As highlighted in this week’s Sports Law Roundup, Disney and Fox are entering into a doozy of a media deal that involves everything from movies to television shows to streaming platforms to sports programming. This transaction has Star Wars components, Hulu components, and Simpsons components that, rightfully, are making headlines. It would not be surprising, however, if some of the most visible changes for viewers that result from this asset purchase, for which approval by various supervisory entities remains pending, come for consumers of sports media.
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.