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Q&A with Gregg Levy, legal counsel for the NFL

By Daniel Schifrin

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Gregg Levy has served as the principal outside counsel for the National Football League since 1993. He’s played a major role in each of the NFL’s civil victories during that period, from the Supreme Court case Brown v. Pro Football Inc. to the collective bargaining debacle that occurred last summer.

The Spectator spoke with Mr. Levy about his experiences as an NFL lawyer:

How did you get the position of principle outside counsel?

My firm, Covington and Berling, has long been the NFL’s principle law firm. Paul Taglibue, who became the NFL commissioner in 1989, served as the NFL’s principal outside counsel before he became the commissioner. I worked for commissioner Taglibue as a young lawyer and I had a good relationship with him. When others who were with the NFL left the firm or became otherwise engaged, I assumed the role with him.

What was the conflict with the NFLPA and what was your role in the process?

There was a collective bargaining agreement made in 2006 between the NFL and the NFL players union that expired in early 2011. The players decided to file an antitrust case against the league saying that any rules that the league continued to enforce after that collective bargaining agreement (CBA) would violate the antitrust laws. Ultimately, the union engaged in decertification when they pretended to go out of business as a union, which allowed individual players to bring lawsuits against the league. My role was the principle strategist. We’d been anticipating decertification for two years and had been anticipating them filing antitrust legislation. My role in the two years before the CBA expired was to make sure that the owners were prepared to engage in an antitrust litigation and if necessary, a lockout. When the litigation began, I was the principle lawyer for the league and was very much involved in creating the new CBA.

Why were you chosen as one of the five finalists to be NFL commissioner?

I’d been involved with the league full-time for around 13 years. I was familiar with every aspect of the league’s business, and I knew most of the owners well. I was in a position to hit the ground running. I also had expertise in labor issues, and even at that point, we knew that a war was coming with the players. I think that one of the things that brought me to the attention of the owners for the role was my ability to lead such an effort, plot the strategy and close the deal.

Is there anything you would have done differently than Roger Goodell had you been commissioner?

There are always things that any two executives would do differently, as no two people are the same. Roger has been a very successful and effective commissioner, and he’s done great things for the league.

What is your relationship like with the owners? How much contact do you have with them?

It varies from owner to owner. I’m almost always in meetings when the 32 owners get together and I’m actively participating in those meetings. The league has various committees and I’m always present for discussions and conference calls. I see the owners at the Super Bowl and have different relations with different owners, but I see them regularly five or six times a year at these meetings.

What are the chances that a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars or the St. Louis Rams will move to Los Angeles?

It depends what your timetable is. There’s no stadium there that is suitable for an NFL team and that’s always been the big impediment. The cost of building a stadium anywhere is enormous. The San Francisco 49ers are about to build a stadium that costs $1 billion and it’s been years in the planning. Unless and until there are arrangements for a suitable stadium, the odds of a team moving are slim. They are made slimmer by the fact that the league’s preference is for stability and it likes to see teams stay where they are. There’s a new owner in Jacksonville. The Jaguars were just sold in the last six weeks to an owner who has said publicly that he would like to keep the team there. I think the chance a team moves to Los Angeles in the near future is not very high.

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Q&A with Gregg Levy, legal counsel for the NFL