Sports Law Roundup – 5/19/2017

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I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Basketball mugging: Moses Malone Jr., son of NBA great Moses Malone, sued James Harden, claiming that Harden paid a group of people $20,000 to mug Malone Jr. at a Houston strip club last summer after critical comments by Malone Jr. about Harden’s youth basketball camp angered Harden. Malone Jr. posted a Facebook.com comment about the $250-per-attendee cost of Harden’s camp and then was beaten and robbed at the strip club. One of the men charged in the attack reportedly told Malone Jr. during the attack that Malone Jr. “disrespected James Harden and that he needs to be punished after that.” At this time, police have not established a connection between Harden and the attack.
  • Golf drugs: Vijay Singh won a victory in his lawsuit against the PGA this week when a court ruled that his claim that the tour breached an implied duty of good faith it owed to Singh could proceed. Singh’s case arises out of a 2013 suspension the PGA issued to him after he told a reporter he’d used a product called The Ultimate Spray, which contains “velvet from the immature antlers of male deer,” something that supposedly aids performance. The PGA suspended Singh based on his admission before checking with the World Anti-Doping Agency (“WADA”), which maintains the tour’s agreed list of banned substances, to confirm that the spray in fact contained or constituted a banned substance. During Singh’s suspension, WADA issued a public statement clarifying that use of the spray was not prohibited. Singh’s contention is that the PGA should have confirmed this fact with WADA before it suspended him.
  • Football painkillers: The judge overseeing the proposed class action brought by former NFL players against the league’s thirty-two teams improper dispensation of painkillers dealt the plaintiffs another serious blow this week by dismissing almost all of the claims remaining in the case, and he does not seem to be impressed by the plaintiffs’ efforts: “perhaps the bloat of inapposite allegations is the product of some advocacy-based agenda rather than any attempt to comply with pleading requirements. For present purposes, however, this order makes clear at the outset that what matters is not whether plaintiffs have drawn attention to widespread misconduct in the NFL but whether each plaintiff has properly pled claims for relief against each individual club and, if so, whether those claims survive summary judgment.” At this time, the only claims that remain in the case are those brought by two individual players against three teams, the Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, and San Diego Chargers.
  • Baylor sexual assaults: Amazingly, Baylor’s legal troubles continue to mount. After a former student sued the university earlier this year, alleging she was the victim of a group rape committed by two football players in 2013 that the school ignored; that football players were responsible for numerous other crimes “involving violent physical assault, armed robbery, burglary, drugs, guns, and, notably, the most widespread culture of sexual violence and abuse of women ever reported in a collegiate athletic program”; and that, between 2011 and 2014, thirty-one Baylor football players committed a total of fifty-two rapes, including five gang rapes, another former student has sued the school based on similar allegations. The new case, filed by a former volleyball player for the university, is the seventh Title IX lawsuit brought against the school, and it alleges that up to eight Baylor football players drugged and raped the plaintiff in 2012. The complaint explains that the attack was photographed and videotaped and happened in connection with a football hazing program.
  • NBA ticket devaluation: A San Antonio Spurs fan has sued the Golden State Warriors and one of that team’s players, Zaza Pachulia, claiming that Pachulia’s contribution to the injury of Spurs star Kawhi Leonard “devastated the quality of the Spurs’ chances of being competitive,” thereby diminishing the value of the plaintiff’s tickets to future Spurs playoff games. Video of the play in question is available here. It shows Pachulia moving in front of Leonard, who is in the air releasing a shot, and Leonard subsequently landing on Pachulia’s foot, resulting in an exacerbation of Leonard’s ankle injury that caused him to miss the remainder of the first game and all of the second game of the NBA’s Western Conference finals. Leonard did not participate in practice yesterday, and his status for tomorrow’s game remains undetermined.
  • MLB streaming: Facebook and MLB have reached a live game streaming agreement that grants streaming rights to the social media platform for certain Friday night games. Streams will be free to users in the United States, and it appears that blackout restrictions will not be enforced, meaning fans located in the participating teams’ geographical regions should be able to watch as well. The initial deal includes twenty games, beginning with tonight’s Rockies-Reds matchup. More games may be added later. It is not clear whether this announcement has anything to do with the new lawsuit filed earlier this month by fans seeking to enforce a previous settlement agreement that required MLB to provide more live streams of in-market games by 2017, but it sure seems like it does.
  • Football jokes: An individual who posts jokes on the internet has sued Conan O’Brien, alleging that O’Brien stole a joke from him about Tom Brady winning the Super Bowl MVP award two years ago. Super Bowl MVPs apparently receive pickup trucks as prizes, and Brady, having won multiple such awards and having no use for a truck, has been giving them to a teammate he feels deserves it. Following New England’s last-second victory over Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX, Brady gave the truck to Malcolm Butler, who secured the game-winning interception. The essence of the joke was that Brady should’ve given the truck to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who, many thought, made a very bad play call on that play. I’m not sure what the statute of limitation is on joke-theft claims, but any joke that takes this long to explain probably isn’t worth stealing.  (It also seems kind of obvious, at least in retrospect.) A judge has ruled that the case will go before a jury, which will decide whether O’Brien infringed the individual’s copyright on that joke and two others.

