Before and during the lockout, the NFL and the NFLPA tried to get the retired players on their side, assuming that, if they could win the affections of the former players, they could leverage that into the sympathy of the average fan. In the end, the retired players took no sides.
One group of them, led by Hall of Famer Carl Eller, eventually sued both sides.
Faced with the reality that the NFL owes retired players nothing beyond that which they negotiated for themselves during their playing careers, the Eller lawsuit eventually was dismissed. But Eller and company aren’t going away.
Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports reports that Eller and a slew of retired players have filed a new class action. The rest of the named plaintiffs include Chuck Bednarik, Paul Krause, Lem Barney, Joe DeLamiellure, Willie Wood, Bob Lilly, Elvin Bethea, John Hannah, Ron Yary, Leroy Kelly, Jackie Smith, Charley Taylor, Bob St. Clair, Gino Marchetti, Mel Renfro, Dan Hamptom, Don Maynward, Tommy McDonald, Larry Little, Rayfield Wright, and Kyle Turley.
The new suit doesn’t target the league. The plaintiffs have sued the NFLPA, its executive director DeMaurice Smith, and only two of the 10 named plaintiffs in the antitrust case filed in March against the NFL: retired linebacker Mike Vrabel and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
The 51-page lawsuit, a link to which Wetzel provides, seeks a declaration that the NFLPA had no right to negotiate on behalf of the retired players during the time that it wasn’t a union, along with a claim that the NFLPA intentionally interfered with the retired players’ rights against the NFL and an assertion that the NFLPA had a “fiduciary duty” to the retired players, which the NFLPA allegedly violated by negotiating a new CBA that advanced the rights of current players at the expense of retired players.
Eller and the rest of the named plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in the Minnesota federal court, the venue in which the NFLPA and its players have for decades sought refuge against the NFL.
The first question is whether the NFLPA will add the NFL as what the legal system calls a third-party defendant, or possibly attack the lawsuit based on the failure of the Eller plaintiffs to join the NFL as a primary defendant. Although the retired players most likely have no legal right to any benefits from the league that the league didn’t promise during their playing careers, the allegation that the NFLPA assumed a fiduciary duty could spell trouble for the union, if Eller and company can prove that the NFLPA put the interests of current players above the interests of retired players.
Since, as Wetzel points out, the case won’t affect the 10 years of labor peace to which the league and the NFLPA agreed in July, most fans won’t care about this one. Given that some of the games all-time greats are suing only four defendants and that one of them is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, it makes sense to at least keep an eye on this one.