The inconsistent discipline of players and teams doled out by the NFL has surfaced once again.
Eli Manning, the New York Giants and the NFL were able to benefit from a much-needed diversion on Monday, May 14. While most of the sports world was distracted by the US Supreme Court’s ruling on sports betting, events elsewhere were largely ignored but are nonetheless interesting.
Also on Monday, the Giants and Manning reached settlement with the plaintiffs in a lawsuit which alleged the plaintiffs were sold game-used memorabilia that turned out not to be actually used in any games. The amount of the settlement has not been disclosed.
The statement by both the defendants and the plaintiffs says that the agreement “should not be viewed as supporting any allegations, claims or defenses,” but it’s obvious what the trade-off was. In exchange for writing a check to the plaintiffs, the defendants got to avoid a trial and don’t have to admit to any wrongdoing. Merely the fact that the defendants agreed to a settlement is at the very least proof of one of two things: that they believed they stood a good chance of losing the trial based on the merits of the case or that it was worth the cost of the settlement to keep information which could have been revealed in a trial under wraps. That points to some culpability on the part of the defendants.
Manning’s, and the Giants’, defense throughout the proceedings has been pinning the blame on the memorabilia company implicated, Steiner Sports. Manning maintained that to his knowledge, the items given to him to sign were game-used, and if they were otherwise, that was news to him. That contention may be enough to get him off the hook as far as discipline for himself and the Giants from the NFL goes, but regardless, there’s a problem for the league in this situation.
Two years ago, the NFL suspended New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his role in what it determined was doctoring game-used footballs outside of the league’s allowable limits. The league then spent millions of dollars in legal fees defending that suspension in federal courts. To be thorough, the case was more about the NFL Commissioner’s office’s powers to dole out discipline as it saw fit under the collective bargaining agreement than whether or not Brady had a role in deflating footballs, but the matter started out as a dispute about game-used merchandise.
It seems that Manning and the Giants are unlikely to face discipline for their roles in this incident involving game-used merchandise. In both cases, the NFL quarterbacks claimed they were oblivious to the alleged shady activity. Brady was suspended regardless. If Manning gets off with no discipline whatsoever, the message that is sent from the NFL is that it’s fine to sell tampered merchandise to a fan, but don’t you dare use it in one of our games or we’ll come at you with everything we have.
Regardless of whether this is the end of this drama for Manning and the Giants, it’s a bad optic for both parties. If there’s no discipline forthcoming from the league, it’s a bad optic for the NFL as well.