Sports court is in recess.

Injury Was Inevitable for Noah Syndergaard (via New York)

Baseball is incentivizing an activity that is tearing its young pitchers’ arms apart. Believe it or not, this is almost by design.

About 15 years ago, NFL general managers started to realize that running backs, long one of the celebrity skill positions in the sport, were both injury-prone and replaceable; rather than building an offense around a franchise back, they ran their players into the ground and then discarded them. We haven’t yet seen a cultural shift in the status of starting pitchers in baseball, but one might be just around the corner. Because here’s another factoid to keep in mind about those 12 pitchers who throw harder than anyone else in the documented history of the sport: Most of them haven’t made it to a payday in free agency.

Oh, sure, they made a few years’ salary, often at the Major League Baseball minimum, now $535,000 — obviously not too shabby. But in the context of baseball economics it is mere pennies. The best-paid player in baseball, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, earns $35.6 million a year, and some believe Bryce Harper, when he becomes a free agent in 2018, could sign a multi-year contract worth $400 million.

In the world of baseball, as in most sports, young talent is always more valuable to the team than old. This is not just because young players’ skills and athleticism haven’t atrophied yet; it’s because they’re cheap. A player doesn’t reach true free agency until he has spent six years in the majors, and earns only the league minimum until his third season, when he reaches “arbitration,” a process of generating small, graduated raises that is infamously management-friendly. A team — and this is key — also has total control over a player for the first six seasons of his career; if you draft a guy or sign him from another country, you own the rights to his services for his first six full seasons. After that, he can, for the first time, at last test the free market for his skills. Which means that any team — but especially those that can’t afford to compete for big-ticket free agents — has an incentive to get whatever value out of its young players it can in those first six years. No matter the long-term consequences.

The result is a system where ball clubs are encouraged — are essentially commanded — to squeeze every last bit of life out of their young pitchers, until their arms are ruined … conveniently, right around the time they’re due to hit the open market. … Read More

(via New York)

Sports Law Roundup – 5/12/2017

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I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • NFL draft suit: A man has sued two members of the Tennessee Titans, Tajae Sharpe and Sebastian Tretola, claiming that the players beat him “unconscious” after he argued with the players at Tin Roof, a Nashville bar, about a potential reduction in playing time for Sharpe in light of the Titans’ decision to draft Corey Davis, who plays the same position as Sharpe. The man is seeking at least $500,000 in his civil lawsuit, the filing of which supports my theory that nothing good happens at Tin Roof after midnight.
  • Arena football head injuries: This spring, a former Arena Football League player sued the league, claiming he had “direct evidence” of the league’s intentional refusal to pay expenses related to his concussion-related injuries. He also asserted that evidence of his specific targeting by the league for injury existed. The AFL sought summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff was required to pursue his claims under the applicable state workers’ compensation statute, and the player countered that the evidence of intentional misconduct placed his claims outside the workers’ compensation regime. Yesterday, the court granted the AFL’s motion and dismissed the case against the league. Judge Eldon Fallon, one of the country’s most prominent trial judges, determined that, in order to avoid the workers’ compensation statute, the former player needed to demonstrate that playing football was “substantially certain” to cause a concussion and could not do so: “Though this court acknowledges that it is not uncommon for football players to experience brain injury, such injury is not ‘inevitable’ as is required to meet the exception to the” statute. Judge Fallon also rejected as unsubstantiated the plaintiff’s claim that the AFL intentionally refused to pay medical expenses.

Sports court is in recess.

