Thursday, June 28, 2012

Football Law: The Concussion Case

Today’s post continues look at the myriad of legal fights involving the NFL right now with a discussion of the lawsuit against the NFL and Riddell, Inc. filed by over 2,000 former players.  Until recently, there were dozens of lawsuits filed in local courts across the country.  Earlier this month, however, they were consolidated into one case in the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.


The basis for the lawsuit comes from the connections that have been made over the last decade, and that have been brought to light in the last few years, between repeated blows to the head suffered by NFL players and a variety of brain traumas.  These conditions range from short-term memory loss and depression to Alzheimer’s and a disease known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).  I won’t go into the details on the evidence establishing this link, but I do want to give you a little bit of background to give you some perspective on the lawsuit against the league. 

One of the medical professionals at the forefront of this field is Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist, neuropathologist and founding member of the Brain Injury Research Institute (BIRI).  The complaint filed by the players’ attorneys describes some of Dr. Omalu’s research, which has included studying the brain tissue of several deceased former players, beginning with Hall of Famer Mike Webster (right), who died in 2002.* 

Concern over the effects of repeated head trauma, especially over CTE, has reached epidemic levels—not only among current and former NFL players, but the general public, particularly parents of children involved in high-contact sports like football and hockey.  Public awareness of this issue has reached new heights in the past two to three years through the much-publicized deaths of several current and former players. 

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry (left) died in 2009 at the age of 26, falling out of the back of a pickup truck while engaged in a domestic dispute with his fiancĂ©e.  Examination of his brain tissue conducted at BIRI revealed that he had suffered from CTE—the first known case in a player who was still active in the NFL.  Henry’s death was devastating enough for teammates and fans; the revelation that he had developed CTE at such a young age was a startling wake-up call for the entire football communities.

Other notable deaths have been, regrettably, suicides by former players Dave Duerson (safety, Chicago Bears) (right), Ray Easterling (safety, Atlanta Falcons) and most recently (and shockingly) former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau (below).  Several former players who have committed suicide in recent years stipulated in their wills or last communications to loved ones (and implied through their means of suicide) that they wanted their brains studied for signs of CTE. 

Just last week, on June 18, former guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers Ralph Wenzel died of complications from dementia.  Wenzel was one of the first players to report his condition as a possible side effect of suffering multiple concussions (too many to count, according to his widow) during his seven-year career.  He was also the first player to claim worker's compensation from the league for his concussion-related injuries; that case is still pending.


The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are retired players who played all positions and in different decades.  However, according to their complaint, they are united by a common characteristic:  lingering health issues, notably brain injury, caused by repeated head trauma suffered during their years of playing professional football.  Many of the former players in the suit are household names—legends like Art Monk, Tony Dorsett and Alex Karras (above).  The causes of action are numerous, but can be boiled down to a few broad categories:  negligence, fraud and product liability.


For a claim of negligence to succeed, the plaintiff needs to prove three things:  (1) the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff; (2) the defendant failed to fulfill that duty by not using the care of a “reasonable” person; and (3) that failure was the proximate cause of injury to the plaintiff.**

The third element, injury, is clearly spelled out in the complaint with the description of the evidence compiled by Dr. Omalu, references to articles published in various medical journals since the 1920s, and anecdotal accounts from football players and coaches.

Without getting into each of the many allegations concerning the NFL’s duties, the players claim that the NFL has many obligations regarding their health and safety, including a duty to, among other things:

·   protect them from concussions, through establishing rules of play and return-to-play guidelines;

·   research the effect of concussions on brain tissue;

·   educate players, trainers and coaches about CTE and concussions; and

·   promote a “whistleblower” system whereby players and/or team personnel can report that he or another player has suffered a concussion without fear of reprisal.

The complaint alleges that the NFL failed in its duty by: not warning the players about the long-term risk of brain injury that could result from playing football (of which the players assert the NFL was well aware); and failing to enact “reasonable and prudent” rules and guidelines concerning game play and treatment of concussions.

