Sports Law Notes from “Elway to Marino”

30 for 30ESPN’s 30 for 30 series has produced another fascinating film, “Elway to Marino”, produced by NFL Films and Ken Rodgers, which covers the 1983 NFL Draft and the six quarterbacks that were chosen in the first round.

The story is told primarily through the eyes of sports lawyer and agent Marvin Demoff, who represented both Elway and Marino and kept a detailed diary of his dealings regarding Elway.  Besides the fact that “Elway to Marino” presents a great story, there a number of sports law issues of note:

  • Demoff, as a sports lawyer (not merely an agent), was required to follow the rules of professional conduct with regard to conflicts of interest (an issue that has been the subject of a number of sports law papers).  Although Demoff’s representation of both Elway and Marino created an inherent conflict of interest, both waived the conflict and allowed Demoff to represent them.
  • Demoff discussed a college football player’s ability, or inability, to choose his employer, pointing out that a law firm didn’t draft him out of law school.  Of course, in the NFL, the player draft is collectively bargained.   Nevertheless, with Elway’s baseball talent and contract with the Yankees, he had the leverage to maneuver within the system.  Since 1983, we’ve seen players try to choose their employer, notably with Bo Jackson and Eli Manning.
  • Elway and Demoff believed that they had a gentlemen’s agreement with Ernie Accorsi of the Colts and that the Colts would not draft Elway.  Accorsi remembered it differently and ultimately drafted Elway.  This miscommunication created a great deal of hostility between the parties.
  • The Raiders, led by owner Al Davis, were a serious player in the Elway sweepstakes and were even willing to trade Howie Long.  But the NFL curiously got involved in the deal and it quickly fell apart.  The timing was suspect as Al Davis was suing the NFL for the ability to move his team.  Demoff gave credence to the idea that the NFL nixed the deal that would have sent Elway to the Raiders.
  • From a sports business perspective, it is fascinating to see how the NFL Draft has grown as an event.  In 1983 the most interesting part of the Draft may have been the helmet-telephones.

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