Sports Law Roundup – 3/31/2017

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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:

  • Penn State child abuse: The criminal trial of former Penn State University President Graham Spanier, who was charged in connection with the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault scandal inside the university’s football program, concluded with a jury verdict convicting Spanier of a single misdemeanor count of child endangerment. The jury, which deliberated for two days, declined to convict on the conspiracy charge. Spanier’s attorney immediately indicated an intent to appeal the verdict. Albert Lord, a PSU trustee, responded to the news of Spanier’s conviction by writing that he is “running out of sympathy” for Sandusky’s “so-called” victims.
  • Baseball fan injuries: The Cleveland Indians prevailed in a lawsuit filed by a fan struck in the face by a foul ball. The Ohio court adhered to the “Baseball Rule,” which holds that people who choose to attend baseball games assume the risk that they will be struck by flying bats and balls and therefore cannot sue teams when they are injured in such an incident. The plaintiff argued that his case presented distinguishing factual circumstances: he alleged that stadium ushers ordered him to leave his seat during play in the bottom of the ninth inning in advance of a fireworks show, such that his back was to the field when the batter hit the ball that eventually hit him in the face when he turned back to look at the field. Conflicting evidence on the timing and nature of the ushers’ instructions seems to have damaged the fan’s case, however.
  • Hockey labor agreement: The U.S. women’s national hockey team and governing body USA Hockey agreed to a confidential four-year labor deal centering around player compensation and support programming. The agreement negates the need for a planned player boycott of the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship, which begins today. A predominantly female team of attorneys from Ballard Spahr represented the players on a pro bono basis. In disappointing related news coming just one day after the new agreement, however, the University of North Dakota announced that it is cancelling its women’s hockey program, which has been an important feeder to the national team.
  • Hockey head injuries: Pretrial disputes over document discovery continue in the head-injury lawsuit between the NHL and a group of former players. Previously, those disputes focused on research documents from Boston University’s CTE Center. Now, however, the court has dealt a victory to the players by publicly releasing certain internal NHL communications and other documents. An early review of the now-public documents already has revealed one seemingly damning email from a team doctor lamenting “situational ethics” in the context of concussion management: “We all sit around and talk and talk about concussion management. Then it’s the playoffs, someone suffers an obvious loss of consciousness and is back playing in less than 48 hours. . . . We must be [the player’s] advocate regardless of what the coach or general manager thinks.” Another email, from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, expressed disappointment with a former referee’s public criticism of the league’s hard-hit discipline policy, writing, upon being informed that the former official still was receiving severance pay from the NHL, writing that “maybe he should understand it’s not nice to bite the hand that feeds you. Please have someone check to see if there are any grounds to withhold. Don’t want to hurt him – maybe just get his attention.” Other communications evidence what appears to be the NHL’s willful refusal to acknowledge or examine the issue of concussions in sports.
  • Baseball DUI: Earlier this month, a South Korean court sentenced Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang to eight months in prison after the player admitted guilt on a DUI charge. The prison sentence was Kang’s first, despite two prior DUI arrests in his native country. It’s possible Kang serves no prison time, though, because the court conditionally suspended the sentence for two years, and he’ll avoid a lockup if he complies with the court’s terms. Initially, observers believed Kang would be able to return to the United States to rejoin his team for the 2017 season. He has missed all of spring training, however, and it appears he is having difficulty securing a visa to reenter the U.S., placing his season with the Pirates in jeopardy for the moment.
  • Student athletes: A federal judge has rejected a proposed class-action lawsuit filed by two former University of North Carolina student athletes against the school, which alleged that UNC pushed them into a “shadow curriculum” of “bogus courses,” which led to “a systemic failure to properly educate college athletes,” because, the judge explained, the court did not have jurisdiction over the case. In general, there are two ways a plaintiff may invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court: 1) allege a claim raising a question of federal law or 2) sue a “diverse” party (i.e., a defendant who is a resident of a state other than the one in which the plaintiff resides) on claims for which at least $75,000 is at stake. Here, the plaintiffs’ claims raised state-law questions, so the first jurisdictional path was unavailable. As for the second, while the plaintiffs are not citizens of North Carolina, theoretically setting up a “diversity” situation with UNC, the judge determined that the university is a component of the North Carolina government and thus not a citizen of any state for purposes of the federal jurisdictional analysis. The judge dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning that the plaintiffs should be able to refile in state court, although it now appears they likely will face sovereign-immunity challenges should they proceed down that route.

Sports court is in recess.

Taylor Swift and Phish deserve 2016 World Series rings

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Taylor Swift’s influence on this year’s historic World Series is well-recognized. First, she cleared the Chicago Cubs’ path through the National League side of the playoff draw by failing to release a new album in an even year for the first time since 2006, thereby removing the true and powerful source of the San Francisco Giants’ even-year magic. Things wobbled a bit when, on the day of game three of the NLDS (in which the Cubs held a 2-0 series lead over the Giants), Swift announced that her first concert in nearly a year would take place later that month and, some thought, hinted at a new album release that would spirit the Giants to another world championship. San Francisco avoided elimination by beating Chicago that night.

