One of the first lessons in law school goes like this: When the facts are on your side, pound on the facts. When the law is on your side, pound on the law. When neither is on your side, pound on the table.
Antonio Brown‘s legal team is pounding on the table.
After nearly a week of silence from Brown’s side regarding bizarre circumstances that have kept him from practicing, someone (presumably, someone from his legal team) is talking a blue streak. An unnamed source has leaked an intriguing nugget regarding an argument made during Friday’s grievance hearing regarding Brown’s refusal to swap his outdated helmet for a new model.
Daniel Kaplan of TheAthletic.com reports that Brown’s case included a warning that “if [Brown] suffered a head injury in a helmet that he is compelled to wear, he would hold the league liable.”
The source also provided this quote to Kaplan: “I think it’ll be interesting if the NFL forces Antonio to wear a different helmet. And he does play and he doesn’t retire as some people have reported he will do. And then he suffers a really severe injury. I’d hate to be the NFL. Because now you’ve forced him into wearing a different type of helmet. And I think at that point, though, the liability will be dramatic.”
It won’t be. There will be no liability. The NFL and the NFL Players Association have worked closely together to devise safety rules aimed at approving certain helmets and disqualifying certain others. The entire goal is to ensure that players have the safest possible equipment while playing.
Moreover, there can be no liability without compelling proof of causation. How would Brown show that an injury for which he attempts to hold the league liable wouldn’t have happened in his old helmet? Brown would be required, through his own testimony (which would be subject to rigorous cross examination) and the testimony of qualified experts, to show that the only reason the injury happened was because he was required to wear one of the helmets approved by the NFL and the NFLPA and was prevented from wearing his outdated helmet of choice.
Also, Brown likely would have no ability to sue the NFL in court. Any relief against the league would be restricted to the procedures contained in the CBA. While he could sue the NFLPA for breach of its duty of fair representation, that’s a very high legal bar for any union member to clear.
Ultimately, no one is forcing Brown to play football. If he wants to retire, he can retire. If he wants to play in the NFL, he has to use one of the approved helmets. If he wants to play football in his old helmet, he can go to the XFL.
The bluster leaked by his legal team changes none of that. And it likely won’t do much, if anything, to win the day in the court of public opinion, because no one will be shedding tears for a guy who simply wants to keep having it his way, in any and all circumstances.