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Ellison told to stay away from team, could lose roster spot

Some players can afford to be arrested and not worry about losing their jobs.  Chargers safety Kevin Ellison is not one of those players.

Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Ellison was told to stay away from the team’s minicamp this week, which puts his job in further danger.  Even before Ellison was pulled over for speeding and found with 100 pills of Vicodin, he was hardly a lock to make the team.

Now it appears like Ellison isn’t even a lock to be on the roster by training camp. A sixth-round pick, Ellison started started nine games as a rookie, but the team drafted Darrell Stuckey in the fourth round last month to add speed to the position.

The unfortunate timing of Ellison’s arrest could have him speeding right off the roster.

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Source: Ellison didn't get Vicodin from Chargers

In explaining the presence of 100 Vicodin pills in the vehicle of Chargers safety Kevin Ellison, agent Jerome Stanley implied (in our opinion) that Ellison had gotten the pills from the team.

Though Stanley never said it (ergo our decision to use the word “implied”), the suggestion that he didn’t want to “go back and forth” and “have to bother anyone” for pills aimed at “last[ing] the season” due to “knee surgery” (which he had more than a year ago), it’s more than reasonable to assume that Stanley was indicating that Ellison got the Vicodin from his employer.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, however, Ellison didn’t get the Vicodin from the Chargers.

If the authorities fully investigate the situation, they’ll likely learn that the Chargers indeed did not give the Vicodin to Ellison, who may have a hard time proving that he got the drugs through legitimate means.

Which could make it hard for him to stay out of jail.

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Pat, Kevin Williams officially file StarCaps appeal

When Judge Gary Larson ruled on Friday that the NFL won’t be permitted to suspend Vikings defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams pending appeal of Larson’s decision that they can be suspended even though the league violated Minnesota law in connection with their drug tests, Larson hinged the injunction on whether they formally appeal the ruling.

According to Rochelle Olson and Judd Zulgad of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, they have.

And so the suspensions will be blocked while the appellate process unfolds.  As a practical matter, it’ll take at least the full 2010 season for two levels of appeals to be exhausted.

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Kevin Ellison case puts Vicodin glare on Chargers

News of the lawsuit filed against the Saints for allegedly covering up the misuse and/or theft of Vicodin from the team’s in-house drug locker raised serious questions regarding the manner in which NFL teams manage potent narcotics.

The arrest of Chargers safety Kevin Ellison serves only to amplify the problem.

According to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, agent Jerome Stanley claims that Ellison had 100 Vicodin pills because he wanted to have enough on hand.  Ellison had knee surgery after his final season of college football.

“He thought it was a good idea to get enough pain killers to last the
,” Stanley said.  “They were for him to use
because of his knee surgery.”

We’re not sure which “season” Stanley was referring to.  Spring?  Summer?  If he means the 2010 football season, Ellison will likely need a lot more than 100.

Ellison supposedly did not want to “go back and forth” to the team for the medication, and he didn’t want to “have to bother anyone” for the pills.

Regardless of Ellison’s explanation, the implication is that the Chargers issued Ellison 100 Vicodin pills at once.  And the question becomes why they’d give him so many, especially since he’ll be at the facility on numerous occasions as part of offseason workouts.

So while the details on this one remain to be sorted out, we tend to think that more teams should follow the approach that one unnamed trainer shared not long ago with Gary Myers of the New York Daily News.  Teams shouldn’t keep their own supply of prescription medications.  They should simply have prescriptions issued by a physician directly to each player, and the requisite amounts should be provided to the players on a daily or weekly basis.

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Saints player arrested over the weekend

The offseason continues to be the time of year when players are left more to their own devices, and thus some have less occasion to comply with the law.


Over the weekend, Saints rookie Harry Coleman was busted for simple battery, according to James Varney of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Details are sketchy, and law enforcement officials have speculated that the incident occurred at a Chitimacha casino.

Coleman joined the Saints as an undrafted free agent, so he was already a long shot to make it to the 53-man roster.  His chances just got even slimmer.

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Chargers express disappointment regarding Kevin Ellison arrest

We’ve received plenty of e-mails from readers this afternoon regarding the arrest of Chargers safety Kevin Ellison for possession of 100 Vicodin pills.  And that tells us that not enough of you are clicking “next” at the bottom of the first page of the Rumor Mill.

