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Thursday, November 16, 2006
What's the Proper Role of Unions in Disciplining Agents?

Last January, I discussed the NFLPA's efforts to impose a 2-year suspension on sports agent David Dunn. The NFLPA's suspension was put on hold when Dunn filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which automatically stays administrative actions against the debtor. Liz Mullen of Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal has an interesting piece in the Oct. 23-29 issue ("NFLPA's vote to suspend Dunn shows it will take on big agents"). Mullen reports that Dunn's bankruptcy proceeding was dismissed, and Dunn said that he will appeal the suspension to the NFLPA's arbitrator, Roger Kaplan. The NFLPA is hoping that a hearing can be scheduled this month.

Mullen also notes that the NFLPA, which appears to be the only one of the four sports unions that actively investigates and disciplines agents for violating its rules of conduct, has never suspended an agent with as many big-name clients as Dunn has. Two of Dunn's clients spoke out against the suspension:
Drew Bledsoe: "It's ridiculous. There is no reason for the [players association] to be seeking punishment against Dave after so many NFL players freely chose Dave to continue as their representative after he left Leigh Steinberg's firm to start Athletes First."
John Lynch: "The decision to discipline Dave is misguided and completely unjustified. He did nothing wrong, and frankly, I am astounded that the union didn't call me, one of its members, to learn the truth before taking this step."
LaVar Arrington has echoed similar statements as Bledsoe and Lynch in the context of the union's pursuit of his agent, Carl Poston, for malpractice allegedly committed by Poston in the negotiation of Arrington's contract with the Redskins, which I discussed last September here. The NFLPA released in a statement:
"We have six players on our disciplinary committee and a majority of them believe that Dunn's actions violated our agent regulations. The committee is not disciplining Dunn for anything he did in representing Drew Bledsoe, John Lynch, or any of his other active clients. The discipline is, instead, because he, among other things, failed to properly represent a former client and improperly interfered with another agents' clients."
Should the union only get involved when a player (or players) files a grievance against a particular agent? Or should the union also be proactive in disciplining agents even when the players are against it? Mullen notes that many agents have been waiting a long time for Dunn to be suspended. So Dunn's competition is obviously all for it because then there will be a feeding frenzy on all of Dunn's clients, which in and of itself fosters unethical behavior in the form of client solicitation and providing improper inducements. If David Dunn was in fact stealing clients from Leigh Steinberg, should the union be concerned about that behavior or is that something that should just be left for Dunn and Steinberg to resolve between themselves?


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