As we sit here today, with our cities laying in decay and the collective psyche of our nation’s children having been damaged beyond repair, we can surely point to the event that started it all: the time rap sort-of-star M.I.A. flipped the bird during the Super Bowl halftime show. Just kidding — I, like anyone else who was watching, either didn’t notice it or forgot about it as soon as a bigger problem emerged. Like, I’m hungry, but the fridge is all the way over there and if I get up I might miss some of the game or one of the commercials.
But the NFL seems to have cared quite a bit. Based on a recently unearthed arbitration filing, the NFL sued M.I.A. for $1.5 million because her “offensive gesture [was] in flagrant disregard for the values that form the cornerstone of the NFL brand and the Super Bowl.” For those that are curious, this would be the same NFL that currently features on the frontpage of its own website an article asking whether a player who lost a fingertip during a game and CONTINUED PLAYING this past weekend did enough to make him the toughest player the sport has ever seen. It’s also the same NFL that recently settled a lawsuit claiming that it covered up what it knew about the effect of head injuries to players to the tune of $765 million, which many believe was a payoff to attempt to shield the public from finding out that the NFL actually knew about the dangerous effects of concussions far before it has claimed publicly.
Unsurprisingly, M.I.A herself and an apparent majority of those in the media who have commented on the suit seem to think that either the league should have bigger fish to fry or are impressed that the league can keep a straight face when it claims to possess such a wholesome reputation that a two second clip during a halftime show has caused it seven figure damages.
So what’s the lesson? In my mind, it’s one that lots of clients (and especially well-known ones) should learn. One of the supposed benefits of agreements that include arbitration provisions is that disputes will be litigated privately, as opposed to the public nature of lawsuits filed in the court system. But, as the NFL learned here, arbitration proceedings tend not to stay secret, especially when they involve high profile parties. The best bet for potential litigants is to assume that any lawsuit they file, in court or otherwise, is going to become known.