Sports Law Roundup – 12/15/2017

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

  • Louisville basketball: The fallout from the FBI’s announced investigation of Adidas-sponsored men’s college basketball programs resulted in the termination of Rick Pitino’s  position as the head coach of Louisville’s team. That, in turn, spawned Pitino lawsuits against Louisville for wrongful termination and Adidas for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Louisville now has sued Pitino for breach of contract and negligence and seeks monetary from Pitino arising out of the school’s losses due to vacated wins, potentially including its 2013 national title, and other NCAA sanctions, lost donations, and other financial losses. Louisville’s complaint alleges Pitino admitted liability when he said in a post-termination interview that he knew about NCAA violations but did not report them and took “full responsibility” for his decisions to hire assistants who subsequently engaged in wrongful activity.
  • Television transfer: An announced transaction between 20th Century Fox and Disney involving the latter’s acquisition of more than $50 billion (exclusive of debt) of the former’s assets has potentially significant consequences for the entities’ sports properties. Included among the assets Disney (which already owns ESPN and ABC) is acquiring are all of the Fox Sports Regional Networks (e.g., Fox Sports Detroit, Fox Sports South, etc.) and the YES Network. Disney also is acquiring other substantial assets, including FX Network, Fox’s interest in Hulu, and all of Fox’s film and television studios, which would include the rights to film properties like “The Simpsons,” “Modern Family,” “Avatar” (for which one source reports there are four sequels in the works), “Deadpool,” and “X-Men.” In exchange, Fox shareholders will receive shares of Disney stock. In addition, a spinoff entity will take control of Fox’s primary national networks, including FOX, Fox News, Fox Business, FS1, FS2, and the Big Ten Network. The deal still requires approval from both existing entities’ boards of directors and shareholders, as well as government regulators.
  • Baylor sexual assaults: The flow of evidence of Baylor‘s apparently widespread sexual assault problems seems unlikely to abate anytime soon now that a judge is permitting discovery of sexual assault reports from students who are not parties to pending litigation involving the school, as well as records of third-party Code of Conduct violations limited to violations related to “sex” and is ordering Baylor to produce documents previously provided to independent auditors, those being “32,000 nonparty student records, and hundreds of thousands of additional documents, without regard to” relevance or federal privacy restrictions.
  • Gambler defamation: In June, an alleged “gambling guru” known as RJ Bell (real name: Randall James Busack) sued Deadspin (and its post-Gawker-bankruptcy owner, Gizmodo Media Group, LLC) and freelance writer Ryan Goldberg over an article Goldberg wrote and Deadspin published that was critical of Busack and which Busack alleges was libelous. On Tuesday, a New York bankruptcy judge announced that trial in the case will begin on Valentine’s Day 2018. An important legal question in the case is whether a provision in an order of the bankruptcy court overseeing the Gawker Media bankruptcy intended to operate as a release of third-party claims against Gawker Media writers applies to bar Busack’s claims against Goldberg, which is the position Goldberg takes. Busack contends that the release doesn’t apply to him because he didn’t sue Gawker during the bankruptcy and received no distribution from the Gawker bankruptcy estate. Gawker Media entered bankruptcy as a result of a prior lawsuit Hulk Hogan (real name: Terry Bollea) brought. The attorney who represented Bollea in that case also represents Busack in this case. On Wednesday, the judge, who previously indicated he found the release issue ambiguous, ruled that the release did, in fact, bar most of Busack’s claims.
  • Garbler defamation: Lou Holtz, former head football coach at Notre Dame and South Carolina and former football “analyst” for ESPN, has sued The Daily Beast and one of its writers, Betsy Woodruff, for defamation. Holtz claims that Woodruff’s article about Holtz’s comments during the 2016 Republican National Convention, in which she reported he said immigrants were “deadbeats” and “invading the U.S.,” contained information known to be false and caused Holtz to lose future speaking opportunities.
  • NFL Network sexual harassment: A former NFL Network employee has sued NFL Enterprises, LP (apparently the Los-Angeles-based television and broadcast arm of the NFL), Jessica Lee (allegedly a supervisor at NFL Network whose LinkedIn page describes her as the Network’s director of studio operations), and fifty unnamed defendants. The plaintiff’s lawsuit nominally is one for wrongful termination, but its most newsworthy allegations involve claims of sexual harassment, assault, and battery by other NFL Network employees, including former players Marshall Faulk, Donovan McNabb, Warren Sapp, Ike Taylor, Heath Evans, and Eric Davis and former executive Eric Weinberger, who now works as the president of Bill Simmons Media Group, which owns The Ringer.

Sports court is in recess.