Glad Jam

What can we be other than glad that a being of the sort of Col. Bruce Hampton, Ret., has graced the Earth-stage? Hampton was a wise, even shamanistic mentor in the form of an eccentric and sometimes scary trickster who touched, prodded, pushed, and fostered the careers of so many great musicians. (Click that link for some brief, compelling testimonials from familiar folks.) Elsewhere, I’ve described him as the underground patron saint of modern Southern rock ‘n’ roll, but his influence was broader than that. He died this month on the night of his 70th birthday concert, collapsing onstage at the end of the performance at Atlanta’s Fox Theater in what his friends and collaborators initially thought was nothing more than his latest stunt. (Later that night, one said, “We’ve all seen him do this kind of thing so many times—some of us were going to get down on the stage, too.”)

Writing about Hampton– I tried once before today– isn’t the easiest: he said that one would-be biographer “‘tried to write a book about me, but it was insane—filled with space ships and spies and things that made no sense,’ Hampton said, adding later that this was his 165th trip to the Planet Earth, ‘the only planet in the solar system with aluminum.’” Best just to listen, probably. Snuggled between the various, varied, and engaging interview clips, movie clips (both from the one about him and his appearance in Sling Blade), baseball clips, and concert clips, is this this happy one:

I heard Hampton perform just once, on a magical musical night last summer with some of his most vocal prophets, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and, although I had to turn down tickets to what would be his final concert, where he passed on to a preferable dimension, I consider myself fortunate enough to have heard him outside on that summer night, and, so many more times, to have heard his influence conveyed through his pupils, subjects, and sonic neighbors. For all of that I am glad indeed.

Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief, Part 2

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In the history of Major League Baseball, there’s only been one player with the first name Anibal. Anibal Alejandro Sanchez broke into the majors in 2006 with the Florida Marlins. He, along with Omar Infante, came to Detroit in the middle of the 2012 season in a trade. In 2013, his first full season as a Tiger, Sanchez produced by far the best season of his career (6.1 bWAR, 6.0 fWAR, 5.1 WARP). It’s been all downhill since then, though, and his move to the bullpen in 2016 seemed inevitable if only because he remained signed to a starter-magnitude contract that made totally cutting bait a pill too difficult to swallow. Sanchez didn’t make the transition especially well, however, and things have not improved in 2017. It’s come time for the Tigers to release this former fish.

After an especially bad weekend in Oakland capped a rough start to this season for incumbent closer Francisco Rodriguez, I (along with everyone else in the world) wrote on Monday that manager Brad Ausmus needed to demote K-Rod immediately. Ausmus agreed and did so, promoting Justin Wilson to the closer role, although the first run with the new top-line bullpen arrangement showed Ausmus still has room for improvement there. Dynamic, leverage-oriented bullpen management is pretty difficult to accomplish, though, and Sanchez has become a much clearer and more present danger to the team’s success than any further usage optimization of the capable portion of the relief corps.

Sanchez, as a converted starter who used to be good, would seem to be the optimal long relief guy, but he has foundered in that role, and if it seems like he gives up a home run every time he comes into a game, well, you’re not far off.

Last night in Arizona, Sanchez made his first appearance in over a week and immediately surrendered back-to-back home runs to the first two batters he faced. Although the Tigers’ offense had evaporated in the desert heat that night, those two homers Sanchez allowed felt like the real mortal blow that destroyed any hope for a comeback.

This is who Sanchez is at this point. Among qualified relievers in 2017, only one pitcher is allowing home runs at a higher rate than him (none have allowed more, total, than him), and Sanchez has been used more than everybody in the “top” twenty on that list. This now is an untenable situation, and it probably has been for some time. Continue reading

Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief

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Despite being pretty good at almost every aspect of building a winning baseball team, the Detroit Tigers have, for years, had as difficult a time finding a reliable closer as the Cleveland Browns have finding a quarterback. Even reading the names Jose Valverde and Joe Nathan is enough to make most fans shudder, and, unfortunately, it’s come time to add Francisco Rodriguez to that list.

There were reasons to be hopeful when Rodriguez came over to Detroit before last season. Even though, at thirty-four years old, he wasn’t the fire-breathing, overpowering force he was in his younger days, it looked like he’d traded some heat for wisdom and found a way to continue to succeed as he aged. The active saves leader did pretty well last year, and, even if there were some missteps in key moments, it was hard to be too disappointed with the overall body of work. He even seemed to help teach manager Brad Ausmus a helpful lesson about bullpen management, as Ausmus slowly broke out of the conventional mold and began using Rodriguez in high-leverage four-out situations rather than rigidly reserving him for the ninth inning alone.

