Sports Law Roundup – 12/8/2017

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

  • Olympic doping: The International Olympic Committee has banned Russia from the upcoming Olympic Games in South Korea due to “systemic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system,” although it will allow individual Russian athletes who prove they aren’t doping to compete under the Olympic flag and wearing uniforms indicating they are “Olympic Athlete[s] from Russia.” Additionally, twenty-two Russian winter Olympic athletes banned for life following doping violations during the 2014 Winter Olympics have applied to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to reinstate them. The upcoming winter games begin in February.
  • Gymnast abuse: In February, the Michigan Attorney General charged a doctor with ties to USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for gymnastics in the United States; Michigan State University; and a gym in the Lansing area, who already was facing multiple civil and criminal accusations of improper sexual conduct, with twenty-two additional criminal counts in connection with his alleged sexual abuse of young female athletes. USA Gymnastics and Michigan State terminated their relationships with the doctor following the earlier accusations. Some of the charges added in February involved victims who were younger than thirteen at the times of the alleged acts, and all of the charges are felonies that carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. On Thursday, following guilty pleas on three federal charges, a federal trial judge in Grand Rapids declared the doctor “a danger to children” and sentenced the fifty-four year old to sixty years in prison, the maximum allowable sentence. In determining her sentence, the judge considered statements from victims, including U.S. gold-medalists McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman. The doctor still is awaiting sentencing on ten state-law counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
  • Charity fraud: Former NBA player Kermit Washington pled guilty to multiple criminal counts of making false statements on income tax returns and a single count of aggravated identity theft in connection with charges that he used charitable donations intended for a medical clinic in Africa for personal expenses. Washington allegedly induced donors, including professional athletes, to contribute to the clinic but spent the money on vacations and jewelry. In 1973, the Los Angeles Lakers drafted Washington fifth overall out of American University, the beginning of a ten-season NBA career in which he also played for the Trailblazers, Clippers, Celtics, and Warriors.

Sports court is in recess.

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Sports Law Roundup – 12/1/2017

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

  • Streaming data: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ruled that ESPN may share an individual’s streaming device identification number and record of videos watched without violating the federal Video Privacy Protection Act because that information does not constitute “personally identifiable information” under that act. The First Circuit previously had ruled that such information could be personally identifiable information, especially where combined with geolocation data, but that now is regarded as the minority position.
  • Bird death: A Massachusetts appellate court affirmed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a truck manufacturer and the owner of automotive-related equipment in a wrongful-death case brought by the widow of Mark Fidrych. Fidrych died in 2009 of accidental asphyxiation when his clothing became entangled in the equipment while he was working underneath his truck. The court agreed that the equipment was dangerous and could have been designed in a safer fashion, but, because those designs were not defective and the risk that led to Fidrych’s death “arose out of the addition of other components and the decisions made, and actions taken, by downstream actors, the defendants had no duty to warn of those dangers.”

Sports court is in recess.

Just in time for the end of the MLB season, the best baseball TV show is live on the internet

starting 9 brian wilson

To be fair, there isn’t a large volume of competition in the daily live MLB television show category. By my count, the established programs are MLB Network’s “MLB Tonight,” FS1’s “MLB Whiparound,” and ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight,” all of which essentially compete to be the first choice in baseball wallpaper.

Enter “Starting 9,” a Barstool Sports production that debuted last week and already has surpassed all of its major-network competitors in every facet. None of those shows sniffs the “appointment-viewing” descriptor, which applies to “Starting 9.” It’s the perfect show for baseball fans in both content and delivery. The show airs live Sunday through Thursday at just the right time– 11:00 pm on weeknights, right after East-Coast games have ended, and 6:00 pm on Sunday, between the end of the afternoon games and the start of the primetime ESPN game– and runs for just the right length of time, about twenty minutes per episode. Adding to the convenience is the fact that “Starting 9” streams on Facebook Live and Periscope, allowing the audience an easy second-screen viewing setup.