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ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 series finally peaks following Simmons’ departure

At some point in the last fifteen years, ESPN, as a brand, became uncool. I described this transition at length here, pegging 2003 as the beginning of the end of the Worldwide Leader’s cool cache. The ongoing creep (some would say, “dash”) toward faceless, nameless on-air talent and lowest-common-denominator content has not infected every corner of the four-letter network’s offerings, and the conventional wisdom was and remains that the weaker a program’s ties to Bristol, Connecticut, the higher its quality. That physical remoteness from the corporate jackboot seemingly allowed things like Bill Simmons’ Los-Angeles-based Grantland and the itinerant College GameDay to flourish.

Simmons also took a leading role in ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 series, a universally praised series of sports documentaries. After Simmons and ESPN parted ways in the spring of 2015, Grantland died, but 30 for 30 lived on. While I’ve enjoyed every 30 for 30 film I’ve caught flipping around on the television, none ever has been appointment viewing.

Until now.

Nearly two years after Simmons got himself kicked out of ESPN, the network will air what undoubtedly will be received as the best 30 for 30 entry ever: “This Was the XFL.” From the press release:

A bold challenge, a fearless experiment and ultimately, a spectacular failure. In 2001, sports entertainment titans Ebersol and McMahon launched the XFL. It was hardly the first time a league had tried to compete with the NFL, but the brash audacity of the bid, combined with the personalities and charisma of Ebersol and McMahon and the marketing behemoths of their respective companies — NBC and WWE — captured headlines and a sense of undeniable anticipation about what was to come.

Bringing together a cast of characters ranging from the boardrooms of General Electric to the practice fields of Las Vegas, “This Was the XFL” is the tale of — yes — all that went wrong, but also, how the XFL ended up influencing the way professional team sports are broadcast today. And at the center of it all – a decades long friendship between one of the most significant television executives in media history and the one-of-a-kind WWE impresario. This film will explore how Ebersol and McMahon brought the XFL to life, and why they had to let it go.

Both of these films (plus exclusive bonus features) will be available for streaming on WatchESPN immediately following their premieres.

I’m not much for fantasy football, but I played fantasy XFL, still love the ideas behind this league, and remain on vigilant watch for the emergence of subsequent examples of its ilk. The XFL improved the NFL, which now is in need of another shakeup. Here’s hoping that the release of this movie, slated for three days prior to the next Super Bowl, will rattle the NFL’s cage.

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Related
Pre/Postmodern football fans rejoice: The SPFL cometh

Extra! Extra! Read all about what you’ve already read!

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What’s with all the newsletters? Last week, I wrote about Bill Simmons’ new, post-Grantland website, The Ringer, which launched not with a splashy homepage prepopulated with articles, but with an email newsletter. Over a week later, TheRinger.com still exists as a simple placeholder page with little more than a button for subscribing to that email newsletter and podcast download links. As of this afternoon, Simmons & Co. have released a total of six newsletters.

Two days ago, FanGraphs announced that it too would introduce an email newsletter, and, later that day, the first issue arrived:   Continue reading

Bill Simmons launches new site with help from Tom Izzo

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Bill Simmons is back. The Sports Guy’s post-Grantland project, The Ringer, launched today. Although the site has had a social media presence for a few weeks (and Simmons’ now-eponymous podcast returned before that), action really got underway this morning, when Simmons publicly announced a number of the new website’s hires, and continued this afternoon, when he released the site’s first email newsletter.

The newsletter is The Ringer’s first substantive textual offering. It begins with a Simmons monologue on the name-selecting process for the new project, followed by a timely NCAA tournament article that leads with a nice picture of Tom Izzo and Denzel Valentine. (Bold prediction contained therein: “Sparty is going to be a tough out.”)

After that comes a Game of Thrones season preview, because this is the internet, after all, and the newsletter closes with a list of the three best-dressed people on Billions, which I just used Google to learn is another television show.

If The Ringer is reminding you of Grantland, that could be because of the substantial overlap in the two sites’ subject areas– basketball and premium-network television– and staff– including Katie Baker, Jason Concepcion (@netw3rk), and Brian Curtis. Tracking the similarities between The Ringer and Grantland will be both easy and less interesting than noting the differences, which are what could show us what, if anything, Simmons learned from his last venture.

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We’ll check back in once things have been up and running for a little while. In the meantime, here’s hoping BS can bring the following Grantland alums back into the fold: Brian Phillips, Rembert Browne, Mark Titus, Louisa Thomas, Charles Pierce, Chuck Klosterman, and Norm Macdonald.

