The legal skirmishes arising from the implosion of the Alliance of American Football will last far longer than the league’s only season did. And, at times, they will become very confusing.
Via Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com, AAF co-founder Charlie Ebersol has responded to a class action alleging fraud on behalf of the league’s former players by alleging that the players, not the league, engaged in fraud.
The court documents, per Rothstein, claim that the AAF’s players committed “intentional misrepresentations,” that they engaged in “material breaches of obligations,” and that they “directly interfered with Defendant’s performance of its obligations.” Ebersol also, per the report, contends that an unspecified third parties engaged in “intentional intervening acts” that shield Ebersol from liability.
While stunning and bizarre on the surface, it’s possible (if not likely) that the highlighted allegations appear in the exhaustive list of so-called “affirmative defenses” that are routinely articulated in response to virtually every civil action. Basically, the parties who are sued will state every potential defense that they possibly will make at any stage of the case, regardless of whether the evidence ever supports those defenses. Civil defendants make those claims as placeholders in the event (often highly unlikely) that evidence eventually will be developed to justify those defenses. If/when that happens, the fact that the plaintiffs have been placed on notice of the potential defenses avoids a potential argument that, by not stating the defenses at the outset of the case, the defenses have been waived.
Still, in cases that will draw significant media attention, the practice of setting forth boilerplate affirmative defenses can take on a different vibe, creating the impression that the defendants are making unreasonably and unfair accusation. Which is exactly what seems to be happening here.
Not that Ebersol cares or should care about those niceties. At this point, he’s simply trying to get out of this mess without losing any more of his own money than he already has lost in what has become a spectacular failure of a football league. Losing another P.R. battle in a war that he already has surrendered means nothing to the broader objective of minimizing the personal fallout from his misadventures in spring football.