Swift performed her concert, but she ultimately declined to release a new album, thereby halting the Giants’ playoff run and allowing the Cubs to advance to the World Series.

As all baseball fans know from the parable of the angels in the outfield, though, a team’s supernatural helper– be it Christopher Lloyd or T-Swizz– only will carry the team so far. In the World Series, the Cubs faltered again. Their offensive power, which had floated them to a regular-season-best 103 wins, suddenly became scarce in the playoffs, and they quickly found themselves in a 3-1 hole against Cleveland in the final round. Backs against the wall, Chicago would have to win three straight games in order to claim the title. To do that, their first baseman, Anthony Rizzo, would have to start hitting.

At twenty-seven years old, Rizzo qualifies as a wise old veteran on this young Cubs team, and he knew a change was necessary for the Cubs to have a shot at winning the series, so he made one. All year and throughout the playoffs, Rizzo had used Swift’s “Bad Blood” as his walkup music, and it had served him well. With one game left at Wrigley Field, the first of three consecutive must-wins, Rizzo hit shuffle on the jukebox, swapping “Bad Blood” for the Rocky theme. It worked. Rizzo hit a key double and scored a run, and the Cubs won 3-2, sending the series back to Cleveland, where they would win twice more, including a dramatic game-seven victory in extra innings. And it’s all thanks to Taylor Swift.

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Almost all of it, anyway. The touring phenomenon that is the band Phish has been making music together since 1983. In the more than thirty years of their existence, they have performed in Chicago numerous times. In fact, prior to this year, they’d played in Chicago twenty-eight times (I’m counting their five appearances in Rosemont), including a 1991 gig at the famous Cubby Bear bar. (For more on that storied venue’s history with music and baseball, enjoy this brief video from 1984.)

Until 2016, though, they never had performed inside the (helping) friendly confines of Wrigley Field. In the 108th year of Chicago’s north-side championship drought, however, Vermont’s finest made their Wrigley Field debut on June 24. We joined them on night two of their two-night Wrigley run, and they were excellent. The second night’s second set, in particular, was sublime.

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I don’t recall any explicit baseball references from the band that evening, but the first set offered some clues:

  • Waiting All Night (a World Series game seven preview)
  • 46 Days (sung as a reference to the days of 1946, the year after the Cubs’ last World Series appearance)
  • I Didn’t Know (You Were That Far Gone – from a World Series championship)
  • Good Times Bad Times (acknowledging that the Cubs and their fans have had their share of both)

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Are there musicians more closely associated with the Chicago Cubs than Taylor Swift and Phish? Probably. Eddie Vedder comes to mind. Michigander and ostensible Detroit Tigers fan Jack White has had his public flirtations. It is clear from the foregoing, however, that no musicians did more to help the Cubs break their various curses and claim a World Series title for the first time in 108 years than Swift and Phish. If Manny Ramirez is getting a World Series ring this year, then so should Taylor, Trey, Jon, Mike, and Page.

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Related
World Series Game 7 in two tweets
Book review: Chicago Blues: The City & The Music

Tardy 2016 World Series Preview

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The 2016 World Series started yesterday, and Cleveland now has Chicago in a one-game hole after a 6-0 shutout win last night. The Cubs were clear favorites to win the series entering last night, and while we probably still should consider them the favorites, Chicago fans can be forgiven for seeing lots of doom and gloom on the horizon this morning.

Here’s what the statistical projections on World-Series-winning odds now say:

Chicago remains favored to win game two tonight, but last night’s loss exacted a large toll on their overall series odds. (On the other hand, as one tortured Cubs fan opined yesterday, “In late October, math no longer applies.”)

At least one more game will be played in Cleveland’s JacobsProgressive Field, which has been a weird place to play baseball of late, at least relative to other places to play baseball.

This entire post has been a polite rouse designed to provide a vehicle for linking you to this World Series preview post, which is the best of its kind and the only one anyone needs to read.

Game 162: Talking baseball at the end of the 2016 regular season

Every MLB team is in action beginning at 3:00 this afternoon for the final* day of the 2016 regular season. Before heading down to Turner Field to catch the Tigers and say farewell to baseball in downtown Atlanta, I was a guest on today’s episode of the Banished to the Pen Podcast, in which I rambled about wild card scenarios and made severely underinformed playoff predictions.

Stream or download the podcast here.

* Final as to all except Detroit and Cleveland, which likely will need to play a makeup game tomorrow.

2016 MLB midseason prediction report

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This week marks the halfway point in the 2016 MLB season, which seems like a good time to check in on the preseason predictions I made.

