Jaimie McFarlin wasn’t surprised by a federal judge’s decision today to overturn the four-game suspension levied against New England Patriot’s quarterback Tom Brady in the so-called Deflategate scandal following the 2015 Super Bowl.
In fact, McFarlin called it months ago. The 2010 MBA graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, and her co-author, reached the conclusion as part of a 39-page paper due to be published in February in the Jeffrey S. Moorad Sports Law Journal from the Villanova University School of Law.
“We correctly predicted that the (NFL) commissioner (Roger Goodell) had overstepped his bounds,” McFarlin told The Consortium today. “We wrote this paper a year ago, during the last NFL season. Then Deflategate happened and we had to revise it.”
McFarlin, herself a former professional basketball player, and writing partner Joshua S.E. Lee, both 2015 Harvard Law School graduates, titled their paper “Sports Scandals from the Top-Down: Comparative Analysis of Management, Owner, and Athlete Discipline in the NFL & NBA.”
It focuses on disciplinary issues in the NFL and NBA, including the forced sale of the Los Angeles Clippers, the Ray Rice allegations of spousal abuse and Brady’s alleged involvement in the under-inflated footballs found during the Super Bowl.
“It’s about the evolution of public perceptions of players, including in social media, and how it impacts in how the commissioner uses his power,” said McFarlin, who attended OP in 2008 in Dallas. “That to me is new and fresh, it’s ever changing. The powers that the commissioner has are constantly evolving. When the punishment is handed down, you’re looking at a ‘case’ through an arbitrary exercise of power.”
Basically, the paper’s conclusion is that when professional sports leagues impose discipline on their employees — the athletes — they tend to behave well outside the bounds of traditional employer-employee discipline.
One difference, the writers explain, between a “traditional” workplace and professional sports is a notion they call a “franchise monopoly, with highly skilled workers.” It’s as though McDonald’s is the only fast-food restaurant and its workers are world-class experts in making Big Macs. If they’re unhappy with their working conditions, they have no recourse. There’s no where else to take those Big Mac skills.
Coupled with the intense publicity surrounding athletes, the “labor force” in the NBA and the NFL faces unfair scrutiny and sometimes arbitrary discipline under the guise of “the best interest of the game.”
In an email to McFarlin and Lee, Villanova’s editorial board said the paper “has a very unique take on the conduct issue in professional sports.” The authors were also honored with Harvard Law School’s Weiler Awards, presented at the Committee on Sports and Entertainment Law’s 2015 Symposium, for their paper.
It’s not the first time she’s put her legal education to work as a published author. She co-led a team of writers that produced a legal white paper on the subject of concussions in the NFL, and the league’s duty to its players. Another paper addresses the differences in how amateur athletes in Europe are treated in comparison to college athletes in the United States.
McFarlin was a star hoops player at WashU. After earning her MBA, she went on to play professional basketball in Denmark for the Værløse Basketball Klub. She decided to enter law school with the aim of combining her passion for business and sports.
“I was really interested in the business side of sports. I knew in terms of my legal career that I’d have to deal with sports in some aspect,” she said. “In terms of The Consortium, understanding how sports works as a business, I think that will be my leg up at the beginning of my career — to integrate what I learned in business school as part of my practice.”
Pictured above: Jaimie McFarlin receiving her Weiler Award in March from Harvard’s Law and Sports Law Clinic Director Peter Carfagna.