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    HomeSportBijan Robinson injury-report fine opens potential can of worms for NFL

    Bijan Robinson injury-report fine opens potential can of worms for NFL

    Before legalized gambling, teams that played fast and loose with the rules regarding the reporting of injuries created potential problems between themselves and the league. With legalized gambling prevalent throughout most of the country, teams that engage in injury-report irregularities can now create separate problems for themselves and the league.

    The first tangible example of the full-blown DraftKings/FanDuel era comes from the $100,000 in fines imposed on the Falcons and coach Arthur Smith for failing to disclose running back Bijan Robinson’s Week 7 illness. Though he played in the game, Robinson had limited snaps and only one touch — his lowest amount of the year, by far.

    Apart from the potential strategic impact this might have had on the Buccaneers, who lost the game by three points in overtime, the successful concealment of Robinson’s health status led bettors to believe Robinson was fine.

    It’s not about bets placed on the Falcons to win or to cover the spread. It’s about the various prop bets available based on yards gained by Robinson or catches made or touchdowns scored by Robinson, individually or as part of parlays. Also, the various forms of for-money fantasy football require lineup decisions to be made. Robinson, the eighth overall pick in the draft, has been a darling of the fantasy crowd. His one-touch showing created a firestorm among those who might have gone in a different direction if they’d known Robinson was sick.

    And that’s where it can become very interesting, and expensive, for the Falcons, and possibly the league. As explained after the Bengals apparently concealed an existing wrist/hand/thumb/whatever injury to quarterback Joe Burrow, it doesn’t take much to file a class action on behalf of anyone/everyone who wagered money on Robinson to exceed the over-under for yards and touchdowns, or who kept him in the lineup for an ultimately successful financial endeavor in the fantasy realm.

    For any lawyer evaluating a possible civil lawsuit, three key factors are considered: (1) liability; (2) damages; and (3) collectibility. Here, the third element is a no-brainer; the NFL has billions. The league’s decision to fine the Falcons makes it a lot easier to establish liability for deliberate fraud or misrepresentation, intentional or negligent. (The NFL could be added as a defendant under the argument that it has negligently failed to enforce its rules in the past.) The challenge in a case like this becomes putting together a damages award big enough to make the case worth a lawyer’s while.

    That’s where the class action — which corporate America despises — becomes very useful. Person by person, the amount lost is usually too small to worry about. Add it all up from coast to coast, however, and the money becomes potentially significant.

    How many people ultimately bet on Robinson to exceed his various props that day? Who knows? The sports books surely have that information.

    Whether it happens in the Robinson case, the Burrow case (the league predictably exonerated the Bengals; the investigation sparked by a lawsuit could lead to a much different conclusion), or the next example of a skill-position player whose team hid his injury or illness from those who bet on team or individual performance, the class action is coming.

    Crazier class actions have been filed. For example, a Jets season-ticket holder filed a class action against Patriots coach Bill Belichick over Spygate. The case argued that the cheating violated the contractual expectations of the people who pay to watch the games. The legal theory failed. In other words, there was no liability.

    In cases like this, it would be much easier. The league has clear rules regarding injury disclosure. Bettors reasonably rely on the fact that the information is accurate. If it’s proven that the team hid the truth, it becomes much easier to show that fair compensation is owed to bettors who relied on it.

    It would be very difficult at this point for the teams and the league to claim that they have no duty to the bettors. With the NFL stuffing its pockets full of every sports book sponsorship dollar it can grab, it can’t claim that the general betting public shouldn’t rely on the accuracy of the injury reports — especially since the NFL has never made any effort to add a “there’s a chance the teams are hiding injuries” disclaimer to the weekly injury information.

    These factors surely made it difficult for the league to muster the will to whack the Falcons. But what choice did the NFL have? The proof that the illness was hidden was already irrefutable; the NFL could have only made things worse by covering it all up.

    The question now becomes whether, by strategically tucking the announcement of the punishment into the afternoon hours of the Friday of Christmas weekend, the league and the Falcons will dodge the legal bullet.

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