If there truly comes a time in every life where one must stand up and be counted, Melissa Margulies has engaged in such. Employing bravura, complemented by a strong sense of courage, she is setting a precedent by engaging in legal action against her former (and infamous) league of play.
After making countless physical and personal sacrifices in order to provide Los Angeles with three indoor female football championships, the reality of Margulies’ efforts reached a crushing reality in 2013. Suffering a knee injury which nearly ended her career, she made a remarkable recovery. Establishing herself as one of the toughest and admirable women in football, this former USC track star and Pac-10 All-Academic displayed a peerless perseverance in her return to the gridiron.
Sadly, the hard work to recover was met without full financial assistance. As one of the league’s elite players, she was one of the more visible players whose sweat and sacrifice built said league. At one time, she was described by the league as a legend in the making. Despite such accolades, the penny pinching ways superseded any loyalties.
It was a dehumanizing feeling that showed a serious lack of business acumen on the part of the league. Taking into account that this was not her first injury suffered in league play, a broken cheek and orbital bone are other casualties from her tenure with the league. Sadly, it was another situation where a player was made to feel disposable despite the fact that their efforts helped line the league’s coffers.
Aggravating the situation was the fact that she was one of many players who endured intimidation. Hard work may have helped an athlete earn a roster spot, but keeping that spot was another story. From being forced into attending promotional events, threatened with a release or fine for lateness at a practice to the selling of tickets, the reality was that such working conditions amounted to nothing more than an athletic dictatorship.
Having filed a class action lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior County, Marguiles has sent a very serious message that the league’s arrogance shall be its downfall. Channeling the courage of athletes such as Curt Flood, the first to challenge baseball’s reserve clause, Spencer Haywood, who believed a player did not have to finish college in order to play pro basketball and Carl Brewer, the first athlete to expose former hockey czar Alan Eagleson for misappropriation of union funds, Margulies is making a statement that fairness, equity and dignity are the cornerstones for a successful organization.
Arguing over the classification of players as independent contractors, the heart of the 20-page complaint revolves around a lack of compensation. In theory, wages were supposed to be associated to ticket revenues and performances. In addition, the league also had players sign away other rights such as publicity and promotional.
The complaint also emphasizes that the designation of an athlete as an independent contractor was improper due to players lacking requisite control and discretion over their job responsibilities and duties. Represented by Michael Morrison with Alexander Krakow and Glick of Santa Monica, she is looking to obtain general and compensatory damages, restitution, waiting time penalties, interest and costs,
Extending the hand of collaboration and empathy for any other players that felt poorly treated during the time stated in the lawsuit (2010-13), dating back four years from the time a judgment is reached in the case, Margulies is encouraging them to participate in the lawsuit. Of note, Robin Johnson, a former quarterback with the Las Vegas Sin was one of the first to join the cause.
Despite the sport’s potential for growth, any hope of these remarkable women being treated more humanely did not come to fruition. During the offseason in 2013, any effort to question how things were being run, with the hope of simply brining improvement resulted in being excommunicated from the league. Such mistreatment can only create chaos, leading towards a downward spiral.
From out-of-pocket expenses, bullying over fines, nightmarish road trips and no reimbursement for expenses lost through personal work, one could not help but get the feeling that the league had the ambience of a sweatshop, rather than an arena where women could be empowered and heroic. This disposable treatment of players has resulted in too many bridges being burned for a group of dedicated yet disillusioned women. While this lawsuit may result in more bridges being burned, potentially ending more careers, it is a fire that a group of brave yet exploited players will gladly enjoy.
Should more players get on board, a league which was once seen as an athletic novelty, combining beauty, sports and entertainment in an exciting package that buzzed throughout popular culture will be revealed as nothing more than a fallen house of cards.
For Margulies, her decision to fight back is one that stands as a key moment for women’s sport in this decade. While sporting equality is an ongoing struggle that women are working tirelessly to overcome, the feelings of degradation and bullying that were endured in this league were completely unnecessary. For all her accomplishments as a champion football player, this may prove to be her greatest triumph yet.