Hiding in plain sight for more than three years, the civil suit against the Giants and quarterback Eli Manning alleging fraudulent memorabilia sales took on new significance on Thursday, via the report from the New York Post regarding an arguable smoking-gun email from Manning that the plaintiffs believe proves active involvement in a scheme to pass off helmets as game used when they weren’t.
At a time when plenty (including Chris Christie) have a lot to say about it, the NFL has nothing to say.
“We will decline comment,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy told PFT by email on Friday evening.
Although the situation doesn’t involve the violation of any in-game rules and despite the fact that no criminal charges have been filed, the NFL could wedge the situation into the scope of the Personal Conduct Policy, if the league wants to proceed in that fashion.
“Conduct by anyone in the league that is illegal, violent, dangerous, or irresponsible puts innocent victims at risk, damages the reputation of others in the game, and undercuts public respect and support for the NFL,” the Personal Conduct Policy broadly provides in one of its preliminary paragraphs. “We must endeavor at all times to be people of high character; we must show respect for others inside and outside our workplace; and we must strive to conduct ourselves in ways that favorably reflect on ourselves, our teams, the communities we represent, and the NFL.”
The laundry list of prohibited acts appearing later in the policy includes the following: “Crimes of dishonesty such as blackmail, extortion, fraud, money laundering, or racketeering.”
Pre-Ray Rice, there could be no crime without a criminal prosecution. Now that the league has decided to disregard the decisions made by the criminal justice system and to engage in its own investigation, it’s possible (if the league so desires) that this situation could result in not only a review but also the imposition of discipline.
The league could proceed now if it wants. If a verdict ultimately is entered against the Giants and/or Eli, it would be harder for the NFL to do nothing. Either way, the Giants and Eli need to take into account the possibility of a league investigation when considering whether to settle the case before any additional proof of fraud or other conduct prohibited by the Personal Conduct Policy becomes public.