not sure why this is being compared to team officials speaking with players, other than what were some poorly chosen words when the league tried to explain it.

  6. kevsright says: Apr 24, 2011 2:05 PM

    Rule # 1
    Avoid contact with wife’s knife. :idea:

  7. thefactor51 says: Apr 24, 2011 2:09 PM

    I had to put this out here. I am a player and I understand that I cannot have contact with coaches and staff. But my wife is friends with the coaches wives and my kids are friends with their kids. My organization has put the fear of God into their employees and now they have blackballed my wife due to all this nonsense. I mean our kids go to the same school. We live in the same neighborhood and they run away from my wife. With neither of our spouses being employees of the NFL why is this an issue? I was told by our head of security that this wouldn’t be an issue. My wife got a text from one of these ladies and it was from an anonymous phone number. My wife wrote a message on her friends facebook commenting on a picture and they wrote her and asked her not to post comments on her page. Are you serious?

  8. smacklayer says: Apr 24, 2011 2:12 PM

    You’re making a big deal over nothing. This is a non-story

  9. iamtalkingsolistenandlearn says: Apr 24, 2011 2:14 PM

    Lord Goodell can do what he wants. He is the Commish, the CEO, the head honcho, the big cheese, the top dog.

  10. hobartbaker says: Apr 24, 2011 2:42 PM

    At the rookie symposium, Marshall raised his shirt to display the scar on his abdomen and advised the noobs, “Remember, her butt NEVER looks fat in those pants. Never.”.

  11. ezra954 says: Apr 24, 2011 2:44 PM

    I wonder if his jail time will be longer than the lockout

  12. MMJDO says: Apr 24, 2011 3:30 PM

    Well at least he didn’t jump off a pickup truck.

  13. freedomispopular says: Apr 24, 2011 3:31 PM

    So let me see if I can clear this up…there’s supposed to be a bright-line preventing contact between management and labor during the lockout?

  14. Kave Krew says: Apr 24, 2011 3:53 PM

    There’s a time when the rules have to be bended a bit, and this kid needs some guidance……who would hold it against the NFL or the Dolphins to get this kid the help he needs…

  15. Deb says: Apr 24, 2011 6:02 PM

    The issue isn’t that Goodell is commissioner and is bound by different rules than the team. The issue is that Goodell doesn’t care what kind of problems he causes for the teams because he is Goodell and he’s special.

    He’s an unscrupulous man who should not hold that position. And if Ochocinco worked for your company, the nicest thing you’d have to say about him after he tweeted about the “cool as fudge” CEO is brown-noser.

    @Mike …

    You’re scrounging for material, so follow up on theFactor51’s post and write an article on some of the idiotic ways the lockout is affecting player wives and kids.

  16. barklikeadog says: Apr 24, 2011 7:04 PM

    WTF was that all about? Did anyone understand this article?

  17. CKL says: Apr 24, 2011 7:49 PM

    thefactor51 says: Apr 24, 2011 2:09 PM

    I had to put this out here. I am a player and I understand that I cannot have contact with coaches and staff. But my wife is friends with the coaches wives and my kids are friends with their kids. My organization has put the fear of God into their employees and now they have blackballed my wife due to all this nonsense. I mean our kids go to the same school. We live in the same neighborhood and they run away from my wife. With neither of our spouses being employees of the NFL why is this an issue? I was told by our head of security that this wouldn’t be an issue. My wife got a text from one of these ladies and it was from an anonymous phone number. My wife wrote a message on her friends facebook commenting on a picture and they wrote her and asked her not to post comments on her page. Are you serious?
    _______________________________________
    I hope Goodell reads this but I doubt it. It IS insanity.
    I am guessing your wife’s friends who are coaches’ wives are scared their husbands will get fired because according to what I heard Mayock saying recently the NFL has the authority to and will FIRE any coach who they feel is violating the contact policy. I have zero understanding of how the NFL can fire anyone they don’t employ…but there it is. While I HOPE the NFL would not fire a coach whose wife talks to a player’s wife I am guessing those coaches wives are simply being overly cautious just in case. I wouldn’t put it past the league office to have eyes out there watching.

  18. FinFan68 says: Apr 24, 2011 10:33 PM

    Blame the lawyers. I see nothing wrong with a congratulatory phone call for a family/personal milestone achieved or a quick “we’re thinking of you” type call to Marshall in the hospital. Anything beyond that would be pushing it and asking for trouble. Trying to game the system for a competitive advantage lacks integrity which is, or at least should be, the cornerstone of the personal conduct policy. If Goodell starts calling guys like Talib that have gotten into legal trouble, then I would say he is crossing a line. As for the wives/family members crap, that is ridiculous and it shouldn’t be that way. Lawyers will use anything to gain advantage and even innocent comments can be twisted. It’s a shame that people act stupidly in situations like this for fear of any unintended consequences. Hopefully no real damage will be done to friendly relationships because a business deal can’t be done. When each side shows they can be trustworthy then a deal has a chance, until then we will have to wait for one side to freak out after an unfavorable court ruling.

  19. eagleswin says: Apr 25, 2011 7:56 AM

    I wonder if Marshall’s health insurance is up to date. I know it’s just a drop in the bucket with him making $10mill/yr but did he actually take the time to fill out the paperwork?

  20. dspyank2k11 says: Apr 25, 2011 8:21 AM

    The longer the lockout continues, the more of this we will see on PFT.

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