In addition, the plaintiffs say that the NFL was also negligent in glorifying the violence in football, through its property, NFL Films.  NFL Films is a production company that is responsible for pretty much all of the NFL’s videotaped content—commercials, documentaries and televisions series like HBO’s Hard Knocks.  Known for its tight shots, slow motion effects and “Voice of God” narrators, NFL Films is a juggernaut in sports media. 

I, for one, am a sucker for its “tuba-farting” (my phrase) anthem...

...and the bell-tolling symphony (at about 3:20 in the clip below) that have become ubiquitous element in just about any NFL Films highlight montage. 

It is the plaintiffs’ contention that the propensity of NFL Films productions to focus on cringe-inducing hits has “mythologized” the game’s violence in the eyes of the public.  This, in turn, has created a culture where the players giving—and taking—the hardest hits are venerated.  This celebration of violence, therefore, encourages players to take actions in games that endanger their health and safety.


Beyond negligence, which is bad enough, the players claim that the NFL also engaged in a scheme of fraud and deceit by denying that there was a link between concussions and long-term brain injury.  In 1994, the NFL established the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee to fund and study concussion research.  In 2006, they published an article concluding that “mild [traumatic brain injuries] in professional football are not serious injuries.” 

Dr. Casson testifying before Congress in 2010
Still, in 2007, the NFL implemented extensive concussion guidelines concerning how concussions should be prevented, detected and treated, and the steps a player and his team must go through before the player can return to the field.  The complaint alleges that it wasn’t until June 2010 that the league reversed its official course and acknowledged the link between concussions and CTE and a host of other brain injuries.  Just five months earlier, in January 2010, the former co-chairman of the Committee, Dr. Ira Casson, testified before Congress that there was not enough evidence to establish repetitive impacts to the head result in long-term brain damage.

The plaintiff’s complaint alleges that through its statements the Brain Injury Committee fraudulently misrepresented to players, Congress and the public that there was no link between concussions and brain injury.  In that period, the plaintiffs claim that they relied on those misrepresentations and suffered injury, and damages, as a result.

 Claims Against Riddell:  Product Liability

Those of you who have been reading Naptime Huddle from the beginning might remember my post “You’re Wearing That?!?” where I discussed the many rules covering player uniforms.  In that post, I explained that only helmets made by Riddell, Inc. may be worn by players.  The complaints against Riddell, Inc., raised by the plaintiffs are fairly straightforward.  They allege that the helmets suffered from design and manufacturing defects which kept them from protecting players from the effects of suffering concussive impacts to the head.  Furthermore, the plaintiffs contend that Riddell did not adequate test the helmets and failed to warn players that the helmets were insufficient to protect them from injury.  These acts, according to the plaintiffs, also resulted in negligence and a lapse in the duty Riddell owed the players.

I hope this has cleared up any confusion, and spared you from reading any longer articles or—gasp—the 86-page complaint itself.  How this come out only time will tell, and it will likely be a great deal of time before there is any resolution.  If the case proceeds through the system without a settlement, you can expect several months, if not a year or two, of procedural wrangling before any witnesses testify.  As time marches on, though, I’ll keep you informed of developments as they happen.

* Webster’s estate won a $1.18 million judgment against the NFL, in which it claimed that Webster was disabled by brain trauma at the time of his retirement and was entitled to benefits under the NFL’s retirement plan.

**I should point out that there are three different negligence claims against the NFL in the plaintiffs’ complaint.  One of the more unique is that the NFL has a monopoly power over professional football, and that this monopoly power imposes a special duty on the league to protect the health and safety of its players and the public at large.  The players claim that, in connection with its monopoly, the NFL has restrained the development of science on the “epidemic of concussion injuries.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Recipe Time Out: The Sidecar

Today, Naptime Huddle ventures into a new category of recipes:  the cocktail.  One of my very favorites is the Sidecar.  In my last year or so as a practicing lawyer, I went through a phase of asking for this drink at every happy hour or other such gathering.  Many times, however, I was actually denied the opportunity to partake in this sweet cocktail.  Why?  Because many bars don’t stock brandy, the main component of the Sidecar, behind the bar.  Who knew?  Also, many bartenders (usually the younger ones) never heard of it.

