NFL: Jury hears NFL players lawsuit against union
By PAUL ELIAS
By PAUL ELIAS
SAN FRANCISCO — The union representing pro-football players purposely excluded retirees from lucrative marketing contracts, cheating them out of millions of dollars in royalties, a lawyer for the retired players said Tuesday.
L. Peter Parcher accused the longtime head of the NFL Players Association, Gene Upshaw, and other union leaders of "conflict of interest and deceit" during opening statements in a federal trial to determine whether any money is owed the retirees.
"Hundreds of millions of dollars came in for licensing and our clients got zero," Parcher said. "Our guys are like the forgotten tribe."
The union contends that companies such as Electronic Arts Inc., which paid $35 million this year for rights to players for its "Madden NFL" video game, paid only for active players.
The lawsuit was filed last year by Hall of Fame cornerback Herb Adderley on behalf of 2,056 retired players who contend the union actively sought to cut them out of licensing deals so active players could receive bigger royalty payments.
Adderley, 69, who played in four of the first six Super Bowls, hobbled into court Tuesday with a cane and dressed in a gold jacket. He is scheduled to take the witness stand along with three other retired players to complain they didn't receive any money from the union after they signed a so-called group licensing agreement with the union.
Parcher said Upshaw, who died in August, and his deputy Doug Allen, who left the NFLPA last year to lead the Screen Actors Guild, created a union subsidiary called Players Inc. to function as the union's marketing arm. Upshaw and Allen also served as top managers of Players Inc., which handled the union's licensing deals.
Last year, Upshaw told the New York Times there was little corporate interest in the vast majority of retired players.
"We could have the greatest dog food in the world," Upshaw said, "but if the dogs don't like it, we can't sell it. Put that at the top of the story."
On Tuesday, 30-minutes into a trial that is expected to last more than two weeks, Parcher referred to the Times article.
"Gene Upshaw compared them to dog food," Parcher said.
Union lawyer Jeffrey Kessler defended Upshaw's 25 years as union chief and 15-season playing career as an Oakland Raiders guard.
"Mr. Upshaw was a Hall of Fame player who was dedicated to retired players," Kessler told the jury of eight women and two men.
The lawsuit is the latest salvo in an increasingly bitter dispute between retirees and the union over pensions, health care and other issues. Many retirees have complained the union has forgotten what past players have contributed to building the NFL into a highly profitable industry that richly compensates owners and players alike.
"It's embarrassing to be treated this way," said former Baltimore Colts linebacker Bob Grant, who sat in the court gallery watching the trial and wearing his Super Bowl V championship ring. "We have a lot of guys who have been taken advantage of."