So we needed to find a way to legitimately mention the case again.  When the Chargers issued a statement on the situation, we did.

“It’s disappointing to hear about the issue involving Kevin Ellison,” said G.M. A.J. Smith, the man who picked Ellison in the sixth round of the 2009 draft.  “We’ll continue to monitor the situation and let the legal process run its course.”

It’s the right move by the Chargers.  The league has exclusive jurisdiction over matters of this nature, and the teams have no power to discipline a player charged or convicted of a drug-related offense.

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Chargers safety busted with 100 Vicodin pills

KeithEllisonMugshot.pngLess than a month after the Saints found themselves facing allegations regarding the misuse and/or abuse of Vicodin by two members of the coaching staff, the Chargers have a player who faces criminal charges of possession of the powerful pain medication.

After being stopped for speeding in the vicinity of the high school he once attended, police found 100 Vicodin pills in the vehicle driven by safety Kevin Ellison.  He was released on $10,000 bail.

Ellison, a sixth-round pick in the 2009 draft, started nine games as a rookie in San Diego.  He attended USC.

His brother, Keith, plays linebacker for the Bills.

Several years ago, another Chargers safety, Terrence Kiel, was charged with shipping codeine-laced cough syrup to Houston.  Kiel later died in an automobile accident.

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Jeff Pash promises victory in American Needle, says it won’t affect CBA talks

In a Monday discussion with reporters at the ownership meetings in Dallas, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash spoke about the stunning 9-0 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in the American Needle case regarding the inapplicability of the “single entity” defense to the NFL.

“We remain very confident about the ultimate outcome of this litigation.  I have the highest degree of confidence that when it is decided it will be decided in our favor,” Pash said.

“I don’t have the slightest doubt about it,” Pash added a bit later.  “I’m as confident of that outcome as can be.”

Pash explained that today’s ruling addresses only whether the NFL can avoid liability for antitrust violations based only on the idea that the league is a “single entity.”  Thus, the league could still win the lawsuit, via the more complicated process of applying the so-called “Rule of Reason,” which looks at whether any impact on the competition and consumers is reasonable and justified.

Pash also spent several minutes explaining that the ruling has no bearing on the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the union, because in his view those matters weren’t at issue in the present case.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Pash said.  “This case was never about labor.  We never, ever, ever argued that this had anything to do with labor.  We argued to the Court that it didn’t have anything to do with labor.  And I think the Court’s opinion doesn’t address labor, not in any way, shape, or form.”

We respectfully disagree.  Pash previously has acknowledged (sort of) that the NFL regards itself as a single entity for labor purposes — and he has admitted that the league raised that issue in the antitrust case filed by the NFLPA after decertifying in the wake of the 1987 strike.  Moreover, NFL outside counsel Gregg Levy seemed to argue to the Supreme Court in January that, indeed, the single entity argument would be used as to any antitrust challenge.

So, yes, even though the American Needle case wasn’t directly about labor, there’s an impact.  The single entity defense isn’t available, if the union were to again decertify and again sue the NFL for antitrust violations.  Though the league could very well win such a lawsuit, the reality is that the silver bullet has turned out to be a dud.

Though Pash also insisted that the ruling does not create any incentive to go to the bargaining table, the league’s arsenal of weapons against the union has been diminished.  We don’t expect Pash to admit it, but it’s the truth.

And while many believed that a deal between the NFL and the union would not be hammered out until the Court issued a ruling in American Needle, the challenge for both sides will be to provide the outcome with fair and appropriate meaning.  For now, the union is making way too much out of the decision, and the NFL isn’t nearly giving it enough credence.

Hopefully, both sides adopt a more pragmatic demeanor when discussing the case behind closed doors.

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American Needle decision spawns troubling rhetoric from the union

The NFLPA was worried that a victory by the NFL in the American Needle case would allow the league to undercut any attempt by the union to eventually decertify (like it did after the 1987 strike) and sue the owners for violating antitrust laws via the imposition of rules regarding free agency and the draft.  Instead, the NFL lost the American Needle case — and the ruling is prompting the union to twist the outcome into something much more than it really is.

