According to the New York Post, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning was involved in a scheme with the team’s equipment manager to sell fake gear that could be advertised as “game used” based on game-worn gear.
The Post obtained court papers that show Manning sending an email to Joe Skiba, the team’s equipment manager, asking for “helmets that can pass as game used,” which Manning was forced to turn over last week in connection to a civil racketeering suit. It alleges that Manning and the Giants worked in conjunction to bilk collectors into purchasing what they believed were authentic gear that was used in NFL games.
Three memorabilia dealers are suing Manning, Skiba, the Giants, team owner John Mara and others in the case. The emails were filed on Tuesday at Bergen County (N.J.) Superior Court.
In one email from 2010, Manning’s marketing agent, Alan Zucker, asked Manning to give him “2 game used helmets and 2 game used jerseys,” and Skiba replied to Manning: “Let me know what your looking for I’ll try to get something down for you … ”
Manning reportedly responded by saying, “2 helmets that can pass as game used. That is it. Eli.”
Lawyers for the Giants issued a statement: “The email, taken out of context, was shared with the media by an unscrupulous memorabilia dealer and his counsel who for years has been seeking to leverage a big payday.”
It continued: “The email predates any litigation, and there was no legal obligation to store it on the Giants server …
“Eli Manning is well known for his integrity and this is just the latest misguided attempt to defame his character.”
Manning was named co-winner of the 2016 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award — given annually to the “NFL player for his excellence on and off the field” and “who has had a significant positive impact on his community” — along with Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Manning also was a 2015 finalist for the award.
Another lawsuit, filed in 2014, alleged that Skiba sold former Giants Hall of Famer Michael Strahan’s actual game-worn jersey from Super Bowl XLII and gave Strahan a fake jersey that was made to look real, “even adding Gatorade stains to the fabric.” That same suit alleged Manning was involved in keeping his own game-worn gear and passing off other items as legitimate, although some of those claims have been dismissed since then.
Manning, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2004 NFL draft of the San Diego Chargers, was traded to the Giants shortly after being selected. He started midway through his rookie season, has spent his entire career with the Giants, is the franchise’s all-time passing leader at 48,218 yards and has led the franchise to two Super Bowl victories — both over the New England Patriots. Manning currently has a consecutive-games played streak of 199 dating back to 2004, which could be in jeopardy if the NFL finds Manning at fault in the case as part of the league’s player conduct policy.
There will be a lot of watchful eyes on how NFL commissioner Roger Goodell eventually handles this case, depending on what other information surfaces. He hit the Patriots hard for what was deemed as an integrity-of-the-game violation for their role in deflate-gate — which included the highly scrutinized roles of two Patriots equipment employees. The league also has spent countless money and time cracking down hard on phony NFL gear being sold online and in or around its stadiums.
It has been quite the newsworthy offseason for the NFL memorabilia industry. The jersey of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was stolen immediately following Super Bowl VI by a journalist who bypassed security and it was later recovered in Mexico following an international investigation.