Good news, NFL: Commissioner Roger Goodell won’t have to testify in September. Bad news, NFL: Goodell may still have to testify.
Via the Associated Press, the Louisiana Supreme Court has stayed the lawsuit arising from the Rams-Saints NFC Championship game while it considers whether to allow the case to proceed. This decision pauses the “discovery” process, which had called for sworn testimony of Goodell and three game officials to happen next month.
The ruling makes practical sense. Why force Goodell and others to testify if the case ultimately is thrown out by the Louisiana Supreme Court? It also gives the court time to consider the broader question of the viability of the case.
If the case is deemed to be viable, the depositions of Goodell and others will occur. If the case is determined to not be viable, the lawsuit will end.
So the question now becomes whether the case will proceed. And the question presented by the case is intriguing.
The NFL argues that spectators never should be able to sue over the outcome of a sporting event, even if blatant errors occur in the application of the rules. The plaintiffs argue that, essentially, the fix was in — that the NFL wanted the Rams to advance to the Super Bowl because of their presence in the L.A. market.
To dismiss the case, the Louisiana Supreme Court will have to decide that a paying customer has no standing under any circumstances to challenge the outcome of a sporting event even if it turns out that the fix was indeed in. If that’s the case, paying customers to sporting events that supposedly are determined based on skill, ability, and occasional luck will have no recourse even in those cases where the powers-that-be desire a certain outcome and misapply the rules in order to achieve it.
The notion that there can be no recourse of any kind in such situations gives those who stage sporting events a license to rig the result without the potential for civil liability. As legalized gambling proliferates, that may not be an acceptable conclusion.
Still, a disgruntled season-ticket holder and/or gambler shouldn’t have the ability to engage in a fishing expedition for evidence of foul play without something to suggest that foul play actually happened. In this specific case, the argument seems to be that the blatant failure to apply the rules to the most important and consequential play of the game suggests that an error of that nature doesn’t happen in the absence of corruption.
So maybe, under the specific facts of this case, there’s enough evidence based on the failed to call pass intererence (or illegal hit on a defenseless receiver) to permit the plaintiffs to try to develop evidence to show that it wasn’t simply an accident.
However it plays out, the litigation underscores the importance of taking meaningful steps to prevent blatant mistakes from happening. The NFL has done that, with a solution (replay review of pass interference) that arguably sweeps much farther than it needed to in order to prevent similar mistakes in the future.
Still, the fix that was made by the NFL doesn’t necessarily mean that the fix wasn’t in. The Louisiana Supreme Court will eventually determine whether the plaintiffs will secure a chance to prove that it was, by gathering evidence and aggressively questioning Goodell and others.