Sports Law Roundup – 6/23/2017

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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:

  • Football trademark: As predicted (not by me) back in 2015, the Supreme Court heard and now has ruled on a trademark case involving a band called The Slants that has a direct effect on the Washington Redskins, whose trademark registrations were revoked under the same policy applied to The Slants. That policy sought to ban registration of trademarks that were disparaging or offensive, but a unanimous (8-0) Court held that the ban violated the First Amendment. “It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend,” Justice Samuel Alito explained.
  • NFL fan access: A Green Bay Packers fan has sued the Chicago Bears because the Bears won’t allow him on the sidelines before games at Soldier Field while he’s wearing Packers attire. The fan is a Bears season-ticket holder who built up enough “points” to receive an award in the form of a pregame warmup sideline experience. Despite his entitlement to that experience under the terms of the Bears season ticket program, the Bears refused to allow him to participate while wearing Packers clothing.
  • Daily Fantasy Sports: The inevitable merger between DraftKings and FanDuel announced last November has hit a probably inevitable regulatory hurdle. The Federal Trade Commission has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the merger, which, the FTC says, would create a single company that controls ninety percent of the daily fantasy sports market. On Tuesday, a judge granted the FTC a temporary restraining order that halts the merger for now.
  • Golf drugs: The PGA has asked a judge to reconsider her May ruling that the tour breached an implied duty of good faith it owed to Vijay Singh in connection with 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 golf performance. The PGA’s arguments in support of reconsideration involve evidentiary matters pertaining to witness testimony regarding the financial consequences of Singh’s suspension and the judge’s understanding of whether the PGA reviewed materials from 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, and Singh argued that the PGA should have confirmed this fact with WADA before it suspended him.

Sports court is in recess.

Relief from Short Relief

Not as in “relief from the burden of Short Relief.” More like, “Short Relief (at last) has provided me with some relief.” I am not a longtime reader of Baseball Prospectus the way people who truly have been reading Baseball Prospectus for a really long time casually sprinkle into digitally transmitted discourse that they are longtime readers of Baseball Prospectus, but I have been reading the site and its books and listening to its podcasts (or one of its former ones, anyway) for a few years and been a subscriber for the balance of that time, and there is no question that the temperament of the site has changed over that period. Since I have been reading it, BP has had three editors in chief: Ben Lindbergh, Sam Miller, and Aaron Gleeman, its current EIC. Miller, who now writes for ESPN, has a special ability to blend the analytical and the fanciful (perhaps “imaginative” is a better word here, though neither are correct), and, by outward appearances, was a judicious editor. Baseball writers everywhere usually write about baseball in serious tones, and Miller was a breath of fresh air in that regard, if a measured one. It’s good to have outlets for some less serious baseball writing too. There used to be a whole place for that, which was called NotGraphs, but it was terminated in late 2014. Thereafter, its postmortal spirit attempted to eke out a living in an even smaller corner of the web, but that campaign fizzled.

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Although Miller never misses an opportunity to credit Lindbergh, his former boss and collaborator on two significant projects who now writes for The Ringer, as the best in the business, it’s clear to me that it’s Miller who’s left a large impression on the current version of BP. Whimsy, once reserved for sidebar Hitlist one-liners and a few player comments in the BP Annual (not unusually in the form of a Simpsons reference) everyone raced to find, photograph, and post on social media web platform Twitter.com, now abounds– or, at least, attempts to abound– at BP. This is most visible in the daily Short Relief feature, a sort of refugee camp for NotGraphs alums that typically contains three essays, or maybe poems, or maybe just a picture, that effort and imitate toward the odd and purposefully absurd.

I never read every article every day at BP, but I’ve never read less of BP than I do now (Russell Carleton and Rob Mains are musts), and I very rarely read Short Relief. I’m glad a major baseball site is trying to resurrect NotGraphs, but this take just doesn’t hit me right. It feels very unessential and often forced. A lot of that probably is due to the fact that it’s an everyday feature. It’s really hard to produce original funny, silly, odd, unusual, quirky, or whatever content on a daily deadline. It’s even harder when you’re limited to one subject area. (There’s also the part about the site’s budget crunch and probably a little friction with the idea that BP is contributing resources to Short Relief rather than its core mission, which seems noticeably understaffed at the moment.)

