The N.F.L., the $14 billion-a-year sports juggernaut that dominates TV ratings as well as the national conversation most Sundays, has ascended to its position of supremacy in recent years with an ownership group that often works in lock step. The men and women who control the league’s 32 teams might disagree sometimes, but rarely do they publicly reveal any discord.
Now the league, already wobbling under the strain of presidential and public aggravation over players’ kneeling during the national anthem, is coping with what amounts to an all-out war between one of its most powerful owners and its commissioner, Roger Goodell, who has been rewarded for the N.F.L.’s success with annual compensation that has topped $40 million.
Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, has escalated a feud with Goodell, threatening to sue the league and some fellow team owners over negotiations to extend Goodell’s contract, according to three people with direct knowledge of the situation.
Jones told the six owners on the league’s compensation committee last week that he had hired David Boies, the high-profile lawyer under fire in the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment case, according to the people, who declined to speak publicly about internal league matters.
Through a team spokesman, Jones declined to comment. An N.F.L. spokesman declined to comment, and a spokesman for Boies’s law firm referred all questions to the Cowboys.
The dispute between Jones and Goodell stems from Jones’s anger over the commissioner’s suspending of Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys’ star running back, who was accused of domestic violence by his former girlfriend. Goodell gave Elliott a six-game suspension, though no charges were filed in the case.
The suspension, announced in August, has since undergone a dizzying array of rulings and court appeals that has, for now, kept Elliott on the field. Jones has called the suspension an “overcorrection,” a gibe at Goodell, who has been criticized for his handling of player discipline.
Jones appears intent on holding up Goodell’s contract extension and potentially pushing him out. He is in the minority among owners. While some are unhappy with how the commissioner has handled issues related to player conduct and the national anthem controversy, only a few owners are prepared to replace Goodell, who has been commissioner for more than a decade and has worked at the league since the early 1980s.
The battle within the league is unusual for an organization that prides itself on order and unanimity and oversees the most popular sport in the country. But the N.F.L. is in the middle of one of its most tumultuous seasons because of players kneeling during the national anthem to protest social injustice, a wave of injuries to star players, and a television ratings dip that has fed debate over whether football is declining.
Jones said in a conference call last Thursday with the six owners — those of the Chiefs, Falcons, Giants, Patriots, Steelers and Texans — that legal papers were drawn up and would be served this Friday if the committee did not scrap or delay its current plans to extend Goodell’s contract.
As of Wednesday, the owners and the league had not been sued.
Jones, who has owned the Cowboys since 1989, has been a nonvoting member of the committee that is considering Goodell’s contract, which expires at the end of the 2018 season. He has fought to have a say.
After Jones’s conference call last week, the six owners revoked his status as an ad hoc member of the compensation committee, which decides on pay packages for the top league officials.
Over the past several days, the six owners have been speaking to the other 25 owners who are not on the committee to notify them of what Jones had said.
At a meeting in May, all 32 owners — including Jones — voted to extend Goodell’s contract and authorized the compensation committee to work out the details. But after Elliott was suspended, Jones began lobbying the committee to undermine the deal.
Jones, known for brassy talk and bold moves, may be making his most audacious maneuver yet in taking on fellow owners, with whom he normally holds considerable sway in matters like the relocation of teams and how the league spends its money.
Jones’s threat is reminiscent of steps taken by Raiders owner Al Davis, who successfully sued to the league in the 1980s to win the right to move his team from Oakland to Los Angeles. Jones has also sued the league, in the 1990s, over sponsorships.
But his latest move is potentially more volatile because he has not only threatened to sue the league, but also is trying to prevent the commissioner from getting a new contract.
Boies is a prominent lawyer who has argued before the Supreme Court and represented corporations and executives in high-profile cases.
He drew widespread criticism this week after The New Yorker reported on the legal work Boies did for Weinstein, the movie mogul facing allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The article reported that Boies helped Weinstein’s effort to use private investigators to help block a negative article about him in The New York Times while Boies’s firm was providing outside legal counsel for The Times.
Boies denied there was any conflict of interest with his work for the newspaper. In a statement, he said he believed the investigators had been hired solely to determine the facts related to the accusations against Weinstein, which Boies believed would be to The Times’s benefit.
The Times said it was ending its relationship with his firm.
“We never contemplated that the law firm would contract with an intelligence firm to conduct a secret spying operation aimed at our reporting and our reporters,” The Times said in a statement. “Such an operation is reprehensible.”
Boies has also worked for the N.F.L., representing the league in federal court in 2011 after the players association decertified as a union. Boies has worked with several owners, some of whom now feel blindsided that he agreed to help Jones potentially sue the league.
Jones has publicly questioned Elliott’s suspension as well as the commissioner’s role in handing down player penalties.
“Zeke is a victim of an overcorrection,” Jones said in a radio interview in October, a day after Elliott lost his bid for a preliminary injunction that would have stayed the six-game ban for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
“Even this judge said it shows that very reasonable people could possibly come down on both sides of this,” Jones added. “Well, under our legal system it has to be stronger than that for someone to have done it.”
Jones has also been the most vocal owner to urge players to stand for the national anthem. Jones and other owners are upset that Goodell has not done more to stop players from kneeling or sitting during the anthem. The issue exploded into a national debate when President Trump took aim at the owners for not forcing the players to stand.
Published at Thu, 09 Nov 2017 03:44:21 +0000