Many of you must be thinking, “So, feeling lazy, huh?  This will take you what, all of three minutes to list the ingredients and the directions?  Which are what, ‘mix and pour’?”

Oh, that’s where you’re wrong, my friends!  Not only are there different formulations of the Sidecar, but the origins and history of the drink itself are unclear.

Though the ingredients and preparation of the Sidecar are always the same, mixology connoisseurs disagree about the proportion of the ingredients, which are:  brandy (or, traditionally, Cognac), Cointreau (or other orange liqueur) and lemon juice.  These should be shaken with ice and strained into a frosted cocktail or martini glass, garnished with either a wedge of lemon or a lemon rind twist.  You also have the option of lacing the rim with lemon juice and dipping it into sugar—um, before pouring.

So, how much of each ingredient do you use?  There are, believe it or not, three formulas:  The French School, The English School and the 3:2:1 blend.

The French School

One story about the Sidecar’s origin, as told by David Embury in his 1948 book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, is that the cocktail was invented in Paris during World War I.  As the story goes, an American Army captain entered a Paris bistro nursing a cold and asked for something to ease his symptoms.  The bartender reached for the brandy, with its obvious medicinal benefits, and, seeking to add something for Vitamin C, added Cointreau and lemon juice.  This concoction became the captain’s favorite drink and he returned for it on a regular basis—shuttled back and forth in the sidecar of a chauffeured motorcycle (like the one pictured above).  Harry’s Bar* in Paris is credited for being that bistro, but the Ritz Hotel in Paris also claims to be the location of the drink’s invention.

As for formulation, The French School recipe is the easiest variation, calling for equal parts of the three ingredients—e.g., 1 ounce brandy, 1 ounce Cointreau and 1 ounce lemon juice. 

The English School

A less romantic, and probably more credible, story is that the Sidecar was invented by a bartender named Pat MacGarry at Buck’s Club in London (left), also during or soon after the First World War.  This story was put forth by Harry MacElhone in his 1922 book Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails (in later editions, MacElhone claims to be the creator himself), and by Robert Vermeire’s Cocktails and How to Mix Them from that same year. 

The English School calls for a 2:1:1 ratio of ingredients:  2 ounces of brandy and 1 ounce each of Cointreau and lemon juice.

3:2:1 Blend:   This formula, as you may have guessed, requires 2 ounces of brandy, 1 ounce of Cointreau and ½ ounce of lemon juice.

You will also find a long list of variations on the traditional Sidecar, with one or more ingredients replaced with other libations.  For example, gin replaces the brandy in the White Lady (right); substitute applejack for the brandy and grenadine syrup for the Cointreau and you get a Jack Rose; and replace the brandy for golden or dark rum to get, more simply, a Rum Sidecar.

So, which recipe should you use?  My advice is to play around and try each version.  If you prefer not to take this route, however, consider what you want from your drink.  If you want something nice and strong, go harder on the brandy; to avoid a drink that is too sweet, don’t skimp on the lemon juice; to limit the pucker factor, use less lemon juice and more Cointreau. 

Despite its romantic history and its delectable flavor, the Sidecar mysteriously dropped out of the mainstream after World War II.  Though not yet as fashionable as the martini, it's starting to made a comeback.  Hopefully the day will come when bartenders don't look at me like I sprouted a second head when I ask for one.

Thirsty yet? 

*Harry’s Bar is actually “Harry’s New York Bar”; the original owner, Tod Sloane, wanted to recreate the look and feel of an American bar, so he had the interior of a bar in Manhattan taken apart and shipped, piece by piece, to Paris.  It has always been a favorite of American expats and was a favorite haunt of American writers living in Paris, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.  The establishment celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Football History 101: The '30s, '40s and '50s

In today’s Football History 101 lesson, which is our second-to-last lesson for this offseason*, we start with some much-needed rule changes in the early 1930’s that were designed to breathe life into the on-field action, and we finish with a benchmark moment in the history of the NFL known simply as “The Game.” 

