Sports Law Blog
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Friday, December 14, 2007
Leaving the Falcons' Nest: A Tort in the Making?
The news that Bobby Petrino left the Atlanta Falcons for the Ivory Tower at Arkansas ranks as the piece de resistance of a year of turmoil for the team. With Michael Vick gone, the team sank to a 3-10 record, and Petrino, like a rat on a sinking ship, decided to bail out -- despite a five-year $24 million contract.
To add more acrimony, team officials claimed that Petrino was negotiating with Arkansas without permission, a breach of etiquette, to say the least. According to the New York Times, Petrino's rationale for leaving was because his "family was struggling" with the team's losing season. For almost $5 million per season, that's a stress that many families can live with.
But what can the Falcons do? The NFL has no jurisdiction over Arkansas, but team owner Arthur Blank has recourse in the courts: the venerable claim of tortious interference with contract. Although minor differences may exist from state to state, the following elements must be found:
(1) The existence of a contractual relationship or beneficial business relationship between two parties.
(2) Knowledge of that relationship by a third party.
(3) Intent of the third party to induce a party to the relationship to breach the relationship.
(4) Damage to the party against whom the breach occurs. (Source: Wikipedia)
I think that a good case can be made. The key requirement is (3) and I think that may not be that difficult to prove. If Arkansas officials knew about Petrino's unhappiness and induced him to leave for the confines of Fayetteville, they exercised unethical and tortious conduct, along with bad faith. Damages -- finding a replacement, dealing with the negative effect on the team, a possible loss of fans and ratings -- may well be shown.
As quarterback Joey Harrington said: "He [Petrino] preached team and he preached family and then he quit on it. . . He lied to us." To Mr. Blank, who was quoted as being "betrayed" by this act: don't get mad, get even.