American League

East: Boston

The Red Sox are playing pretty well, and some of their young prospects are rising to stardom, but they trail the “surprise” Orioles by 4.5 games, and are only a game up on third-place Toronto. Still, I don’t think it would surprise anyone if Boston made moves and won this division in the second half, especially with new GM/master dealmaker Dave Dombrowski at the helm.

Central: Detroit

Minnesota aside, the Central is a tight race, but it looked a lot tighter last week, prior to Cleveland’s current rampage. Until then, no team had held a sustainable stay atop the division, though, of the four contenders, Detroit’s time in first was briefest and most tenuous. This obviously was a pick on the emotional side of the ledger for me (though it’s one I share with Dave Cameron), but if the Tigers can’t beat Cleveland– currently 0-9 on the year– this season, it’s difficult to see them claiming the crown in the second half.   Continue reading

ALDLAND Podcast

There hasn’t been much going on in sports lately but that does not mean that ALDLAND doesn’t have things to talk about. We talk peeing on graves, we talk invading countries to take their sports stars, as well as more normal sports topics like soccer and baseball. It’s all here in the ALDLAND podcast.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

What are they teaching those kids in Miami? LeBron James and non-history

You may have heard that LeBron James will be returning as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers next season. He announced his decision in a first-person Sports Illustrated post last week.

While sportswriters generally fell about the place in sharing how emotional they thought James’ letter was/made them, no one seems to have examined James’ history recitation with any care. James said that “Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids.” Did they offer a course in American Athletic History there? If so, can someone leak us the syllabus?

James goes on to make the following statement (emphasis added):

When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.

Unless James plans to suit up with Johann Von Football and defend Akron’s 1920 APFA title, it’s difficult to understand what James is talking about. The context of that final quoted sentence clearly indicates James is referring to the Larry O’Brien trophy. That’s the trophy they give to the team that wins the NBA championship. The Cleveland Cavaliers have not ever won the NBA championship. They only even made it to the finals once, in 2007, when the eternal Spurs swept James and the Cavs. You can handle the math from here.

ALDLAND Podcast

Even the ALDLAND Podcast is not immune from Lebron discussion, and so we start off the episode with that very topic. Where will he go? Why will he go there? All these questions and more are discussed. But don’t worry, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, we haven’t forgot about you and also predict your landing destinations. Not to be left out, soccer makes its presence felt in this edition of the ALDLAND Podcast as the World Cup final gets a healthy preview.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

SEC Disclosure: An Intellectual Separation as Manziel Moves North?

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No-longer-suspended-from-Twitter ESPN “Sports Business Reporter” Darren Rovell buried the lede in a story published yesterday related to the news that some leaders at Texas A&M are considering renaming the schools’ football stadium “Kyle Field: The House That Johnny Built.” Rather than a foolhardy, if historically accurate, branding exercise, the real story here is the apparent rift between former Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel and “Uncle” Nate Fitch, Manziel’s longtime friend and manager of sorts.

The details of Fitch’s relationship with the former Heisman Trophy winner are sketchy, but the story seems to be that Fitch saw a star in his high-school friend and went all-in:

[Fitch is] a college dropout, in the entrepreneurial sense of the word, more dreamer than slacker. He’s Manziel’s assistant, media coordinator, business manager, designated driver. He goes by Uncle Nate, which is a nickname Manziel says Fitch gave himself. Fitch, 20, allegedly works for free, betting on the come, looking into the future when Manziel is an NFL star. He wears a gold rope bracelet, acting like an agent on a television show, talking with confidence about tit-for-tat horse trading and his deep knowledge of the NCAA rulebook. . . . As publicists go, he handled himself like a pro.

Now, however, the news of the possible renaming of Kyle Field has shed new light on the relationship between Fitch and Manziel, and it looks like the two aren’t on the same page. According to the Rovell story, Fitch’s family attempted to register “The House That Johnny Built” as a trademark, but the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office refused the requested registration. Manziel himself already applied for the same trademark back in January.

What’s going on between these two? I obviously don’t know, and my sources in the Houston area aren’t talking, but it sure looks like Manziel and Fitch have gone from collaborators to competitors.

About an hour after the Cleveland Browns drafted Manziel late in the first round of the NFL draft last week, Fitch posted a tweet:

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There are plenty of obvious potential narratives here, but the fact that no one seems to be investigating the apparent discord between Manziel and Fitch may simply be a testament to the overwhelming scope of the NFL stage. Over the past two years, reporters couldn’t get enough of Johnny Manziel, SEC quarterback. As of last Thursday, though, he’s just another NFL rookie.

ALDLAND Podcast

It’s time for another ALDLAND Podcast, and this one has it all. There’s NBA playoff coverage, discussion of retirement gifts for Derek Jeter, and even live NFL draft updates that won’t matter by the time you listen to this because you will know who was drafted where already. But I’m sure you would agree that it’s the thought that counts.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here: