Sports Law Blog
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Monday, April 07, 2008
slavery and liquidated damages clauses
Marvin A. Robon, one of University of Michigan head football coach Richard Rodriguez’s attorneys, made an astonishing claim in Morgantown, WV, during hearings being held there in connection with West Virginia University’s lawsuit against its former head coach. Robon, complaining the Rodriguez’s $4 million dollar buyout clause is “outrageous” and “just not fair” stated:
“It’s like back before the Civil War when slaves had the right to buy their freedom. A penalty of $4 million is almost like a slave from Africa trying to buy his freedom in America.”
Robon (pictured above) continued:
“I think it’s an outrageous amount. It’s just not fair and it’s not related to any damages the university is suffering.”
Robon has badly miscalculated on several fronts here. First, as Prof. Karcher discussed on this blog yesterday, buyout clauses in head coach contracts are now common place. It is the rare instance in this day and age that a new football or basketball head coach at a NCAA member institution does not sign a contract that includes a very stiff liquidated damages clause. Tom Crean just agreed to a laddered $3 million dollar buyout clause with the University of Indiana. $4 million may be outrageous to Robon, and to him “just not fair,” but it is market and the amount is not uncommon. Rodriguez agreed, upon leaving WVU, to a $4 million laddered buyout clause with the University of Michigan.
Second, in the United States of America, contractual terms agreed between parties at arm’s length remain a fundamental precept of our law. We hallow contracts in the United States. An American can contract away his or her constitutionally protected due process rights. We support, encourage and enforce contract terms that parties enter into fairly between one another. Rodriguez signed a contract that included a $4 million dollar liquidated buyout clause. West Virginia University committed in that same contract to a damages clause, where it would pay Rodriguez several million dollars if it terminated Rodriguez prior to the completion of the contract.
Last, and most egregious, Robon desecrates the memory of those who have battled against slavery and its remaining vestiges in our nation. Think Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass and Harriett Tubman to name three. Robon trivializes the dark period of slavery in United States history and the memory of those who fought so valiantly for equality under the law. Think Thurgood Marshall, Charles Hamilton Houston and Constance Baker Motley to name three. Robon, apparently in an earnest moment, compares Rodriguez’s lucrative contract ($2 million per year) entered into with West Virginia University and its attendant buyout clause, freely negotiated at arm’s length between attorneys for both parties, to SLAVERY. Seriously?
Our United States of America continues to struggle with racial conflict and inequality. A white lawyer, representing a well paid head coach of a college game, compares an arms-length negotiated contract term and that coaches attempt to circumvent that clearly negotiated term, to buying his freedom like a slave.
The sordid Rodriguez saga has grown even nastier.