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the pro game was moving right along.  It had survived the depleted rosters caused by World War I and the emergence of Red Grange in Chicago gave the NFL the shot of popularity it needed. 


Even with brilliant performances by stand-out players like Grange, though, the game of football was a little short on excitement.  As the initial mystique of the game was starting to wear off with the public, changes were needed to make the game more compelling.  

For one thing, offenses didn’t want to get pinned against the sideline, so they tended to run the ball right up the middle of the field.  This resulted in bogged-down teams exchanging never-ending volleys of punts; there were also lots of tie results.  To remedy the situation, a few rules changes—advocated by Bears owner and coach George Halas and Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall—were made before the 1933 season. 

First, hash marks were added to the field:  two sets of short lines, painted perpendicular to the sidelines, running down the middle of the field (often there are also hash marks painted right at the sidelines) (see below).  Originally, they were positioned 15 yards (45 feet) from the sidelines; today the rules require them to be placed at a distance of 70 feet, nine inches from the sidelines.  If a play ends out of bounds, or in the area between the hash marks and the sideline, the ball is brought back to the nearest hash mark for the next play. 

A football from the 1890s
The second rule change was to allow forward passes to be thrown from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage; previously, they could only be thrown from a point at least five yards behind the line.  Third, the goal posts, which had been moved to the back of the end zone in 1927, were moved back to their original spot—the goal line (which, thankfully, is not the case today).  Finally, the shape of the ball was streamlined to make it easier to carry and throw; its previous dimensions favored kicking.  The ball’s shape would continue to evolve over the decades, but this was a good start.

These changes opened up the game tremendously and resulted in far fewer tie results.  For example, the closer goal posts made teams more willing to chance a field goal attempt in the waning moments of the game.  The most striking change, though, was that coaches and players could develop a sideline-to-sideline mentality in designing plays.  Plus, the ability to throw a pass immediately after the snap gave teams more chances to be creative with fakes handoffs and other trick plays.  Passing finally became more than a last-ditch desperation play.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one more improvement enacted by the NFL in 1933.  The league divided the teams into Eastern and Western divisions and established a championship game between the winners of each division to determine the league champion.  Up to that point, champions were determined by an examination of team records and league agreement—which, as you might imagine, wasn’t always easy to come by.


The period between 1930 and 1960 witnessed several developments that improved player safety.  Among these were:

  • Improvements in equipment construction with the invention of fibershell, molded leather and plastic helmets; similar materials began to be used for shoulder pads as well;
  • The facemask and chinstrap were invented, though not widely used; the single-bar facemask was first used in 1955;
  • A 1959 facemask
    Grasping the facemask of any opposing player other than the runner was deemed illegal in 1956 (grasping the runner’s facemask was made illegal in 1962);
  • Helmet use was made mandatory in 1943; and
  • Another official, the Back Judge, was added in 1947


The development of faster and more open offenses allowed more offensive talents to stand out from the crowd.  The first great passer was “Slingin” Sammy Baugh of the Washington Redskins.  Even though he wasn’t actually the Redskins’ quarterback until 1944, seven years after joining the team, Baugh led the team in passing in three of those first seven seasons.  He could throw fast, accurate passes through the tightest spaces and at both short and long distances.  He was also adept at connecting with receivers who were on the run, a rare skill at the time.

As you learned in my post on wide receiver legends, Don Hutson of the Green Bay Packers was decades ahead of his time in the level of his skill and athleticism.  His sure feet let him make sharp cuts in his running routes and he befuddled defenders by adding a burst of speed see he could come under the ball at the end of its trajectory.  Like so many players of that time, Hutson played on defense as well as offense; he was also a prolific kicker.  He was such a talent, and so ahead of his time, that no less than seven of his records still stand today.


Da Bears:  Despite the other-worldly talent of Baugh and Hutson, though, neither the Redskins nor the Packers were the dominant team of the pre-World War II period.  This title belonged to the Chicago Bears, led by quarterback Sid Luckman.  The Bears, still coached by the great George Halas, were stacked with talent at virtually every position on offense and defense.  Their dominating style of play led them to the championship game each year from 1940 to 1943, with three wins in those four appearances.  One of those wins was the most lopsided victory in the history of the NFL, a 73-0 shellacking of the Washington Redskins.

