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    09.26.17 Professor Jodi Balsam Weighs in on Multiple Issues Facing the NFL
    Jodi Balsam

    Professor Jodi Balsam, an expert in sports law and former NFL Counsel for Operations and Litigation, has been quoted extensively in recent media reports about the myriad issues facing the NFL, including players’ health and safety, the national anthem controversy, and the possibility of a lockout in 2021.

    In The New York Times story on the lawsuit brought by relatives of Aaron Hernandez against the New England Patriots and the NFL, alleging the team did not do enough to protect the late player against brain-damaging concussions, Balsam said “There’s always a shot in the dark to bring the league to the table. These cases come up all the time, and there will be more of them if they settle this without a fight.” Hernandez committed suicide while serving a life sentence for the murder of a friend. Researchers later found that he had an especially severe form of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease found in some athletes who play contact sports.

    As controversy continues over team reactions to President Trump’s remarks about NFL players “taking a knee” or staying in the locker room during the national anthem, Balsam told Law Newz: “While there is no free speech protection in private employment, the NFL Commissioner has so far stayed his hand when individual players have protested the anthem, preferring to work with the players on initiatives that improve community relations. But when an NFL team acts collectively, with the support of management, as the Pittsburgh Steelers did by remaining in the locker room during the anthem, the Commissioner may well be justified in imposing team-level discipline, such as a fine or loss of a draft pick, for conduct detrimental to the League.”

    Meanwhile, as the strong possibility of a NFL strike or lockout in 2021 looms, Balsam told Complex Media Sports "I think it would be dangerous [for the NFL] to give fans a chance to see what life is like without football.”   

    The league’s current 10-year collective bargaining agreement is set to expire following the 2020 season. The agreement is viewed as more beneficial to owners because of salary and negotiating restrictions on younger players. But with record profits by NFL teams, players are looking for a better deal.

    Balsam points out that owners will have an advantage in negotiations for a new agreement. “Players have short careers, they have no guaranteed money, no guaranteed contract, and there's a growing class divide between veterans who earn big, while the rest of the labor pool is young, cheap, and disposable,” she said.

    Factors on the players’ side include the widespread attention given to concussions and CTE.

    “I think they can get the public on their side for that,” she said of players asking for increased compensation stemming from concussion concerns.

    Read more:

    Legal Hurdles Could Hamper Suit Against N.F.L. in Aaron Hernandez Case

    Trump Wants Teams to Fire Players Who Kneel for Anthem; Expect Huge Legal Battle if They Try

    Is the NFL Really Headed For a Lockout in 2021?