On Monday, the first tangible suggestion emerged that fraud occurred in connection with the cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game, with quotes from Colts punter Pat McAfee coupled with a statement from lawyer Michael Avenatti making it clear that, eventually, the lawsuit filed two weeks ago will be revised to assert deliberate deceit. The Hall of Fame thereafter called the accusation “totally baseless.” Appearing on Tuesday’s PFT Live, I asked Avenatti why he believes fraud happened.
“Well, I don’t believe fraud occurred, I know fraud occurred,” Avenatti said, “because people are coming out of the woodwork now and providing us with facts and evidence that shows no question that fraud occurred on behalf of the league and the Hall of Fame. The reason why we know that now is because, for instance, Pat McAfee on the morning after the game gave a podcast during which he described exactly what he witnessed in connection with the cancellation of the game. . . . The league and the Hall of Fame informed the players, ninety players to the Packers and ninety players for the Colts, at least an hour and a half before they told the fans that the game was cancelled. Then to make matters worse they told those same individuals not to say anything about it, to tweet about it, et cetera. They clearly tried to cover this up and keep it from the fans in the interest of money.”
The argument the Hall of Fame withheld the information from fans to keep them in the stadium, buying food, drink, programs, and other merchandise that otherwise wouldn’t have been sold.
“The Hall of Fame and the league have yet to provide an answer to the following very basic question. Why did you tell the players, personnel and ESPN that the game was cancelled but you waited an hour and a half, two hours to tell the fans? They don’t have an answer for that question. . . . Someone needs to pose this question again to the Hall of Fame and the NFL and ensure they answer it. Why didn’t you tell the fans at the same time you told ESPN and the players and why did it take you at least an hour and a half to do so? They haven’t answered that question. They don’t want to answer the question because the answer is ugly.”
Avenatti eventually will have a chance to force someone to answer the question, along with an opportunity to review phones and other electronic information for evidence that would provide the answer indirectly.
“We fully expect to uncover text messages demonstrating [fraud],” Avenatti said. “I will tell you this, and this has not been announced previously, we know for a fact that a text message was sent out to members of the Hall of Fame or individuals assisting the Hall of Fame with VIP guests informing them that the game was cancelled and also expressly telling them not to tell the fans. When we get our hands on that text message the NFL and the Hall of Fame have a serious, serious problem and we expect this to reach all the way to the top. We don’t believe that some middle manager made this decision. Commissioner Goodell and Mr. Baker, the head of the Hall of Fame, are going have a lot of explaining to do in connection with the case.”
The league and the Hall of Fame have done no specific explaining yet. Eventually, they’ll be required to do so within the confines of litigation that wasn’t settled last week.
“Too many people knew about this and too many people were involved with this, and now we’re learning the truth about the timeline and what really happened,” Avenatti said. “This is going to get very, very ugly for the league and the Hall of Fame as time progresses. They should have taken our $450 [per customer] offer. Instead, they decided they want to pay their lawyers millions and this is not going end well I can assure you that.”
It will likely take a while for it to end, given the speed with which civil litigation often moves, or doesn’t move. At some point, though, the truth will come out — whatever it may be.