Jim Trotter declined severance package that included NDA
Remember when outside counsel Mary Jo White recommended that the NFL prohibit teams from using non-disclosure agreements and the league just sort of ignored it?
The league uses NDAs, too.
Jim Trotter, formerly of NFL Media, told Peter King for his latest Football Morning in America column that Trotter could have exited with extra pay, if he’d agreed to zip it.
“I was offered a three-month severance package, with an NDA,” Trotter said. “I declined.”
The offer likely also included a waiver of any and all legal claims that Trotter could make. And, given the things Trotter has already said, the NFL surely is wishing at this point that it had offered him not three months but three years. Or maybe that they hadn’t let him go at all.
As one source with knowledge of the dynamics at NFL Media has observed twice in the past week, this is going to get ugly.
Indeed it will. For the league, it already is. They should consider what it will cost in legal fees to defend a potential (if not likely) lawsuit from Trotter, double or triple it, and offer it right now for a waiver of all claims and an agreement to not discuss anything about NFL Media.
But here’s the thing. Even if Trotter were offered $2 million or $3 million or even $5 million at this point to drop it and move on, there’s a good chance he wouldn’t. Surely, there’s a financial offer he couldn’t refuse. Even more surely, the league would never put that much on the table.
Via King, the league told Trotter’s agent last fall that there was no reason to think Trotter wouldn’t have his contract renewed, although he might have to take a pay cut. By late February, after Trotter’s second annual effort to challenge Commissioner Roger Goodell publicly on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in the NFL Media newsroom made the Commissioner look not so great, Trotter received a different -- and not so great -- message.
He was asked whether he’s in “alignment” with the newsroom. Trotter said, “Of course not. The fact that we don’t have one Black executive, one Black copy editor, one full-time Black employee on the news desk is troubling.” He was told that it’s “kind of hard to fight corporate headwinds.”
Those headwinds blew Trotter right out of the building. And he now may be planning to try to blow the house down.
Obviously, nothing he does will harm a company that is capable of producing an endless assembly line of bright, shiny objects that are consumed in real time by millions. But Trotter’s arrow could at least get the attention of one or more owners who have real questions about the negative publicity that will continue to flow from one of the worst unforced errors 345 Park Avenue has committed since imposing only a two-game suspension on Ray Rice.
Someone lacked the foresight to realize what Trotter could do. Someone underestimated his willingness and ability to do it. Someone overlooked the manner in which other media members and fans would react to the perception/reality that Trotter got a raw deal for doing the right thing.
Big companies have high-priced in-house and outside lawyers not only to clean up unexpected messes but also to avoid the foreseeable ones. Someone should have seen this one coming. Which means they should have kept Trotter on the payroll -- or they should have offered him the kind of settlement that he could not and would not have rejected.
Most of us have a number we wouldn’t decline. Maybe Trotter doesn’t. If so, expect any lawsuit he files to culminate in a trial that will peel back the curtain in ways it never has been peeled back before, regardless of any settlement offers he receives.
At this point, there’s a good chance Trotter would accept nothing that doesn’t include reinstatement and/or, at a minimum, a clear commitment to make the changes in the newsroom for which he has been advocating.