STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The pro football season begins tomorrow night, and Tom Brady will play in the very first game. He'll be there after a judge overturned a four-game suspension for Brady's role in the deflation of footfalls before a New England Patriots game last season. Commentator Frank Deford is not surprised.
FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: While many legal experts expected the notorious Tom Brady deflated football case to be settled in favor of the NFL, those wise lawyers neglected pertinent history. That is that for 40 years now, most important decisions between sports organizations and their players, which have been adjudicated by some neutral outside agency, have been settled in favor of the athletes. Players may win and lose games on the field, but in America, players win big in court - and they have, time and time again, since 1975, when the Andy Messersmith case led to the demise of the reserve clause in baseball.
The reason is pretty simple. Starting back in the 19th century when organized sport grew up, athletes - professional and amateur - have been under the thumb of sports organizations - leagues, commissioners, colleges, the NCAA - so the young and unorganized athletes had arbitrary authority applied to them willy-nilly. Thus, whenever the capricious rules that were imposed by the organizations were eventually raised in a court of law, invariably the players found justice.
The lead attorney for Brady is Jeffrey Kessler, who is the singular bane of sports organizations. Good grief - Kessler once got an NBA player's sentence reduced for choking his coach. I'm telling you, bet the players every time. But let us move on now from the Brady case, which is, after all, rather idiosyncratic and of limited scope, to another Kessler case - this one on the college level - that has the NCAA absolutely quivering. Here, Kessler's client is a former Clemson football player named Martin Jenkins, and the case has the potential to result in the single most revolutionary sports decision in U.S. history - if Kessler could convince the court that college football and basketball players should be paid on the open market no less than other citizens who labor for billion-dollar enterprises.
But here's a neat bit of irony - if Kessler scares the NCAA for his victories, it should be frightened all the more by the knowledge that Kessler once lost a big sports case when, in a turnabout, he was arguing against players in a dispute over video game money. Kessler's clients had to pony up $28 million to the athletes.
You see, even the brilliant Jeffrey Kessler lost when he went up against the players. No, the decision favoring Brady really shouldn't surprise us. I'm telling you, when they're in court, bet the players.
INSKEEP: You can also bet on hearing Frank Deford most Wednesdays here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
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