The Cleveland Browns:  The 1940s were bookended by two dynasties:  the Chicago Bears at the start of the decade and the Cleveland Browns at the end of the decade.**  The Browns, coached by the talented Paul Brown, were absorbed by the NFL when the upstart All-American Football Conference (which had been founded by eight investors in 1946) collapsed in 1950.  Behind the ultra-reliable quarterback Otto “Automatic” Graham and a cadre of offensive stars, they had monopolized the top ranks of the AAFC, having a combined record of 23-1-2 in that league’s last two seasons. 

The city of Cleveland embraced the Browns immediately.  The NFL had moved their Rams, who had won the 1945 NFL championship, to Los Angeles.  It was poetic justice when the Browns met the LA Rams in the 1950 NFL championship—and won 30-28 on a last-minute field goal.  The Browns would continue their winning ways well into the 1950s, making it to the Big Game every year except one between 1950 and 1957 (they missed it in 1956).  As for the actual championships, they traded off and on with the Detroit Lions, their closest competitors.

The Baltimore Colts:   The late 1950s saw the emergence of the Baltimore Colts as the team to beat in the NFL.  Though he had many potent offensive weapons at his disposal, the rise of the Colts can be attributed to one player:  Johnny Unitas, whom many experts consider to be the best quarterback of all time.  Unitas’ primary gift was what we now call “football intelligence.”  He could read defenses flawlessly and was an efficient passer, able to anticipate where his receivers would be when his passes would reach them.  He also had the courage to stand his ground when the pocket was collapsing around him, often taking big hits.  The Colts’ defense could hold its own against any team, with players known for their toughness—like tackle Gene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb (right) and defensive end Gino Marchetti.


The other powerhouse of the late 1950s was the New York Giants.  The face of the Giants was superstar running back Frank Gifford, whom the Giants drafted in 1952 out of the University of Southern California.  It seemed almost inevitable that the two teams would meet to battle for the NFL championship, which they did in 1958.  Two fumbles by Gifford in the first half gave the opportunistic Colts a 14-3 lead at halftime.  New York fought back hard, though, eventually achieving a 17-14 lead.  However, the Colts scored last in regulation time, a game-tying field goal with seven seconds remaining—making this the first NFL title game to be settled in overtime.  After the Giants failed to score on their first possession, Unitas marched the Colts on an 80-yard drive, which was capped off with a one-yard touchdown run by the team’s running back Alan Ameche.

Football historians and experts consider this contest, known then and now as “The Game,” as the pivotal moment in which football became firmly rooted in American culture.  This was the first nationally-televised title game, and Hollywood couldn’t have written a better script to create the resulting tension and excitement.

Well, folks, that takes us up to 1960 in our Football History 101 timeline.  Stay tuned to this space and keep a look out for our last history lesson!

*My plan for the next offseason is a series where we look at the individual histories of each of the current NFL teams.

**As with the First World War, America’s involvement in World War II had a profound impact on the NFL.  Most able-bodied players coming out of college joined the military and, as football isn’t really built for the older guys that were left on the home front, there was a real danger of collapse.  However, the NFL survived, primarily by cannibalizing the less stable teams and merging the rosters of other teams. For example, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh merged for the 1943 season—shocking, I know!  Many NFL players lost their lives in World War II; click here for my D-Day post remembering two players who died in France after the Allied invasion.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Reading Huddle: Playing for Pizza Discussion Questions

Last month, I introduced you to Playing for Pizza, John Grisham’s novel about a down-on-his-luck third-string NFL quarterback hiding out in Parma, Italy.  If you missed my synopsis and back story on this latest “Reading Huddle” selection, click here to see that post. 

If you actually read the book, continue reading for some discussion questions.  You can feel free to post any reactions or thoughts in the “Comments” section below, or feel free to use them for any book club you belong to in the real world.  (Oh, and as promised, I've thrown in a few more of our Italy vacation photos for your viewing pleasure.)