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BUT. Today’s Short Relief I did read, and today’s Short Relief I did like. It contains two entries, both by former owners of NG bylines. The first, from David G. Temple, once the managing editor of TechGraphs, is a short story about baseball cards that really hit home for me, as anyone reading ALDLAND’s late-night tweets earlier this week might have guessed. The second, from Short Relief coordinator Patrick Dubuque, provides a short metacommentary on the Short Relief series itself that resonated in light of the above-transcribed feelings about the Short Relief series. I commend both to your screen and eyes.

Saving Detroit: Tigers in Retrograde

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I thought we already covered this, Brad.

After a pleasantly surprising series sweep of the White Sox, the Tigers have lost eight of twelve and fallen to fourth place in the underwhelming AL Central. Rather than capitalize on a slow start by Cleveland, Detroit is struggling to keep its head about the .500 winning percentage waterline, and a deeper look into their 32-36 record suggests it’s an accurate reflection of who they’ve been to this point– no bad luck to blame so far. At least Victor Martinez is out of the hospital.

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Previously
Saving Detroit: Fixing Justin Upton – 5/31
Saving Detroit: Soft in the Middle Now – 5/30
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief, Part 2 – 5/11
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief – 5/8

A lesson in comparative hockey violence for Predators fans

After tying the Stanley Cup Final series at two games each on the backs of two emotional, dominant wins at home in the first NHL championship-series games ever played in Nashville, the Predators returned to Pittsburgh hoping to convert their momentum into their first lead in this series. Instead, they fell flat. The Penguins scored three goals in the first period, and three more in the second on their way to a 6-0 shutout victory.

It was a very disappointing night for Predators fans, who reportedly had more people in attendance in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena to watch the away game on big screens than the number of people who were in the seats at the actual game in Pittsburgh. They certainly were upset with the result of the game, as well as with the way in which the Penguins– Sidney Crosby in particular– played it.

Crosby has been sparring with Nashville’s P.K. Subban throughout this series, but their clashes mostly have played out in the media and off-ice press conferences. Last night, however, things became decidedly physical, peaking with this moment:

Hockey is a contact sport, obviously, and the issue of fighting in hockey is a broader conversation for another day. I think most agree, though, that there is not a place in the game for Crosby’s behavior captured above.

Understandably, Predators fans are incensed and are calling for Crosby to be suspended for his actions. (Crosby also threw a water bottle on the ice in apparent response to what he thought was a missed penalty call against the visitors.) If the league decides to go in that direction, I would not have any objection.

I would remind the Predators fans that their team does not exactly have a clean record in this department, however. Five years ago, hosting their then-division rival Detroit Red Wings in the early rounds of the playoffs, Nashville ended a game-one win in ugly and embarrassing fashion. That night, it was Shea Weber who brutally bashed Hendrik Zetterberg’s face into the boards as time expired:

(In a bit of hockey irony, the Predators later would trade Weber for Subban, the victim of last night’s skull dribbling.)

I know from first-hand experience that Nashville hockey fans are good hockey fans who know the game. They’re justified in directing their anger toward Crosby (welcome to the club!), and I do want them to win the Cup because of what it would mean for the sport; a city I love; and all of my friends there, whether they’ve been on the hockey train or are jumping on now (again, welcome to the club!). All teams have had their dark moments, though, and hockey memories run deep. On the other hand, does it seem like Crosby’s Pens have more such moments than, say, Subban’s Preds? You bet.

Go Perds.

Ted Turner on the Atlanta Braves’ move to Cobb County

Former Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner is not a fan of the team’s move to the suburbs:

ted turner cobb

Not sure about “sharp,” but those certainly are words.

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Previously
2017 Atlanta Braves Season Preview
Braves finally strike a positive note in move to new stadium
The political costs of a new baseball stadium
Previewing the 2016 Atlanta Braves
The Braves are failing on their own terms
New Braves stadium project continues to falter
Georgia Supreme Court Upholds Cobb’s Braves Stadium Bond Deal
Braves Break Ground on Baseball Boondoggle
The yard sale at Upton Abbey continues
From Barves to Burbs: What’s happening to baseball in Atlanta?

