Pat Thomas Wins Case, but He Is a Beaten Man
When the Rams brought in former players to their 40-year anniversary celebration at Anaheim Stadium last summer, Pat Thomas hobbled in on crutches.
His appearance made a silent statement in his three-year dispute with the Rams and Raiders that has left the former All-Pro cornerback financially undone.
Thomas had just had surgery on his right knee--surgery that the Rams said he didn’t need in the summer of 1983 before they traded him to the Raiders, who quickly decided they’d been dealt damaged goods. The issue became which team should pay Thomas, whose contract guaranteed him $200,000 for ’83.
With nobody paying him, Thomas filed a grievance with the National Football League, and last week, Superior Judge Jerome K. Fields affirmed a December ruling by arbitrator Sam Kagel that each club should pay Thomas $100,000.
Neither has indicated that it is immediately willing to do so but may file appeals that could drag the case on for years.
Both sides agree, however, that it could cost them more in legal fees to pursue the matter than simply to pay off Thomas now.
Also, the pending collective bargaining negotiations between the players’ union and the NFL Management Council are in the picture. The Management Council would like to see a provision for arbitration retained in a new agreement. Arbitration would seem pointless, however, if the principals refuse to accept the rulings.
Thomas Comparet, another Los Angeles lawyer representing the Management Council in last week’s proceedings, filed a brief opposing the Rams’ and Raiders’ petitions to vacate the awards.
And where does all of this legal maneuvering has leave Thomas, who has a wife and three children to support?
“It just prolongs the agony for me,’ he said. “Financially, it’s just destroyed me.”
Thomas, now a defensive backfield coach for the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League at $30,000 a year, said the dispute cost him tax shelters, his business in Plano, Tex., and a $40,000 loss on a house he bought in Newport Beach just before the Rams traded him.
“Do you know what it’s like to go from a quarter-million dollars a year to $30,000?” Thomas asked. “Everything I had--not just my career--was taken away from me.”