Legal analysis: DeSean Jackson takes aim at NFLPA in $516K dispute with his former agent Drew Rosenhaus
Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson is accusing the executive director of the NFL Players Association and its primary arbitrator of bias based on their refusal to regulate agent Drew Rosenhaus' violation of union rules, according to a federal court filing obtained by Yahoo Sports.
In the filing (see full court filing below), Jackson says the relationship between NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith and Rosenhaus has rendered the executive director, and the union he heads, incapable of protecting players' interests when allegations of misconduct by Rosenhaus are involved. Jackson wants the ruling, made by longtime NFLPA arbitrator Roger Kaplan in April, requiring him to pay Rosenhaus roughly $516,000 in unpaid "loans" and agent fees, to be vacated because he says the arbitrator ignored union regulations, then created what Jackson describes as his own rules in order to reach the "outcome he preferred" of Rosenhaus winning the arbitration.
"The NFLPA's unwillingness to enforce its own regulations to protect its players – at least as to certain agents – is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the case of Drew Rosenhaus," said Jackson's attorney, William Quinn of global law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, in the filing.
"There is abundant credible evidence that Rosenhaus exercises extraordinary and undue influence over the key NFLPA decision-makers. The evidence includes widely publicized and well substantiated fact that Rosenhaus, although frequently the target of credible allegations of blatant violations of NFLPA regulations, has never been sanctioned or even seriously investigated by the NFLPA."
Jackson goes on to allege that Smith has protected Rosenhaus, in part, to ensure he has the support of the agent's sizeable stable of clients, including union president Eric Winston, when he runs for re-election in March. Smith currently draws annual compensation of more than $2.7 million, according to federal tax filings.
Jackson said Smith even assisted Rosenhaus in securing the attorney he used against the wide receiver in front of the NFLPA during the course of the fee dispute between him and the agent. Jackson says he sent a letter to the NFLPA in March of 2014 asking it to investigate Rosenhaus' dealings with him but never got a response from the union.
Jackson's latest claims come near the end of a long line of allegations the wide receiver has made against Rosenhaus and the NFLPA during their long-running dispute over whether he has to pay back $516,000 the agent paid the wide receiver to become and remain his client.
Though NFLPA regulations prohibit agents from giving players money or other things of value in order to convince them to sign with them or keep them as clients, Jackson says Rosenhaus paid the wide receiver $50,000 cash in a Louis Vuitton travel bag during an exchange made in a gas station parking lot and more for those very purposes. Rosenhaus also agreed to give Jackson a $90,000 check and a $200,000 interest-free loan. Over time, Jackson says Rosenhaus provided him and his family with an additional $143,088 in order to keep him as a client.
In order to substantiate his claims that the union is protecting Rosenhaus, Jackson cited examples of Rosenhaus engaging in conduct that ostensibly violates NFLPA regulations, while inexplicably escaping sanctions. Here are some of the details:
• After media reports came out in October of 2010 which indicated that a Rosenhaus employee provided the University of North Carolina's Greg Little with benefits that jeopardized his collegiate eligibility, Rosenhaus attacked Little's credibility in a letter he wrote to the union. Rosenhaus told the NFLPA that Little made "false," "dishonest" and "inconsistent" statements to the NCAA regarding his interactions with that employee and that they would never speak to the player again.
However, according to a text message from Rosenhaus employee Michael Johnson (who is currently facing three felony charges in North Carolina for his alleged involvement in funneling money to players for another agent), Rosenhaus later offered Little $100,000, a car for his mother, and $2,000 per month to fire his former agent and sign with Rosenhaus, none of which had to be paid back. NFLPA regulations prohibit agents from providing or offering money or any other thing of value to players to induce or encourage them to utilize their services.
• Yahoo Sports published a series of articles on the recruiting relationship that existed between Rosenhaus and once NFLPA registered financial adviser Jeff Rubin, and how it contributed to players allegedly losing more than $53 million in unauthorized investments on an illegal Alabama bingo operation. Terrell Owens sued Rosenhaus in August of 2013 for breach of fiduciary duty, fraud and negligence, seeking to recover up to $6.5 million from the agents for advising him to hire Rubin and failing to warn him of Rubin's various red flags.
NFLPA regulations prohibit agents from "engaging in activities that create a conflict of interest in the effective representation" of their clients, and to "act at all times" in their interests.
• A South Florida auto dealer told Yahoo Sports in May of 2013 that Rosenhaus employees took "tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks or services for steering players to purchase or rent vehicles" from his company. He alleged Rosenhaus employees directed him to inflate the prices on player purchases and rentals in order to fund the kickbacks. Those allegations were bolstered by bank deposit slips, a cashier's check and an automobile transaction record that showed more than $40,000 had been paid to Rosenhaus Sports employees.
NFLPA regulations state agents cannot engage in conduct that would create a conflict of interest with clients. The rules further state that agents "shall" be held responsible for the conduct of their employees.
• Dez Bryant's adviser, David Wells, provided text messages to Yahoo Sports in August of 2012 in which Rosenhaus offered him $10,000 and a trip to Miami in order to enlist his help in signing the wide receiver prior to the 2010 NFL draft.
NFLPA regulations prohibit agents from offering anyone connected to a player "money or any other thing of value" for the purpose of inducing or encouraging that person to recommend the services of the contract adviser.
In last week's court filing, Jackson reiterated his criticism of Kaplan as a biased arbitrator, echoing the sentiments the wideout and former Rosenhaus client Owens had in 2013.
"In addition to inviting Kaplan to lavish parties, Rosenhaus has arranged to have Kaplan arbitrate other disputes to which Rosenhaus is a party (in which he was paid up to $70,000 by the agent for his services)," Quinn said in the court filing.
"For the past twenty years, the NFLPA has appointed just one person to serve as arbitrator in virtually all of its proceedings – Roger Kaplan. Having served as the NFLPA's arbitrator for roughly twenty years, Arbitrator Kaplan derives considerable income from the NFLPA and therefore has a strong incentive to ensure that his decisions are consistent with what he perceives to be the desires of the NFLPA."
Jackson pointed out that questions about Kaplan’s independence even gave rise to a congressional inquiry in 2006, in which multiple members of Congress expressed grave concern about the apparent “hand in glove" relationship between Kaplan and the NFLPA.
The union’s reliance on Kaplan over the years bewildered one former Congressman who questioned the union's arbitration practices during that inquiry.
"Given everything that's occurred, I'm really surprised that the NFLPA system itself hasn't accommodated the recommendations that were made by members of Congress back in 2006 regarding the issue of procedural fairness in arbitration," Bill Delahunt told Yahoo Sports in November of 2013. "Many of us echoed the same sentiment that I expressed [in 2006]. I would have believed that at this point in time, simply for purposes of bolstering public confidence in the integrity of the system, meaningful changes would have been made."
[Original] Answer and Cross-Petition by yahoosports