“Today, the United States Supreme Court again made clear that the NFL is
not exempt from the anti-trust laws that all other American businesses
must follow,” the union declares in a press release.  “In reversing the appellate court’s prior ruling, the Court
found that the 32 NFL teams do not act as a ‘single entity’ such that
they are completely exempt from Section 1 of the Sherman Act.  In other
words, the NFL — despite its best efforts — is not above the law.
Specifically, in a 9-0 decision, the Court held that NFL teams do not
possess the ‘complete unity of interest’ necessary for an exemption.
Instead, each team is a separately-owned business entity competing
vigorously against the others, both on and off the field.”

Though that first paragraph contains plenty of feisty language, it’s not grossly erroneous.  That said, the final sentence completely overlooks the closing pages of the Supreme Court decision, which expressly acknowledges that some agreements among the teams may be justified.

But then the union really comes unglued.

“Although the case arose from an apparel license, the case and today’s
decision have a broad impact on the business of the NFL as a whole,” the release states.  “Had
the Court allowed the NFL to evade the anti-trust laws, ticket prices
would have increased, free agency would have ended or been crippled, the
way we watch football on television would have been fundamentally
altered and our states and local governments would have been held
hostage by a league with a Court-issued license to run wild.”

Um, really?  Ticket prices would have increased?  How?  Why?

And how in the world would the television viewing experience have changed?  Federal law already provides an antitrust exemption for broadcasting contracts.

As to the notion that state and local governments would have been held hostage, we don’t understand that one enough to even begin to frame a coherent criticism of it.

Then the union really pushes things into overdrive.

“The case
was originally brought by American Needle, a manufacturer of NFL-branded
hats,” the union states.  “In 2000, the NFL and team owners decided they could make more
money by selling an exclusive license to one company.  Reebok purchased
that right, prompting American Needle’s suit claiming that the teams of
the NFL colluded to limit competition in violation of the anti-trust

What the union ignores is that the effort to “make more money” necessarily “makes more money” for the players, since the players get 59.6 cents on the dollar.  So, basically, the union is celebrating the fact that the NFL has been thwarted in its efforts to “make more more,” both for the NFL . . . AND FOR THE PLAYERS.

NFLPA spokesman George Atallah pointed out on Twitter that today’s ruling “doesn’t mean we can pop champagne just yet” and that the proper sentiment is relief.  Meanwhile, the press release issued by his organization looks to be a spraying champagne all over the NFL — and necessarily all over itself.

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American Needle case weakens sports leagues, but the extent isn’t clear

Earlier this year, as oral arguments approached in the American Needle case, some fretted that a decision in favor of the NFL would dramatically change the landscape of professional sports.

With the decision rejecting the league’s position that the 32 NFL teams are a single entity for the purposes of apparel deals, it turns out that the decision could dramatically change the landscape of professional sports.

Though limited only to the context of transactions involving the licensing of logos and other “intellectual property,” the U.S. Supreme Court’s conclusion that an effort by the 32 franchises to come together and do business jointly potentially violates antitrust law could fuel a finding that the teams of no professional sports league may come together and make collective decisions regarding key business matters like the hiring of employees, the compensation paid to players, and rules regarding free agency and the draft.

And the parties filing such lawsuits may not only be spurned apparel companies or decertified sports unions but, say, an owner of a team who wants to move the team wherever he damn well pleases, or an owner who wants to sell the team to whomever he damn well pleases.

Or an owner who wants to hire a hotshot rookie without regard to the fact that someone else has “drafted” him, or an owner who wants to sign a kid right out of high school.

The possible contours of the eventual rules are unknown, and the final answer will be subject to the precise extent of litigation that any interested parties choose to file.

That said, the Supreme Court has acknowledged generally that limits apply; the only problem is that the Supreme Court has not endeavored to identify them.  “Football teams that need to cooperate are not trapped by antitrust law,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote.  “The fact that NFL teams share an interest in making the entire league successful and profitable, and that they must cooperate in the production and scheduling of games, provides a perfectly sensible justification for making a host of collective decisions.”

