From NFL to women's soccer, lawyer is thorn in side of sports leagues

Thu Mar 31, 2016 8:38pm EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jeffrey Kessler may not be a household name. But when his signature appears on a lawsuit against a major sports organization, league officials know they are up against a hard-nosed litigator who has built a career taking on sports' most powerful interests.

Kessler's latest clients are five stars of the World Cup champion U.S. women's soccer team, who have sued the national governing body because they make far less money than the men's national team despite generating more revenue.

But over three decades of litigation, he has gone after all four major U.S. professional sports leagues, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Olympic Games, among others. His assertive manner has achieved results, even as it has sometimes rubbed his opponents the wrong way.

"I grew up in Brooklyn," Kessler, 62, said in a phone interview on Thursday. "I have my style. But I also bring a passion to what I do. If that style and passion sometimes can be a little aggressive, I'm not going to apologize for that."

He has worked on some of the most famous, and infamous, cases in sports. Last year, he secured the reversal of National Football League star quarterback Tom Brady's so-called "Deflategate" suspension over allegations he was part of a conspiracy to deflate balls to his advantage before a playoff game.

Kessler also represented running back Ray Rice in his successful appeal of an indefinite suspension in 2014 for punching his fiancée, and helped quarterback Michael Vick keep millions of dollars in bonus money after his 2007 conviction for running a dog-fighting ring.

In 2008, he won a verdict allowing the double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius of South Africa to compete in the Olympic Games against able-bodied runners.

"He's certainly caused a lot of sleepless nights for a lot of people," said Gary Roberts, a sports law professor and dean emeritus at Indiana University's law school. "In virtually all of his lawsuits, he is challenging something that at one time not long before that, everyone just took for granted."   Continued...

Jeffrey Kessler, a lawyer for the NFL Players Association, exits following a hearing for suspended Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's hearing against the NFL over punishment for child abuse, in New York in this December 2, 2014 file photo.  REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/Files