Baseball’s growth spurt, visualized

baseball notes

Baseball is a sport that is susceptible to, and, indeed, has subjected itself to what most regard as extremely fine-grain analysis. For example, in just a few clicks, you can pull up the spin rate of the ball on any pitch thrown in any MLB game last night. Whether we’re examining something, like baseball, for which we have relatively precise analytical tools, or something our ability to probe is more limited, we necessarily operate with certain assumptions practically taken for granted. Gravity. Air. Taxes. The general inflation of the value of U.S. currency over time. The general improvement in human health over time. While we need to monitor these somewhat ambient, environmental facts and trends, it usually doesn’t make sense to address them with great frequency and detail. We all generally know that Al Kaline’s $35,000 rookie signing bonus probably was a lot of money in the 1950s even if it doesn’t sound like a lot by today’s standards, just like we generally know 6’2″, 215 lb. Babe Ruth probably was a lot bigger than his peers, even if he wouldn’t appear out of the physical ordinary today.

On this last point, of course, we’re aware that medical and nutritional advances have resulted in general improvements in human health. Humans today live longer and grow larger than they did in the past, and baseball players are no exception.

That growth hasn’t occurred at a steady rate, however, at least as far as the population of baseball-playing humans is concerned. Here’s a graph from Russell Carleton’s article yesterday at Baseball Prospectus showing the median (50th percentile), 70th percentile, and 90th percentile Body-Mass Index (BMI) of all players who appeared in the majors between 1900-2016:

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As Carleton remarks:

We see that in the mid-90s, something (*cough*something*cough*) happened that caused an inflection point in MLB. After most of a century of the same body types, players started getting bigger. Mostly, they got heavier, although players today are also taller than they had been. The median player in MLB right now would be larger (in terms of BMI) than 90 percent of players who played in any year before the 1990s.

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Sports Law Roundup – 6/2/2017

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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 week off, this feature returns with the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Penn State child abuse: All three of the former Penn State University administrators charged in connection with the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault scandal inside the university’s football program will spend time in jail. In March, former PSU vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley pleaded guilty to one count each of endangering the welfare of children, leaving former school president Graham Spanier as the sole defendant in the case facing a trial on charges of child endangerment and conspiracy. A jury subsequently convicted Spanier of a single misdemeanor count of child endangerment. Curley and Schultz each received sentences of a maximum of twenty-three months in jail. Curley will serve three of those months in jail and Schultz will serve two months, with each completing the remainder of his sentence in house arrest. Spanier was sentenced to a maximum of twelve months in jail and will serve two, with the remainder in house arrest, and still indicates he intends to appeal.
  • Cheerleader wages: The judge overseeing the proposed antitrust class action lawsuit brought by a former San Francisco 49ers cheerleader known in the context of the case as Kelsey K. in connection with alleged wage-suppression tactics has dismissed the case, although he is allowing the plaintiff’s attorneys until June 15 to attempt to amend the complaint. In February, the judge denied the lead plaintiff’s request to proceed with the case under the “Jane Doe” pseudonym, though he did permit her to use only her first name and last initial.
  • NASCAR pit crew: A judge denied the majority of two competing summary judgment motions and will allow a wrongful termination case by a former NASCAR pit crew member to proceed against his former employer, Michael Waltrip Racing (“MWR”). The plaintiff, Brandon Hopkins, injured his shoulder when a racecar hit him during a race. Treatment from MWR’s training staff was ineffective, and surgery was necessary. Surgery was delayed for reasons the parties dispute, however. Days before the scheduled surgery, Hopkins met with a supervisor, who assured Hopkins his job was safe. When Hopkins left the office to go home, he brought a particular tool– the design of which MWR considered confidential– with him, which, he said, was an accident. MWR did not believe Hopkins’ story and fired him the next day. Office security camera footage also showed Hopkins removing what may have been confidential documents from the office two days prior. The judge determined that there were sufficient facts that a jury could determine that Hopkins’ firing was connected to his injury, an impermissible basis for termination, or his misappropriation of confidential company information, which would be a permissible basis.
  • NBA fan assault: In February, Charles Oakley, a former member of the New York Knicks, was arrested and charged with assault after an argument with Knicks owner James Dolan during a game at Madison Square Garden. Now, Oakley has declined a prosecutor’s offer to drop the charges and requested that the matter be resolved in a trial, which Dolan likely views as a vehicle for unwanted public attention on himself.