Positano, on the Amalfi Coast
1.  Did you like Rick?  Why or why not?

2.  Rick was not very successful in the NFL.  Do you think that he was playing down a level so he could have a relatively risk-free job as a third-string quarterback?  Did his being less talented (or less ambitious) make you less sympathetic to his situation—or to him as a character?

3.  This book was released in 2007, when NFL Europe—the league’s effort to start a global expansion of American football—was folding.  This appears to be just bad luck for Grisham, but does knowing that give you any new perspective on the story or the love for the game held by the Italian characters?
Inside the Coliseum in Rome

4.  On page 111, Rick sends two emails:  one to his parents and one to his agent, Arnie.  They both share the same facts about the Panthers’ first game, but they each had a different tone—in the email to his parents, Rick says, “Having fun”; to Arnie, he asks if his agent had talked to Tampa Bay, indicating he was anxious to return to the U.S.  Which do you think reflected his true feelings at the time?  Is it possible that they both did?
Mount Vesuvius

5.  Though the focus of the story is football, it’s clear that Pizza is a John Grisham love letter to Italy.  Were his details about food, architecture and culture a distraction, or a welcome element in the book?
Rome's Trevi Fountain

6.  How do you explain Rick’s lack of judgment when he and a few other players traveled separately to Milan and he ended up playing hung-over?

7.  Rick finally finds his cheerleader in the form of Livvy, an American co-ed.  Did her presence add anything to the story for you, or do you think she was just an excuse for Grisham to include descriptions of churches and castles, as well as tidbits of Italian history, as she dragged Rick around the country?

The Vatican (as it happens, a church and a museum)

8.  Did you approve of Rick’s decision regarding the offer in Toronto?  Was it mature or shortsighted?

A small cove on the shores of Capri
9.  How about his confrontation with reporter Charley Cray?

10. In the NFL, Rick had a (well-deserved) reputation for being afraid of getting hit.  However, as his season in Italy wore on, he became less concerned about his personal safety.  This was especially apparent in the Super Bowl.  Do you think this was because they had a chance to win?  If so, does that make his willingness to sacrifice his body less heroic?

Inside the Blue Grotto, on the island of Capri

Monday, June 18, 2012

Like Father, Like Son, Like Grandson

As with Mother’s Day, my original intent for this post was to profile a few of the famous fathers of NFL stars.  The obvious starting points were Archie Manning, father of Super Bowl-champion quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning (I introduced you to mom Olivia Manning on Mother’s Day)...

...and Howie Long—former defensive end, current Fox Network analyst and father of St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long.

Proud papa Howie (left) with Chris on Draft Day

However, my research on the topic led me the Matthews family and, while I knew a little bit about their multi-generational history in the NFL, I hadn’t realized the full extent of their pigskin pedigree.  So, I decided to focus this (belated) Father’s Day post on the Matthews’ family tree.

By the way, if you enjoyed my series last week on the legal issues raised when players are faced with paternity suits, you should check out yesterday's post on "2 or 3 lines (and so much more)," authored by my good friend and fellow blogger, Gary Hailey.  Click here to go to his post, based on Led Zeppelin's "How Many More Times," in which he elaborates on the Antonio Cromartie baby mama drama. 


It all started with the family’s patriarch, Clay Matthews, Sr., an offensive tackle.  Clay Senior attended Georgia Tech and was drafted by the (then) Los Angeles Rams in 1949.  He didn’t make his NFL debut until 1950, however, and it was with the San Francisco 49ers.  Like many players of his generation, Clay’s playing career was interrupted by war—in this case, the Korean War.  He served for three years as a paratrooper in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, returning to San Francisco in 1953, then retiring in 1955.


Clay Matthew, Jr. was a star linebacker at the University of Southern California before being drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the 1978 draft.  Junior enjoyed a 16-year career in Cleveland, earning Pro Bowl selections four times and three All-Pro selections; he finished out his career with three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.  A model for longevity, Clay Matthews, Jr. has the distinction of being the oldest player to record a sack, which he last did at the age of 40 years and 282 days!

Junior (right) and Bruce in the '80s

Clay Jr.’s brother, Bruce, is the only Matthews in the Hall of Fame—so far.  He must have gotten some good genes, too, because he also enjoyed a 19-year professional career, as an offensive lineman (which, incidentally, means that he and Clay, Jr. would have been on the field at the same time when they played against each other).  Like his brother, he attended USC and was a first round draft pick when he was selected by the Houston Oilers.  He stayed with the Oilers (later the Tennessee Titans) throughout his entire career, and was named to the Pro Bowl an incredible fourteen times—which ties him with former defensive tackle (and Little House on the Prairie actor) Merlin Olsen for most selections.  During his career, Bruce earned many awards, including NFL Alumni Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2000 and the Bar Starr Man of the Year Award that same year.  He also holds the record for most games played by an offensive lineman, at 296.  Bruce Matthews was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007 and is now the offensive line coach for the Tennessee Titans.


Let’s start with the offspring of Clay Matthews Junior:

Clay Matthews III is a star linebacker for the Green Bay Packers.  He followed in the cleat marks of his father and uncle at USC and was drafted in the first round of the 2009 draft by the Packers.  In his short career, he has already piled up impressive numbers and has been selected to the Pro Bowl in all three seasons.  He has also already accomplished what his predecessors did not:  a Super Bowl title.

Casey Matthews broke with tradition and attended the University of Oregon, where he played linebacker.  The Philadelphia Eagles drafted him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, so he just finished his rookie season; he started the first two games and was benched after his third, but got back in against the Miami Dolphins in Week 14.*

Now for Bruce’s progeny:

Bruce has begotten three football-playing sons, each currently at a different level.  Kevin, a center, played college football at Texas A&M and was signed by the Tennessee Titans, his father’s team, as an undrafted free agent in 2010.  At first, Kevin was just a member of the team’s practice squad; he was promoted to the active roster in December of his rookie year.  Younger brother Jake is an offensive lineman at Texas A&M; baby bro Mike is another offensive lineman, still in high school, but will round out the brotherly triad at A&M, having already committed to playing there after he graduates.

Kevin and dad, Bruce Matthews

So, there you have it—the most prolific football family in the NFL.  Three generations and counting!

Happy (belated) Father’s Day, guys!

*A third brother, Kyle, played safety at USC, but his football career didn’t continue after college.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Paternity Suits: The Brass Tax

When we left off yesterday, a professional athlete was faced with a claim that he had fathered a baby with a woman not his wife (for our purposes, it is not important whether he is actually married or not—the point is that they aren’t living in the same household).  We considered the strategies he might have to choose and discussed some of the background social issues involved.  Today, we get down to brass tax:  just how the courts determine what is a “fair” child support award for Superstar Junior.

A 1981 flick--not exactly on point, but
there's not a lot to choose from for this topic!
“OK, the Kid's Mine.  Now What?”

Once paternity has been established, the next issue to, er, tackle is how much a court should award in child support.* As you can imagine, the high salaries of professional athletes can make "child support" synonymous with "windfall." On the one hand, it seems fair to hold a famous father financially responsible for the upbringing of a child he helped create the same as we would an average Joe.   

On the other hand, we don’t want to encourage the reckless promiscuity (or as we discussed yesterday, intentional seductions) by handing the woman a winning lottery ticket.  None of this matters, though.  It is important to understand that, in deciding family law cases, judges must put all the social complexities aside and base decisions on what is “in the best interest of the child."

Generally speaking, courts use three methods for determining child support levels.  The method that is ultimately used is determined by the law of that state:

     1.     Income Shares Method:  After determining the total income of both parents, the court estimates what percentage of that total income would be spent on the expenses for that child (plus any actual additional expenses unique to the situation).  Each parent's financial obligation is determined by the ratio of his or her income level to the combined income.

     2.     Melson Formula:  The court determines a "subsistence income"--one that meets the basic needs of both parents and all minor children of the parents.  The total income remaining is used to determine the amount of support.

     3.     Percentage of Income:  This is the simplest method, especially because the state's law dictates the percentage of the parent's income that goes to one child.  In Wisconsin, for example, a parent pays 17% of his or her income for the support of one child.  Under this model, the court also has the discretion to modify the award to the extent that imposing the statutory percentage would yield an unfair result.

The third method isn't just the easiest to administer, it is also the preferred method for professional athletes, since their income is almost guaranteed to be substantially higher than the mother's.  The problem with the first two approaches—other than their complexity—is that it is not always easy to determine which expenses are appropriate for determining the amount of support.  For example, should the court base expenses on the need of the average American (or citizen of that state), or should it be based on the expenses of children in wealthy households (e.g., a $10,000 mortgage payment vs. $1,200 rent payment, live-in nanny, horseback riding lessons, summer-long language-immersion trip to France)?

“How Can I Make Sure My—I Mean the Kid’s—Money Will Be Well Spent?”

Still, even with an eminently sympathetic judge, no matter what formula is used, the pro will still be the primary (if not only) source of support for the child, and yet will have little or no say in how the money is spent.  To allay concerns that the money will not be spent for the welfare of the child, courts have another tool at their disposal: the creation of a trust.  In such cases, a third party--perhaps a grandparent or attorney--is in charge of making sure the money is spent appropriately.  Even if the mother is in charge of the funds, though, she is obligated by law to spend the money in a responsible way.

Admit it--you'd give anything to be a trust fund baby!

There's another good reason to establish a trust beyond the concern for how the money is spent.  Although a player might have a very lucrative career with a high income at the time support is determined, he runs the risk of having his career shortened by injury, age, or a decline in skill.  If he makes money from endorsement contracts as well, his income could experience changes because of a dispute with the company in question, or even a downturn in the economy.

“Pay No Attention to Junior, Coach…I’m Ready to Play!”

Anyone who has kids can tell you that starting a family--no matter what form that family takes--changes your life.  For athletes in these touchy situations, though, the impact goes beyond dollars and cents.  Remember Antonio Cromartie?  The Jets had to give him a $500,000 salary advance so he could catch up on his back child support.  Not the ideal way to start a relationship with an employer. 

"Three hundred thousand?  No, man, I said five hundred thou.  Make it happen!"

When New England running back Dave Meggett failed to respond to a paternity claim that had been filed in Florida, he faced the threat of arrest if he traveled with the team to play the Jacksonville Jaguars.  The Patriots front office had to get involved--creating a major distraction for the team.  All the fuss seems a bit silly now that Meggett is serving a 30-year prison term for burglary and sexual misconduct.

One of the more notorious cases from the NBA was that of Shawn Kemp (left), who had fathered seven children by the age of 28.  According to the 1998 SI article,** a source in the (then) Seattle SuperSonics organization said that the distraction of so many support obligations, coupled with frustration of not be able to see some of his children, were the primary causes of Kemp’s meltdown during the 1997 season.  In the first half of the season, Kemp averaged 21.3 points per game and 11 rebounds; after the All-Star break, his averages dropped to 15.1 points and 8.5 rebounds.  He ultimately demanded a trade, and the same source said that his mounting support obligations were part of his motive for making the demand.

Of course, no matter the circumstances, and no matter the cost or distractions involved, both sides should remember that they have brought a child into the world.  With each new child comes new opportunity to make the world a better place, and we do that by giving that child the best chance for happiness, success and self-respect.  Not every family starts in the “traditional” way, but what matters is that every child knows he has a family that loves him.  And that’s not something a court of law can create—all of us, sports star or not, have to make that happen.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed this look at one of the more personal, yet public, topics in football.  To all fathers out there—traditional or nontraditional, expected or unexpected—have a wonderful Father’s Day!


*The primary legal source for my original law school paper (and now this post) was an article written by two player attorneys in Dallas, Texas:  R. Scott Downing and Katherine A. Kinser, “Family Law Issues That Impact the Professional Athlete,” published in the Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Law (15 J. Am. Acad. Matrimonial Law, 337 (1998)).

**Click here for a link to that article.