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Former National Football League Player Sues the National Football League Players Association Over Agent Malpractice

By Daniel S. Greene

The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) was founded in 1956 to represent and protect the rights all of the players in the National Football League (NFL). Among its responsibilities, the NFLPA represents each player in matters regarding wages, hours, working conditions, assures that the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is satisfied, negotiates and oversees insurance benefits, and defends the image of players, among many other things (https://www.nflpa.com/about). The NFLPA has filed many lawsuits on behalf of its players. Some people, including NFL executive Troy Vincent, even think that the organization is too litigious (http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/13171906/nfl-vp-troy-vincent-criticizes-nflpa-spending-legal-action-challenging-roger-goodell-authority).

Yet players have also sued the NFLPA. Former players file lawsuits when they believe that the NFLPA did not protect their rights. In 2014, Christian Ballard and Gregory Westbrooks sued the NFLPA for withholding "information about the perils of head injuries" (http://www.si.com/nfl/2014/07/18/nflpa-concussion-lawsuit-nfl), and in 2011 a group of retired players claimed that when the NFLPA was decertified in March 2011, "the players were in no position to bargain for and agree to the benefits for the retired players" (http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/entry/22475988/31964032).

Most recently, on June 30th, former San Diego Chargers player Richard Goodman sued the NFLPA in Broward County (Florida) Court for "negligence, gross negligence and breach of fiduciary duty" for failing to regulate his agent, Richard Burnoski. Goodman's complaint is a result of the $61,000 he was forced to pay when a $25,000 loan was taken out by Burnoski under Goodman's name in 2010. The former kick returner alleges that Burnoski forged Goodman's signature and then failed to pay the money back to Goodman. Further, when the loan defaulted, the lender sued Goodman for the $25,000, along with $22,500 in usury fees and $13,000 in personal legal fees. Goodman is seeking damages in excess of $15,000 (http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/richard-goodman-san-diego-chargers-suing-nflpa-over-former-agent-certification-070115).

In December 2014, Goodman attempted to receive compensation for these loses through Burnoski's liability insurance policy. Goodman learned that Burnoski had not paid his union dues in 2010 or renewed his liability insurance, and claims that he hired Burnoski based on the online database maintained by the NFLPA that lists the agents who it certifies to represent players. Goodman also asserts that "he would have never continued to use Burnoski as his agent had it been known that his NFLPA certification and mandatory liability insurance had lapsed when he failed to play for both" (http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2015/07/01/former-nfl-player-richard-goodman-sues-nflpa/). He brings this claim in accordance with Article 48 of the CBA between the NFL and NFLPA, which states, "the NFLPA will regulate the conduct of agents who represent players in individual contract negotiations with clubs . . . The NFLPA shall provide and publish a list of agents who are currently certified in accordance with its agent regulation system, and shall notify the NFL and the Clubs of any deletions or additions to the list pursuant to its procedures" (https://nfllabor.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/collective-bargaining-agreement-2011-2020.pdf, at pg. 210).

Likely a big issue to arise during proceedings is whether Goodman's signature was actually forged. Obviously, if Burnoski forged Goodman's signature, then he's in big trouble. However, some feel that the signature was not forged, based on the timing of the loan. As the loan was taken out shortly after the conclusion of Goodman's career at Florida State, it is possible that Goodman took it so that he would have some cash between the end of college and the 2010 NFL Draft. However, if that is not the case, then two major issues will have to be resolved: (1) was Burnoski in good standing when Goodman checked the database, and (2) to what duty does the NFLPA owe a player regarding an agent who fails to pay his or her dues and/or fails to maintain liability insurance? If Burnoski is found to be in poor standing and the NFLPA has a duty to notify players for agent deficiencies, then the court will have to decide whether the certified agents' liability insurance covers these types of situations, which focus mainly on intentional fraud (http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2015/07/01/former-nfl-player-richard-goodman-sues-nflpa/).

In a sense, this is a case involving a little known player, little known agent, and relatively small amount of money. Yet it is also a microcosm of the potentially dangerous and tricky world of athlete representation, where livelihoods are on the line. It is a tough game from both sides, as sometimes players and agents try to take advantage of each other. Players need to be careful that they are picking trustworthy representation, agents need to pick honest players, and the unions need to oversee everyone involved.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 6, 2015 10:36 PM.

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