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:
- College football defamation: On Thursday, former Baylor head football coach Art Briles sued three Baylor regents and the university’s senior vice president and CEO claiming that they defamed him by stating that he had knowledge of sex crimes reportedly committed by his players and failed to provide that information to proper authorities. In addition, Briles alleges that the officials sought to prevent him from securing another coaching position elsewhere. He also included a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and, in total, seeks unspecified damages in excess of $1,000,000. Here is a picture of Briles’ longtime attorney, Ernest H. Cannon, riding a horse at a rodeo.
- Football player suspension challenges: In related stories covered in this space last week, two NFL players represented by the same Ohio law firm launched collateral attacks on the NFL/NFLPA collective bargaining agreement targeting alleged procedural deficiencies in the suspension-appeal process after both were suspended for drug violations. The NFL and NFLPA now have taken action in one of those cases by appointing a third arbitrator to hear a rescheduled appeal by Green Bay Packer Mike Pennel. The absence of a third arbitrator is central to the claims Pennel raised in the lawsuit he filed in Ohio federal court. In connection with that suit, Pennel also sought a temporary restraining order, which the responsive actions by the league and union were designed to moot. On Tuesday, Pennel agreed to drop his lawsuit in exchange for a reduction– from ten games to four– in his suspension, which will allow him to play in the postseason should his Packers secure a playoff berth. (Pennel’s attorneys also represent Philadelphia Eagle Lane Johnson, who filed similar complaints with the National Labor Relations Board and U.S. Department of Labor around the same time Pennel filed his lawsuit.)
- Student-athlete classification: The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected claims by a group of former Penn student-athletes that they are employees entitled to minimum-wage compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The trial court granted a motion to dismiss the defendants– the NCAA, Penn, and more than 120 other NCAA member schools– filed, and the appellate court affirmed. The court agreed that dismissal as to the non-Penn defendants was appropriate because of a lack of standing; the plaintiffs had attended only Penn and had no basis to recover wages from any school they didn’t attend. The court also agreed that dismissal was appropriate as to Penn, because the plaintiffs had failed to state a claim for relief from Penn. Noting the “revered tradition of amateurism in college sports” and the weight of judicial and regulatory precedent holding that student-athletes are not employees, the court concluded that the FLSA does not apply to student-athletes. While many disagree with this outcome, it is consistent with the original meaning and purpose behind the “student-athlete” designation. (In a concurring opinion, Judge Hamilton cautioned against broad application of the court’s decision, noting that the plaintiffs participated in a non-revenue sport– track and field– for a school that does not offer athletic scholarships, and suggested that he might have voted differently had the plaintiffs been student-athletes on athletic scholarship in a revenue sport.)
- Hockey head injuries: A group of former NHL players suing the league for its alleged failure to warn them of known risks of head trauma now have requested class certification in that case for two classes of former players based on the different measures of relief sought: damages for those already diagnosed with neurological injuries and medical monitoring for others. Attorneys from a number of large law firms, including Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, are representing the NHL in this case. Skadden is the anchor tenant in a new commercial real estate development in Manhattan that also will be home to the NHL’s offices when it opens in 2019.
- Minor League Baseball lobbying: MiLB has created a political action committee in order to boost lobbying efforts. The impetus for this move likely is the class-action lawsuit minor-league players filed alleging that their compensation violates federal wage and hour laws and the leagues’ attempt to snuff out that suit by way of congressional action. The proposed Save America’s Pastime Act would create a carve-out in the Fair Labor Standards Act exempting minor-league players from minimum-wage and overtime protections. There has been essentially no action on the bill since Rep. Brett Guthrie of Kentucky introduced it in June, leaving plenty of time for MLB to say dumb things about it.
- Soccer ban: The Court of Arbitration for Sport denied former FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s request to overturn his six-year ban from all national and international soccer-related activity and fine of 50,000 Swiss francs for his involvement with bribes and kickbacks during his leadership of FIFA.
- Canadian Super Bowl commercials: There is a thing in Congress called the House Northern Border Caucus, and four of its members, representing districts in North Dakota, New York, and Washington, sent a letter asking the Canadian government to reverse its decision to block Canadian advertisers from running commercials on the Canadian broadcast of the Super Bowl. Canadian broadcasters used to have an agreement with the NFL that allowed Canadian commercials on the Canadian broadcast of the game, but, in 2015, Canadian regulators changed course in response to viewer demands to see the popular American commercials that run during the game. Canadian broadcasters and advertisers and the NFL, which is losing out on Canadian advertising revenue as a result, all oppose that change. The company that holds the Canadian broadcast rights to the Super Bowl, Bell Media, also has sued the regulatory body in an attempt to reverse the policy.
- Hockey logo: Things are off to a rough start for Las Vegas’ first major professional sports team after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied the Golden Knights’ registration application, citing a “confusing similar[ity]” to a mark registered by the College of Saint Rose. Arguable visual similarities aside, I didn’t even know there was a Saint Rose, much less a College of Saint Rose, and I certainly didn’t know the school’s mascot is the Golden Knights, and neither did you, which means that, however similar these marks might be, the likelihood of confusion here is very low. This likely is little more than another instance of the USPTO seeking a moment in the sports sun.
- Gambling: The nation of Antigua and Barbuda has issued a threat to the United States if the U.S. does not meet a year-end deadline to comply with a 2003 World Trade Organization order ruling that American online sports betting and gambling laws violate international law. If the U.S. does not comply with the WTO order, which also carries an annual noncompliance penalty of $21 million and has accrued to over $250 million, Antigua and Barbuda intends to suspend intellectual property protections for Americans, effectively permitting Antiguans to establish websites hosting royalty-free downloads of American IP (e.g., books, music, movies, television programming, etc.).
- Baseball ambassador: Bobby Valentine, former MLB player and manager of the Mets and Red Sox, reportedly is under consideration by president-elect Donald Trump for the position of ambassador to Japan. Valentine, who currently serves as athletic director at Sacred Heart University, is popular among Japanese baseball fans thanks to two successful stints as manager of a professional baseball team there.
Sports court is in recess.