Would you rather pay thousands of dollars for a football helmet worn by your favorite athlete in a championship game, or for a piece of equipment that has never seen action in a game? If you’re a collector of sports memorabilia, the difference between the two can be thousands of dollars. Collectors suing a well-known sports memorabilia firm, now claim to have evidence that New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning aided in this deception by providing “game-worn” items that had never seen time in an NFL game.
A trio of collectors are suing memorabilia seller Steiner Sports, Manning, the Giants, and others, for allegedly falsely selling game-worn items. The New York Post reports that the plaintiffs recently provided the court with emails that they believe show Manning’s part of this purported ploy.
“2 helmets that can pass as game used. That is it. Eli,” Manning wrote to equipment manager Joe Skiba on April 27, 2010, according to the documents cited by the Post.
The quarterback has a contract with Steiner, and the plaintiffs contend that these emails show that he was providing the company with non-game helmets in an attempt to fulfill that contract.
According to the filing, he wrote to his marketing agent soon after to let him know that the requested helmets would likely be available the next day.
The filing also alleges that the Giants failed to cough up the emails between Manning and Skiba even though “they claim to have no document destruction policy.” Manning handed over the emails last week, according to the documents.
“Since it appears that the Giants failed to preserve any emails between Manning and Joe Skiba, and the Giants are keeping Skiba on the payroll and paying his substantial legal bills, the above email exchange may be the only direct evidence that Manning knowingly gave fraudulent helmets to Steiner for sale to fans,” court papers say.
In another email that was previously disclosed but that the plaintiffs claim was deleted, Skiba allegedly admitted to a plaintiff that Manning had requested he make “BS” versions of a game-used helmet and jersey because the QB “didn’t want to give up the real stuff.”
The suit was originally filed in 2014 by a memorabilia dealer who had previously been charged in federal court in Chicago with selling fake game-worn jerseys. He argued at the time that witnesses like Skiba and other Giants employees had lied to the grand jury so they wouldn’t get caught selling fake stuff themselves.
His fellow plaintiffs include a collector who paid $5,000 for a helmet that was sold as one worn by Manning during the 2007 Super Bowl season. He then sold it to another fan and the third plaintiff for $4,300 “after he began to question its authenticity.”
Lawyers for the Giants told the Post in a statement that 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.”
The statement says the email predates litigation, and as such, there was no legal obligation to keep 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.”