The pending lawsuit over the relocation of the Rams continues to generate not nearly as much attention as it should, what with a trial looming in January, all legal obstacles to that trial removed, and owners like Stan Kroenke and Jerry Jones facing a court order to disclose financial information in support of a potential punitive damages award or pay $1,000 each per day until they do.
No NFL-owned or operated media entity — not NFL Network, NFL.com, or any team-run website — have even glanced at the third rail created by the Rams relocation litigation. To their credit, the folks at 105.3 The Fan (the Cowboys’ flagship radio station, at least for now) went there in a Friday visit with Jones, the audio of which was then posted without editing on the team’s official site.
“I can appreciate St. Louis’s concern or St. Louis’s interest in losing an NFL team,” Jones said in response to a general inquiry about the status of the case. “And I see that. I know how special they are. And so it’s a product of that. I know first hand — first hand — I’m very familiar with Missouri, and I’m very familiar with how the Rams operated in Missouri. And Stan Kroenke’s commitment and the type of sensitivity that he had and his love for Missouri. I know all of that first hand. And it was outstanding. And so every opportunity was given for the Rams to remain in St. Louis, in my view. So having said that, hopefully this thing will seek its right level.”
The folks in St. Louis may disagree with that. Strongly. Many would claim that Kroenke plotted the move from the moment he exercised a right of first refusal to match Shad Khan’s offer for the team after the passing of Georgia Frontiere. At the very latest, they’d say the plan fell into place when Kroenke bought the land in Inglewood on which SoFi Stadium would be built, followed by a series of alleged or actual lies about what he intended to do with it.
At its core, the argument is that Kroenke was never going to stay in St. Louis, that he and the league went through the motions of the relocation guidelines pending an ownership-vote rubber stamp that would authorize a move, relocation guidelines be damned. And while folks like Jones would say that all’s fair in love, war, football, and multi-billion-dollar construction projects, lines may have been crossed. Barring a settlement, a trial will occur on that very question.
Some of the scant national reporting on the subject suggests that the league is willing to hang its hat on the appeal process (which to date hasn’t done much to get the league what it wants, whether that’s an order compelling arbitration or a reversal of the mandate to surrender financial information). That could be what Jones means when he vaguely says that “hopefully this thing will seek its right level.” Its right appellate level, where judges with the power to review the decisions made in St. Louis will start overturning rulings and protecting business interests, like so many courts now do.
That’s one of the very real, and overlooked, realities of the swing in many states toward conservative political ideologies. The judges who have those beliefs generally tend to interpret and apply the law in a way that protects people with money and power over those who lack either or both. It’s a basic fact, proven over and over again through years of American jurisprudence. And the NFL may be hanging its hat on the fact that, eventually and/or inevitably, the case will land on the docket of just enough judges who are of a red-hat mindset, allowing the league to escape whatever financial sanctions may be applied at the trial-court level.
Of course, that won’t save Kroenke or Jones or other owners from having to testify in open court. That’s where the fireworks could happen, and no eventual reversal on appeal will rewind time to the moment before Kroenke or Jones or Roger Goodell or anyone else gets twisted into knots on the witness stand.