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Ronald Katz, a lawyer representing the retirees, told jurors that longtime union chief Gene Upshaw and other union leaders "betrayed the trust of their members" by neglecting the retired players, who pay $50 a year to keep their union membership. Upshaw died of cancer in August.
Kessler unsuccessfully urged the jury to award far less, arguing the union could suffer economic harm if it had to pay a large amount.
"It was the only sports union that tried to do retired players' licensing deals," Kessler said.
The union's primary defense during trial was that EA, trading card companies such as Topps and Upper Deck and other companies paid licensing fees exclusively for active players.
But the retirees represented at trial all signed "group licensing agreements" that promised the union would do its best to market their images. The jury found otherwise.
"We felt we had to send a message that the union needs to represent and protect all its members," said Susan Smith, part of the 10-person jury that voted unanimously in favor of the retirees. "We felt the players' union didn't do that."
The jury's verdict is the latest salvo in an increasingly rancorous relationship between the NFLPA and many retired players, who have complained that the union has forgotten what past players have contributed to building the NFL into a highly profitable industry that richly compensates owners and players alike.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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