Sports court is in recess.

Brother Jam

Gregg Allman, the younger brother of Duane, died this week at his Savannah home due to complications from his ongoing liver problems. As Gregg was, in some ways, the second Allman Brother and the second member of that band to pass on this year, this week features two Jams in Gregg’s memory. The first comes from the time he spent in Los Angeles with Duane, before Duane began forming what would be the Allman Brothers Band, in a group called The Hourglass:

(HT: NJT)

The second comes from the ABB’s biggest album, and it’s a song Gregg wrote about his brother’s then-recent death:

When I was in high school, my dad took me to Kalamazoo to hear Gregg with his solo group. We had great seats, and the band played “Whipping Post.”

In 2016, Allman received an honorary doctorate degree from Mercer University, which was presented to him by Jimmy Carter.

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Related
Trucks Jam
Jaimoe Remembers Gregg Allman’s Many TalentsRolling Stone

Saving Detroit: Fixing Justin Upton

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When it comes to the 2017 Detroit Tigers, we are in full-on damage-control mode here at ALDLAND, looking high and low for fixes for everything from the bullpen to the infield defense. On an individual basis, though, no player seems to be the recipient of more scorn from those who express Tigers-related opinions on the internet than Justin Upton. The critical refrain, when it comes to the younger Upton brother, is simple: he strikes out too much.

I spent many of the pages of last season’s Tigers diary on Upton. Having watched him during his days as a member of the Atlanta Braves, I knew he was a good and exciting player, but also a streaky player, and I hoped that Detroit fans would be patient enough to see through the streakiness and hold out for the production, they generally weren’t. Some career-low offensive numbers in the middle of the season didn’t help his case, and people (this website’s readers excepted, obviously) mostly missed that, in the final analysis, his full-season production was almost exactly as anticipated: an above-average offensive profile with thirty-one home runs, matching a career high. Also likely to be forgotten is his hot September– thirteen home runs, .292/.382/.750, and 196 wRC+, basically Babe Ruth’s career line– that was the main reason the team was in contention entering the final series of the regular season.

The Tigers didn’t make the playoffs last year, though, and things are looking pretty bad right now, too, which makes it easy to continue to beat the Upton-strikeout drum. And look, he’s currently running a career-high 31.2% strikeout rate (ten percent above league average), which isn’t helping matters.

When it comes to Upton, though, it isn’t as easy as simply focusing on strikeouts. For example, he’s running a walk rate that’s substantially higher than last season’s, meaning that his BB/K ratio is in line with his career ratio. In general, though, this is what he does. Like many power hitters in today’s game, he hits a lot of home runs and he strikes out a lot. Strikeouts are frustrating, but harping on them, in Upton’s case, isn’t productive. As Dave Cameron discussed at FanGraphs today, Giancarlo Stanton has undertaken the sort of change Upton’s critics are demanding, dramatically cutting his K% and upping his contact rate. The result? A very similar, if slightly worse, overall offensive profile. Cameron explains:

To this point, the change hasn’t served to make Stanton better, just different. His 135 wRC+ this year is pretty close to his career 141 mark, as the reduction in strikeouts have also come with a small drop in BABIP and a continuing decline in his walk rate. And the latter is of particular interest, because it shows how differently he’s being pitched these days.

In his 2013/2014 heyday, only 41% of the pitches thrown to Stanton were in the strike zone, about as low a mark as pitchers will go for a hitter who doesn’t instinctively swing at anything out of their hand. This year, pitchers are throwing Stanton strikes 44% of the time, about the same rate they’re challenging Trevor Plouffe and Albert Pujols. Pitchers are coming after Stanton now, perhaps recognizing that maybe he’s not taking the herculean swings that he used to take, and the penalty for throwing him something in the zone isn’t quite what it used to be.