Baseball famously is a game without a clock (at least for now), but humans lack such an exemption, and the clock appears to have run out on Rodriguez in his age-thirty-five season. After single-handedly blowing two games over the weekend, it sure seems like Rodriguez has turned into a dip-filled pumpkin. By one measure, Win Probability Added, he’s done more to help his team lose than any other reliever than all but one other reliever in baseball.

It’s tough to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with K-Rod this year. His velocities are down a little bit, but they’ve been going down pretty much steadily over the course of his career. That’s nothing new, and it’s why he started prioritizing offspeed pitches over his cooling fastball as he got older. Other indicators, including location, pitch usage, and release points, all look as reasonably expected. The results don’t lie, though; batters are absolutely hammering him this year:

krod mapsIt looks like he’s throwing to the same places– low, and in/away– he usually has, but with much less success. It’s hard (for me, at least) to pinpoint with these various advanced tools exactly what’s happened, but it’s clear that Rodriguez no longer is fooling batters, a veritable death knell for deception-reliant pitchers like him. The way batters consistently chased– and, more often than not, missed– his diving, low and away pitches is something I marveled at last year, my first really watching him and his seemingly simple approach. For whatever reason, though, they aren’t even remotely fooled this year, as the below graph of Rodriguez’s out-of-zone swing rate from a FanGraphs article posted this evening shows:

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The Tigers’ margin for error this season is extremely narrow, and Rodriguez just cost them two wins on an important West-Coast roadtrip. They don’t have time to let Rodriguez find himself in game-ending, high-leverage situations. Ausmus needs to rearrange his bullpen immediately. It already was a thin crew, but the status quo won’t do. It’s time to promote the Wilsons and find out if the rest of this motley bunch can handle a heavier load.

Sports Law Roundup – 5/5/2017

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I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • NBA profiling: In 2015, Mike Scott, then a member of the Atlanta Hawks, and his brother were pulled over and subsequently arrested after a search of their rented vehicle turned up marijuana, ecstasy, and $1,684 in cash.  The deputy sheriff who made the stop later was found to have been racially profiling drivers as part of a forfeiture scheme and placed on administrative leave. Records provided by the Scotts’ attorneys show that the deputy sheriff “pulled over more than 1,400 vehicles in 2015 and 2016 but issued only eight traffic citations. He also arrested 47 people, at least 44 of whom were minorities.” As a result of the profiling, the judge overseeing the Scotts’ drug case this week threw out the key evidence against the defendants.
  • Baseball broadcast settlement: In early 2016, MLB settled a fan antitrust lawsuit targeting the league’s television blackouts and other components of its broadcast system. While the blackouts survived, the fans did win reduced-price single-team subscription options for MLB.tv (I am a subscriber, to varying degrees of satisfaction), as well as a price reduction for the full MLB.tv package. The agreement also included a component that would allow MLB to raise prices in the future in exchange for providing more live streams of in-market games by 2017. That component now is at issue in a new motion filed by the fan group demanding that the court enforce the terms of the settlement agreement. The fans allege that MLB raised prices without the required corresponding in-market streaming increase. They concede that the league may have agreements in place with local television providers to provide the in-market streams, but, the fans argue, “the obvious purpose of the settlement was not that ‘agreements’ of some kind be reached, but that the actual games be available.” The fans also argue that, contrary to what they were promised, MLB has failed to make the “follow your team” game broadcasts available when the selected team is playing the team based in the fan’s local broadcast market.
  • Cheerleader wages: The Milwaukee Bucks and Lauren Herington, a former cheerleader for the team who alleged that the team violated federal and state labor laws by underpaying her and her fellow cheerleaders, have reached a $250,000 settlement of Herington’s proposed class action lawsuit that provides for the settlement funds to be divided as follows: $10,000 for Herington; $115,000 for Herington’s attorneys; and unspecified shares of the remaining $125,000 to Herington and other would-be class members who opt into the settlement based on their hours worked during the three-year period (2012-15) at issue. While not insubstantial, the Journal Sentinel notes that Milwaukee’s $250,000 settlement amount is less than what other teams– for example, the Oakland Raiders ($1.24 million), Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($825,000), and Cincinnati Bengals ($255,000)– have paid to resolve similar lawsuits. Upon learning that Herington was wavering on whether to agree to the settlement, her lawyer, who wanted her to accept the deal, reportedly was overheard telling her that “it’s a Bucks dancer’s choice my friend, better take my advice.”
  • Minor League baseball wages: As predicted two months ago, the court overseeing  the minor-league baseball players lawsuit against MLB for higher wages and overtime pay will permit the parties to appeal its recent ruling certifying the case for class-action treatment. In doing so, the court also decided to stay the case pending resolution of the class-certification issues by the appellate court.