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Related
Writing about writing about writing: Grantland

The Ghost of Grantland Past

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ESPN reports:

Effective immediately we are suspending the publication of Grantland.  After careful consideration, we have decided to direct our time and energy going forward to projects that we believe will have a broader and more significant impact across our enterprise.

Grantland distinguished itself with quality writing, smart ideas, original thinking and fun.  We are grateful to those who made it so.  Bill Simmons was passionately committed to the site and proved to be an outstanding editor with a real eye for talent.  Thanks to all the other writers, editors and staff who worked very hard to create content with an identifiable sensibility and consistent intelligence and quality. We also extend our thanks to Chris Connelly who stepped in to help us maintain the site these past five months as he returns to his prior role.

Despite this change, the legacy of smart long-form sports story-telling and innovative short form video content will continue, finding a home on many of our other ESPN platforms.

Certainly not the Halloween surprise anyone who has enjoyed the talented collection of writing, podcasting, and video production that site has produced since it launched in 2011 wanted to see.

Bill Simmons Writes 4 Billion Word Post, Determines He is the Perfect Father (also Forrest Gump and/or 7-Year-Old Girl)

In a 4000-word, dear-diary entry on his favorite blog, The Sports Guy™ finally reveals that, guys, he really cares about sports. I mean like REALLY, Y’ALL. Like the ohmygodicaresomuchthatiwillmakemysevenyearolddaughtercry cares.  But let’s allow him to explain.

Continue reading

Tigers win Game 5, series against Yankees, 3-2

Here's your Game 5 winner

The Detroit Tigers hung on to beat the New York Yankees in a decisive fifth game last night, advancing to the ALCS, which starts Saturday night in Arlington, TX.

I questioned Jim Leyland’s personnel decisions before and during the game, but they turned out to be exactly the right moves. Keep reading…

Bill Simmons writes a piece based upon his “stupid, indefensible, annoying and strangely addictive gimmick.” Tell me more!

As much as I hate Peter King’s writing, and as much as I enjoy KSK’s Drew Magary’s Fire Joe Morgan-like takedowns of PK’s MMQ pieces, I’ve always had the vague feeling that PK is too easy a target. A surfeit of travel, coffee, and beernerdness vignettes? Check. Repeated name droppings? You better believe it. Nuggetmania? Yes, please. Constant equivocations? Possibly, MAYBE. While this gives Big Daddy Drew the opportunity really delve into the lofty, nugget-laden soul of Peter King, I think it’s kind of unfair. PK just has no clue. It’s like picking on the kid in the remedial reading group because his short stories aren’t up to snuff. So in my continued attempt at derivative mediocrity, I take on what I’d like to thing is a much more worthy subject, Bill Simmons, who having once written under the moniker Boston Sports Guy, has since graduated to editor-in-chief of the most-pretentious-sports-blog-parading-around-as-the-Ernest-Hemingway-of-sports-and-social-commentary. Fingers crossed. So what’s the Sports Guy writing about most recently?

Keep reading…

Summer of Mailbag V: Passing the Buck (via Grantland)

Basically, the Tigers give up five runs per start unless Verlander is pitching. They’re 21-8 when he starts and 54-54 when he doesn’t. Fourteen times, he’s followed a Tigers loss by winning the next game. He’s pitched at least six innings in each of his 29 starts. He’s thrown 104 pitches or more in every start. He’s first in wins (20), WHIP, strikeouts, innings pitched; second in ERA (trailing Jered Weaver by just 0.10) and WAR (trailing only Bautista). You can only pick him apart because he’s pitched half his games in a pitcher’s park; that’s why his ERA+ is only 168 (barely ahead of Weaver’s 164). By pure numbers, Bautista’s season is a little more impressive than Verlander’s season, which is why the WAR differential (8.0 for Bautista, 7.3 for Verlander) makes sense.

Then you consider the pressure Verlander faced for five months (and counting) as the ace of a mediocre team. Every time he pitched, he HAD to go seven or more, he HAD to save their bullpen and they HAD to win. What it’s like to fall asleep every night knowing that every teammate, coach and fan is counting on you, that you’re basically holding an elaborate stack of Jenga blocks together by yourself, that you can’t escape, that you can’t have a shitty day, that you can’t check out, that you can’t do anything other than keep pitching at an extraordinarily high level or your team’s entire season is going to fall apart? Is there a bigger responsibility in sports? If Bautista had been “average” this season, Toronto’s fortunes wouldn’t have changed. If Verlander had been “average” this season, Detroit would be headed for fourth place and total obscurity. Instead, nobody in his right mind wants to see Justin Verlander in a seven-game series right now. … Read More

via Grantland