As his contact rate has climbed, Stanton’s doing less damage on contact than he used to be [sic], and perhaps not surprisingly, is now seeing more strikes thrown his way. These are all shifts more than total revolutions, as he’s still a power hitter who does a lot of damage when he hits the ball, but he’s now moved more towards the normal levels of contact and production, rather than being an outlier on both ends.

(emphasis added).

Could Upton stop striking out as much as he does now if he wanted to? Probably. Changes in approach have complex consequences, though, and the result of those consequences might not work a net positive on Upton’s production even if he pushed himself to a career low strikeout rate and career high contact rate like Stanton has. (It essentially is the Ichiro Suzuki home run question asked from the opposite side of the player comp spectrum.)

The broader point, I think, is one that came to me during my look at switch hitters’ approaches to defensive shifts last year: we should engage in player analysis with the initial assumptions that (1) the player is a skilled athlete capable of undertaking multiple approaches to his or her sport, and (2) the player intelligently approaches his sport by selecting the optimal approach, given his or her strengths and weaknesses, designed for performance at the highest possible level. This is a conservative outlook that essentially assumes that the player’s status quo modus operandi represents the player’s optimal modus operandi. Like the Tigers fans who assume they can fix Upton by telling him to strike out less, it’s easy to assume we know better. As more complex investigations often reveal, however, the player had it right all along.

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Previously
Saving Detroit: Soft in the Middle Now – 5/30
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief, Part 2 – 5/11
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief – 5/8

Related
2017 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Is the next Mike Trout already in Detroit?
A strategic switch to beat the shift?

Saving Detroit: Soft in the Middle Now

The subtitle of this post nearly was “Weakness Abounds,” since the Detroit Tigers are in a real rough spot right now, and, until last night (and even including most of last night, really), it seemed like nearly everything that could go wrong for this team was going wrong, but then I thought of a much better and more accurate one that also allowed me to lead with that music video. The Tigers have fallen to a 24-29 record, four games out of the division, and, while all is not lost, it’s becoming quite easy to feel that way. A thing that happens sometimes when you focus on putting out the various fires– like the bullpen, as a ready example– popping up on a team struggling to hold it together is that you can take for granted the team’s presumed consistent strengths, however minor, and forget to keep an eye on them too. With the offense collectively slumping as bad as it has been and the entire pitching staff acting like it was playing for the opposing teams, this was easy to do.

One of those good things the Tigers thought they had on lock was their up-the-middle defense. When your pitchers are giving up a lot of contact, a double play can be a life-saver. Shortstop Jose Iglesias’ bat hasn’t held up this season, but we always knew he was in the lineup for his defense, and it was just last year that we were beginning to discuss Ian Kinsler’s dark-horse Hall-of-Fame candidacy. At least as far as defense was concerned, these were two guys the Tigers didn’t have to worry about.

And yet, when their pitchers most needed bailouts, the defense has faltered. Baseball Prospectus tracks double-play percentage (DP%), defined as the number of times a team converts double-play opportunities into double plays. Obviously this is a coarse measure for evaluating a particular double-play tandem for a number of reasons, including the fact that it operates on a team level, and, in this case, Iglesias and Kinsler didn’t play every single game together. Double plays also commonly involve the other infielders too. Still, the DP% numbers paint a stark picture for the Iglesias-Kinsler era in Detroit.

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Iglesias and Kinsler have been the Tigers’ starting shortstop and second baseman, respectively, since 2015. In the first two seasons of the current tandem, 2015 and 2016, the team did a very good job of converting double-play opportunities. As a team, the Tigers were, at very best, average when it came to overall defense during this period, but Iglesias and Kinsler were supposed to be the glue that made the whole fielding operation passable. When it came to completing double plays, they held up their end of the bargain. Something (or somethings) aren’t right so far in 2017, though, and the dramatic dropoff in DP% hardly could come at a worse time for Detroit’s floundering pitching staff.

Tonight’s game is about to start, so I’ll leave things here for now, but this may be a thing– among a great many, to be sure– to keep an eye on as the Tigers turn toward summer and begin to evaluate their team-level strategic direction.

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Previously
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief, Part 2 – 5/11
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief – 5/8

Related
2017 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Is the next Mike Trout already in Detroit?