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That Sunshine Is Threatening
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue used his annual state-of-the-game press conference to spread the gospel of good news. "There's been a lot of sunshine," he said last Friday in Phoenix, "both really and figuratively." Ah, but there are also a lot of storm clouds hovering over the league. In addition to the multipronged Art Modell saga, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis have filed $750 million and $200 million antitrust suits, respectively, alleging that the NFL interfered in the operation of their franchises. Former New England Patriots owner Billy Sullivan is seeking $83.7 million in a suit—still in the hands of a federal jury in Boston at week's end—that says the league wrongfully interfered with his attempt to sell 49% of the team in a public stock offering in 1987. And the Supreme Court is deliberating a precedent-setting case involving former taxi-squad player Anthony Brown; he is seeking $30 million on behalf of developmental players who, during a labor impasse in 1987, were paid a nonnegotiable salary of $1,000 per week.
The biggest crisis lies with Modell and the Browns. By deciding last week to postpone its decision on whether to approve Modell's proposal to relocate his Browns to Baltimore, the NFL ensured that it will face legal action: If the league rejects the move at its owners meetings on Feb. 8-9, the artful Modell is ready to sue on the grounds that the decision will have cost him millions in profits. And if the NFL approves the move, Maryland Stadium Authority will go ahead with an antitrust suit claiming that delays have cost it $36 million in financing and construction costs. Because antitrust law automatically triples the damage figure, the league could lose more than $3 billion.
The ray of hope for Tagliabue is that an Ohio state court will grant the city of Cleveland the injunction it is seeking to keep the team until Modell's Cleveland Stadium lease expires in 1998. The injunction would temporarily get the NFL off the hook, but it too could have negative consequences for the league: When the injunction hearing begins on Feb. 12, Cleveland's lawyers say they will present evidence that Modell has threatened to field a lame-duck team and unload his marketable players if he is forced to stay.
Yes, it stands to be a pretty tempestuous off-season for the NFL. And though Tagliabue chooses to let a smile be his umbrella, he can't change the gloomy forecast.
Losing a Religion
You're not likely to find any of Mountain Bike Action's 150,000 readers in Benin, a mostly flat West African nation. And since Benin recently recognized voodoo as an official religion, that's just as well. Action last month banned all mention of VooDoo Cycles from its articles and ads because its owner, Roland Hinz, is a devout Christian who doesn't dig the voodoo mojo. "If something's weird, Hinz will choose not to run it," says Action editor Richard Cunningham. So far the magazine has canceled four VooDoo ads.
VooDoo Cycles says its name has nothing to do with the trances, spells and other forms of magic that are staples of voodoo. Instead, the company says, the name is meant simply to capture the "spirit of adventure." Says VooDoo marketing consultant Dan Post, "Obviously the publisher has the right of refusal, but this amount of discretion is almost silly."
Post adds that VooDoo isn't planning any legal action. He did not say, however, whether he owned a doll named Hinz.