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.

Snapshot: How good has the Detroit Tigers starting rotation been to date?

No, Justin Verlander hasn’t appeared in a single game this season. Yes, it’s still early in the year to be issuing deeply meaningful assessments of baseball team performances. No, I still have not pulled together a proper introductory post for this season’s Tigers series. Instead, you’ll have to get by with this extensive team season preview, which remains not wholly inaccurate, a writeup on Detroit’s bounceback from its first loss in Pittsburgh, a quick peek at changes in team base-stealing profiles, a podcast from earlier this week, and the following snapshot of the Tigers’ rotation through twenty-one games.

This morning, Baseball Prospectus released a new pitching metric, Deserved Run Average (“DRA”), which is designed as a replacement for ERA. You can read more about DRA here (and a nauseatingly detailed exposition of it here), but the one-line summary is simple: “By accounting for the context in which the pitcher is throwing, DRA allows us to determine which runs are most fairly blamed on the pitcher.” After all, that’s what we want to know when we look at a pitcher’s ERA. DRA, it would appear, allows us to know that with greater accuracy.

With that new tool in hand, here are 2015’s most valuable pitchers so far, factoring in their newly calculated DRA:

dra-pwarp-4-29-15Plenty of familiar names on that list, especially for Tigers fans, who will find all five of this season’s starters– David Price (#2), Alfredo Simon (#7), Shane Greene (#9), Anibal Sanchez (#15), and even Kyle Lobstein (#22)– among the thirty most valuable pitchers of this young season.

Through thick and thin offensive production thus far, plenty of credit for the team’s 14-7 record is due to the starting rotation, which, you need not be reminded, unloaded Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Rick Porcello in the past two offseasons. Surprisingly, so far, so good.

1500 words to say that Conan never was that funny and he isn’t getting funnier and TBS doesn’t seem to care

Mostly for structural technological reasons, this ALDLAND writer doesn’t watch a lot of TV. Like anyone even loosely following popular media and culture over the last few years, though, I’ve seen Conan– primarily on-demand, online, and for reasons unrelated to O’Brien himself– and have some opinion on him that I haven’t enunciated because it didn’t seem worth the effort to put into words that someone else would want to read that Conan really isn’t that funny. His move away from NBC piqued interest in the way that Charlie Sheen’s meltdown did– a spectacle was happening, and the corporate networks were openly trying to figure out how to handle it– but the only real consequence I felt was that the Mighty Max was off daily television.

Grantland’s Andy Greenwald took up the task of writing all of that (even the paragraph above feels like too much) out longhand and nearly long form. Here’s the portion I thought quote-worthy:

But after a week watching The Great Conando pant after nobodies and ding Americans for being overweight, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not the lower ratings that should concern TBS. It’s the lowered expectations. By constantly moving the goalposts and pre-apologizing for Conan’s numbers, TBS only reinforces the perception that they’re less interested in the reality of Conan as a talk show than they are in the projected fantasy of it as some sort of web-friendly content farm. (Last week, Vince Vaughn “stopped by” to debut a trailer for his new movie. Yes, the star wattage was nice, but it seemed like an awfully expensive way for TBS to involve itself in something the Internet already does well enough for free, the equivalent of priority-mailing a letter to announce an e-mail you plan on sending in the morning.) Koonin’s hands-off policy and drama-free endorsements (“He’s our Mount Rushmore”) must make for a pleasant change of pace after 17 years among the backstabbing brownshirts at NBC. But it also seems to have stripped O’Brien of his most powerful weapon: his ferocious survival instinct.

Whether he was staving off cancellation rumors with coked-up werewolves or blowing off NBC’s rescheduling plans by blowing their money, O’Brien’s comedy has always worked best when he’s fighting for his life. . . . Now, tasked with little more than delivering a modest number of age-appropriate eyeballs, O’Brien seems both stunted and settled, lavishly rewarded for doing what he loves most for a company that seems to value the end product the least. It’s been well established by now that Conan O’Brien can’t stop. But it seems he’s only transcendent when someone is trying to make him.

Which is a nice way of saying what I wrote above, I think.

I also think that the reason I find myself watching him on youtube (again, for the guests) more than his competitors (that’d be Letterman, Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, and Jimmy Fallon) is because those comedians who seem to be smart (Louie, Norm, Tracy, Will) also seem to really respect Conan, and they seem to elicit honest, non-Guy Smiley reactions from Conan, and those do add to the experience of watching the guest.


Although maybe that’s really just a Norm thing.