Dodgers fans and sports writers have been scratching their heads over why new team co-owner Magic Johnson has been so damn nice to seller Frank McCourt. Because come on -- nobody's nice to Frank McCourt. He's basically the one person in Los Angeles who we're all allowed to rip on indefinitely, without threat of libel. His terribleness is an undisputed fact.
But it turns out Johnson is under contract to keep his mouth shut:
On pages 39-40 of the Dodgers Purchase Agreement between McCourt and Guggenheim Partners (the Chicago investment firm backing up Johnson), you'll come across an unassuming little clause called "non-disparagement."
In it, Johnson is banned from making "any statement, whether in commercial or noncommercial speech, that disparages, criticizes or is injurious" to McCourt.
No, seriously. See for yourself:
(a) From and after the date of this Agreement (both before and after the Closing or termination of this Agreement), and except as necessary to make statements in court or arbitration proceedings, Purchaser will not, and will cause its Affiliates not to, directly or indirectly, alone or in connection with any Person, (i) engage in any conduct or make any statement, whether in commercial or noncommercial speech, that disparages, criticizes or is injurious to the reputation of (A) Frank McCourt or any members of his immediate family, or (B) the Company and the Company Subsidiaries (with respect to the period prior to the Closing) (each Person referred to in clause "(A)," and "(B)" above being referred to as a "McCourt Associate"), (ii) induce or encourage any other Person to disparage any McCourt Associate, or (iii) make or cause to be made any statement that is critical of or otherwise maligns the business, goodwill or personal or professional reputation of any McCourt Associate.
In other words -- if Johnson doesn't have anything nice to say about McCourt (or, uh, "his immediate family"), he's legally obligated to not say anything at all.
Could explain the new team owner's glowing press statement on March 24:
"I am thrilled to be part of the historic Dodger franchise and intend to build on the fantastic foundation laid by Frank McCourt as we drive the Dodgers back to the front page of the sports section in our wonderful community of Los Angeles."
In the (b) section of the non-disparagement agreement, McCourt is likewise banned from saying anything bad about Johnson, but that seems a little superfluous. Who could say anything bad about L.A. sports' most happy, huggy teddy bear? And if McCourt did make that mistake, he'd have 10,000 Dodger fans with pitchforks to answer to.
There are some other intriguing bits in the 70-page Purchase Agreement -- namely, the absence of any Guggenheim funding details or parking-lot negotiations -- but the bad-mouthing ban wins, hands down.
How much more do you think Johnson would have had to pay for First Amendment rights to blast the man who drove L.A.'s beloved baseball team straight into the mud?
$500,000? $1 million?
Considering the $2 billion deal was already in the worst in MLB history, it might have been worth it.