Sports court is in recess.

First I Look at the Jam

It’s fair to say that every band that made it big played in a bar at some point on its way up. It’s equally fair to say that the J. Geils Band was the best bar band to make it big. Last month, guitarist J. Geils died at the age of seventy-one. Along with singer/hype-man Peter Wolf (the face of Facebook), Magic Dick on harmonica, and some other guys with less interesting names, they brought high-energy, Boston-barroom-soaked rock and roll to the national stage. The best snapshot of their sound came on Live: Full House, an album recorded in Detroit in 1972. The band’s later success on the pop charts, with hits like “Freeze Frame” and “Centerfold,” provided a surprising– and, one assumes, more lucrative– second act for the group, but, minus a few reunion efforts, it would be their last. Geils himself had a muted solo career, making two blues albums with Magic Dick and in the mid-1990s and some jazz recordings a decade later.

Sports Law Roundup – 4/28/2017

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I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

After a slow news week off, we’re back with the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Hockey head injuries: The NHL suffered another loss in the pretrial discovery process in the ongoing head-injury lawsuit between the league and a group of former players. Last month, the court ordered the public release of certain internal NHL communications and other documents, some of which contained embarrassing and damaging statements by team and league officials, including Commissioner Gary Bettman. Now, the court has mostly denied the NHL’s motion to force Boston University’s CTE Center to produce research documents and information about test subjects, although it will allow production of documents pertaining to deceased players whose families authorize the release of those records, as well as documentation of the Center’s public statements to the press regarding research on NHL players. The league responded by filing its opposition to the plaintiffs’ request for class-action treatment, arguing that there is not a scientifically established link between head trauma and “neurodegenerative” diseases like CTE. According to the NHL’s filing, “any causal relationship between head injury in contact sports and later-in-life development of CTE remains scientifically unproven.” The league also argued that it would be inappropriate to certify a nationwide class for a medical-monitoring claim, since the applicable laws vary on a state-by-state basis.
  • More hockey head injuries: With the NHL already embroiled in head-injury litigation, two of its teams, the St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils, now face another lawsuit filed by a former player, Mike Peluso, addressing the same situation. Peluso, an enforcer for the Blues and Devils (as well as the Blackhawks, Senators, and Flames) in the 1990s, alleges that the teams had actual knowledge of the medical risks of additional head injuries he personally faced, yet continued to encourage him to play and fight on the ice. According to Peluso’s complaint, which also names an insurance provider as a defendant, “This is not simply a case were [sic] defendants are alleged to know the link between head injuries and permanent brain damage. This is a case where defendants knew the link between Mr. Peluso’s head injuries and permanent brain damage because they had their own Board Certified Team Neurologist tell them that Mr. Peluso would have brain damage if they allowed him to continue to receive head injuries” and hid that information from him. The complaint also alleges that Peluso suffers from permanent brain damage and dementia and is permanently disabled. Peluso, now fifty-one years old, claims he engaged in 240 fights in his nine-year NHL career and suffered at least nine grand mal seizures. A member of New Jersey’s 1995 Stanley Cup-winning team, Peluso finished among the top-ten players in the league in penalty minutes in four of his nine seasons, leading the league in the 1991-92 season. Mike Peluso should not be confused with his cousin, Mike Peluso, who had a brief NHL career with the Blackhawks and Flyers in the early 2000s.
  • Football biometric data: The NFLPA and Whoop, a company that sells wearable fitness monitoring devices, have entered into an agreement in which Whoop will provide players with devices that track “strain, recovery, and sleep” and can transmit that data to Whoop’s web-based applications. As part of the agreement, the players will be able to customize the aesthetic design of their device for their own use and for retail sale. Significantly, the agreement grants each player ownership rights of all data his device collects. While headline-writers have feasted on the possibility (apparently authorized under the agreement) that players may sell their data in some manner, the real purpose of this deal likely is to stem growing concerns that it would be the teams or leagues that would own (and potentially misappropriate) players’ biometric data.

Sports court is in recess.

Jean Segura, disciplined aggressor

The Tigers outscored the Mariners 20-19 this week but lost two of three, and all you get is this crummy article on Seattle’s new shortstop. My latest post at Banished to the Pen takes a quick look at the ways in which Jean Segura is building on his 2016 breakout.

The full post is available here.