Justice Stevens pointed out that the Supreme Court previously has recognized “‘that the interest in maintaining a competitive balance’ among ‘athletic teams is legitimate and important.'”  Though that interest does not allow the NFL teams to make a group deal for the purposes of marketing team logos for apparel, it “may well justify a variety of collective decisions made by the teams.”

In other words, the question of whether the NFL may combine to enter into agreements must be determined on a case-by-case basis, with specific consideration of the individual rules that are under attack.  When it comes to ensuring competitive balance via the draft and free agency, the final outcome to litigation that reaches the Supreme Court could be that the league may operate collectively.  When it comes to restricting teams from moving without the approval of 24 total owners, the final outcome to litigation that reaches the Supreme Court could be that the league can’t tell owners where to put their teams.

Every potential application of the concept is subject to further litigation.  The fact that the league lost so convincingly, via a 9-0 decision, will embolden others to seize upon the American Needle precedent in the hopes of applying it in other contexts, in the same way that many fear the NFL and other sports leagues would have done if the American Needle case had gone the other way.

For the fans, the end result isn’t clear.  To the extent that more time and attention and money are devoted to resolving lawsuits, it’s not a good thing.  To the extent that the law ultimately is applied in a manner that truly ensures the achievement of competitive balance among the 32 franchises, it’s not a bad thing.

Time will tell.  And it will take a lot of time before there’s a full spectrum of clarity in this regard.

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League downplays American Needle decision

After nearly three hours of silence that some regarded as deafening, the NFL has spoken in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the American Needle case.

In contrast to the NFL Players Association, which has declared victory, the league has downplayed the unanimous ruling that the NFL is not a single entity when it comes to negotiating licensing deals for apparel.

“In today’s decision, the Supreme Court recognized that ‘special characteristics’ of professional sports leagues, including the need for competitive balance, ‘may well justify’ business decisions that among independent competitors would otherwise be unlawful,” the statement reads.  “The court noted that the NFL teams’ shared interest in making the league successful and cooperating to produce NFL football provide ‘a perfectly sensible justification for making a host of collective decisions.’

“The decision will simply result in American Needle’s claim being sent back to the federal district court in Chicago, where the case will resume in its early stages.  We remain confident we will ultimately prevail because the league decision about how best to promote the NFL was reasonable, pro-competitive, and entirely lawful.  The Supreme Court’s decision has no bearing on collective bargaining, which is governed by labor law.”

That last sentence is the most important.  If the league had won the American Needle case, the argument that the 32 teams represent a single entity surely would have been used in other contexts.  Moving forward, the league’s argument surely will be that a ruling made as to apparel deals has no bearing in other business contexts.

The league may have a point.  But before we get too far down that path, we need to post today’s PFT Daily, which explains the link between the American Needle case and the labor deal.

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Union calls American Needle outcome "a win for players past, present and future"

We’ve promised a stream of items regarding the Supreme Court’s ruling in the American Needle case.  Here’s the one containing the union’s official response to the decision.

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is not only a win for the
players past,
present and future, but a win for the fans,” NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said.  “While the NFLPA and the
players of the National Football League are pleased with the ruling, we
remain focused on reaching a fair and equitable collective bargaining
agreement.  We hope that today also marks a renewed effort by the NFL to
bargain in good faith and avoid a lockout.”

So why is the union crowing about a case to which it wasn’t a party, and which had no bearing on labor issues in any way?  In today’s PFT Daily, which has been recorded and is currently being cleaned up (apparently my toupee had slipped), we explain the connection.

The NFL has not yet issued a statement regarding the case, apparently due in part to the fact that many of the key players are en route to Dallas for a Tuesday ownership meeting which just had an unwanted item added to the agenda.

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NFL's American Needle loss could be a win for some teams

We’ll have plenty to say about the American Needle case over the next day or so because:  (1) it’s the slow time; and (2) the subject matter falls directly within the wheelhouse of my mothballed license to practice law, which for now has been placed back in the Cracker Jack box where I first found it.

Here’s our first item of analysis on the subject.

By essentially invalidating the league’s effort to grant a collective license to one supplier of apparel and other stuff bearing NFL trademarks, the teams that have the most desirable trademarks have scored a major victory, indirectly and through no apparent efforts of their own.  Moving forward, teams like the Cowboys will be able to strike their own deals.  And teams like the Lions won’t realize the immediate benefit of the revenue from a single, global transaction with that is shared 32 ways.

Basically, any deal involving the licensing of individual team logos is now fair game.  The Cowboys can — and surely will — make their own arrangements for all sorts of things that the NFL previously sold until the umbrella of NFL Properties.

If, of course, the 32 owners decide to share the revenues from such transactions equally, the net impact to the league will be negligible.  At a time, however, when one of the unspoken areas of disagreement among the franchises comes from the ever-growing disparity in unshared revenue streams, the practical impact of the American Needle case — that each team can and must cut its own deals entailing the licensing of its logos for clothes, hats, lunch boxes, etc. — is that the issue of revenue sharing will take on even more importance going forward.

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L.T.'s defense to rape charges could still result in sex offender listing

Faced with statutory rape charges to which few defenses apply, Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor plans to rely on the failed domain master defense.

But even if a jury accepts the claim that he didn’t have sex with the prostitute to whom he paid $300 for sex, Taylor is still facing a significant legal stigma.

According to TMZ, Taylor will potentially become a registered sex offender if convicted of patronizing an underage prostitute.

Again, knowledge — or lack thereof — of the girl’s true age doesn’t matter, even if L.T. was lied to.  Lawyer Arthur Aidala nevertheless hopes that prosecutors will go easy on Taylor in light of the circumstances.

In our view, prosecutors will be less likely to cut Taylor a break on anything, given his apparent insistence on claiming that he actually didn’t get what he paid for.

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Latest StarCaps decision likely means Williamses will be available all year

We’ve obtained and digested the 11-page written opinion from Judge Gary Larson regarding his decision to extend a temporary injunction that prevents the implementation of four-game suspensions against Vikings defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams until their appeal is resolved. 

Our first impression?  It’s highly unlikely that the Williamses will be suspended at any point in the 2010 season.

Even if the NFL expedites the process before the Minnesota Court of Appeals, nothing in Judge Larson’s order suggests that it applies only to the first of two levels available to the Williamses.  After the Minnesota Court of Appeals comes the Minnesota Supreme Court, and it would be virtually unprecedented if both levels of appeal were resolved before the end of the calendar year.

Especially since none of the elected officials who’ll be handling the case benefit in any way from moving quickly to ensure that the suspensions can be enforced against two key players of the home team.

If anything, Judge Larson’s order seems to welcome scrutiny from a higher court.  He finds that the Williamses enjoy a “likelihood” of prevailing on appeal, explaining that the issues presented in the litigation “were a matter of first impression,” and that Larson had no precedent available to guide him.  Thus, even though Larson believes that there was no harm arising from the failure of the NFL to provide notice of the positive result within three days, in violation of Minnesota law, Larson seems to acknowledge that an appeals court may find that he was wr-wr-wr-wr-judicially misinformed.

“Public policy . . . dictates that [the NFL] should not be permitted to benefit from its own misconduct,” Larson wrote.  “Here, [the NFL] knew Star Caps contained Bumetanide, that players were ingesting Bumetanide, that Bumetanide was dangerous, and withheld information about Star Caps, knowing that players would suffer as a result.  [The NFL] created a trap that it knew would result in violations of the program.”

In response to the argument by the league that it would be harmed by an injunction, Judge Larson disagreed. 

“[The NFL] could have easily avoided this very situation by informing players or teams about what it already knew — that Star Caps contained a hidden, dangerous substance,” Larson explained.  “[The NFL] knew that many players were already inadvertently ingesting Bumetanide, and continued to place the health, safety, and welfare of its players in jeopardy, so that Adolpho Birch could play a game of gotcha.  The league clearly allowed a half dozen other players to use Bumetanide without punishment.”

Based on Larson’s statements, there’s a chance that the suspensions ultimately will be scuttled.  Until the appeals are resolved, Pat and Kevin Williams — and Saints defensive end Will Smith — will be permitted to keep playing.

It’s very good news for Vikings and Saints fans.  And also for NBC, which will have all three players available when the season kicks off on September 9 with a nationally-televised game between Minnesota and New Orleans.

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