EDITOR’S NOTE: George Atallah is the Assistant Executive Director of External Affairs at the NFL Players Association. I spoke with him on the radio show I co-host with Etan Thomas, The Collision. Here is an edited version of our interview, where Atallah says a great deal about the NFL vs. Tom Brady and why this case—over whether Brady ordered footballs to be deflated—matters so much to the union.
Why is Tom Brady worth defending on this issue and why should people care about this case?
George Atallah: Fundamental fairness is the first thing that comes to mind. We have a CBA that outlines policies and procedures in place for both the employees and the employer. And when that CBA is violated, or ignored, or in this case, even worse, added to or changed without the other party even knowing about it, that violates the principle of fundamental fairness of our workplace.
We have had a lot of interesting, high profile cases over the last few years where this has happened. A lot of high profile cases where this has happened. And this union, frankly, does everything it can to protect our CBA, even the parts of it that we don’t like!
The venue has been changed to Manhattan from Minnesota. It was said on ESPN Radio is if it goes to Minnesota, there is 90-percent the players win, if it goes to Manhattan, 90-percent the owners win. Do you buy that? How big a deal is it that the venue has been changed?
GA: Well, fortunately and unfortunately, I didn’t go to law school and am [therefore] not a lawyer. So for me to read the tealeaves with respect to what the form or venue means, is not really my thing. What I really, strongly believe in is that the merits of our case are unchanged. Our filing in New York City today, is not going to be much different than our filing in Minnesota, yesterday. The principles by which we are taking this thing to court, to appeal Tom Brady’s four game suspension, are just as strong now as they were 45 minutes ago. And really, that is our point in this whole thing.
We’re appealing this because there was a violation of our CBA. We’re appealing this four game suspension because there was no precedent for it ever, anywhere, for anyone. And we’re appealing it because it violates the principles of fundamental fairness that we believe we should stand for. And whether that’s Tom Brady, or Greg Hardy or Adrian Peterson, or the players in Bounty or Ray Rice and the list can go on and on and on. That’s what we do as a union and that’s what we’ll always do.
Tom Brady said on his Facebook post that there’s no smoking gun and this controversy is manufactured to distract from the fact that they have zero evidence of wrongdoing. Patriots owner Robert Kraft took to the podium and said that he was wrong to put his faith in the league. Now those are some pretty strong words. Now that they’re going on the attack, what do you think the NFL and Roger Goodell will do?
GA: I don’t know how they’re going to react. I know that they were devious enough to leak the cell phone thing the day that they issued the four-game suspension to create a smoke screen as to what the real issues are. I know that they have been clumsy enough to issue a discipline that has no basis in any policy that applies to players.
This is the thing that always gets me that you will appreciate. They [the NFL] used a “general awareness” standard to punish Tom Brady. To punish a player. They used the standard of “more probable than not.” Well I can tell you that the owner of the Cleveland Browns was generally aware that his company was defrauding people of millions of dollars. And what punishment did the NFL levy on him? I can tell you that the owner of the Minnesota Vikings was generally aware that he was engaged in the longest-running fraud in New Jersey. And what did the NFL do with that owner? The answer to those questions is, obviously, nothing. Those are the things I think that we look at and say, ‘this is just not right,’ and that’s why we fight.