Although it’s a web-based show, “Starting 9” looks like a show you’d see on a big sports television network thanks to shiny graphics (the 1990s Donruss baseball card visual reference is a particularly nice touch) and a license to air MLB game highlights. “Starting 9” isn’t on a big sports television network, though, which means its hosts– Jared Carrabis; former Oakland Athletic and ESPN broadcaster Dallas Braden; and, at least for the first week, former San Francisco Giant Brian Wilson– are uncensored and unfiltered, leading to a much more natural conversation. It’s everything PTI is supposed to be but never can be.

The hosts have an easy rapport that flows from the homonymous podcast Carrabis and Braden began hosting a month ago, which featured the not-shy Wilson as its first guest. Carrabis has been writing about the Boston Red Sox and baseball generally at Barstool for years, and the site hired Braden (who once pitched a perfect game, in case you hadn’t heard) after ESPN cut him loose in their big round of layoffs this spring.

The show’s first week demonstrated an impressive ability to synthesize the day’s baseball stories, some of which happened just moments before the show went live, into a well-rounded blend of on-field highlights, fan interactions, and other news and happenings that ranges from the serious to the silly.

The benefits a live show were on display during last night’s episode, in which Carrabis and Braden were able to discuss J.D. Martinez’s four-homer game, which was happening during the show.

Last night’s episode also was the first without Wilson, whose absence was noted at the opening. It will be a small disappointment if he is not a regular part of the show going forward, as appears to be the case, since he provides a good compliment to Braden, who can be a little too bombastic at times.

One thing that does not seem to be a problem for “Starting 9” is audience size. Facebook Live viewership during the first week hovered between eight hundred and 1,200 at a given moment, and the Periscope numbers were bigger: I saw anywhere 50,000 to over 100,000. The episodes remain archived on Facebook and the Barstool site itself as well, convenient for those who aren’t able to watch live.

Although the 2017 regular season is nearly over, I suspect that “Starting 9” will continue in some capacity during the playoffs, and I look forward to having it as a part of my baseball routine in the future.

ESPN reassigns football broadcaster to protect him from memes

In what has to be the dumbest sports story ever, ESPN has reassigned college football broadcaster Robert Lee, who was supposed to work Virginia’s September 2 season-opener against William & Mary, “for safety reasons.” Was ESPN concerned that Lee, who shares a first and last name– but, one assumes, little else– with the Confederate general, would be subject to physical danger while broadcasting in Charlottesville, recently the site of a deadly racial demonstration? No. This decision is all about protecting Lee from danger of a different sort. From an ESPN statement: “This wasn’t about offending anyone. It was about the reasonable possibility that because of his name he would be subjected to memes and jokes and who knows what else.”

Indeed, who does know what else? After this, I really can’t imagine there’s anything left.

Saving Detroit: Tigers Notes, 8/8/17

detroit tigers notes

While trades– including a trade of Justin Verlander– technically remain a possibility at this point in the year, it looks like the Detroit Tigers will content themselves with playing out the final two months of this season with their current crew and an eye toward the future. For this site, that probably means that the pages of this season’s Tigers diary will be a little emptier than they might be if the team were more aggressive in the trade market or competing for a playoff berth. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t interesting items to track, though. Here are a few:

    • Justin Upton: As highlighted here last week, Upton’s been trimming his bugaboo strikeout rate, but he’s continuing to strike out in bad situations. Since that post, he’s appeared in six games and added four two-out strikeouts to his total, pushing him into a tie for eleventh on the MLB-wide list (minimum 100 two-out plate appearances) in 2017. With 3.6 fWAR, Upton continues to be the team’s best position player by a comfortable margin, as well as its best overall player. In that post last week, I speculated that Upton is unlikely to opt out of his contract this offseason due, in part, to a weak market for corner outfielders with his profile. Over at The Athletic’s new Detroit vertical, Neil Weinberg is more optimistic about Upton’s open-market prospects, calling the “odds that Upton opts out . . . quite high.”
    • Miguel Cabrera: I’ve been working up a full post on Cabrera’s tough season, which has a good chance to be the worst of his career. (For a forward-looking analysis, my career comparison between Cabrera and Albert Pujols is here.) Besides the obvious drop in production, one thing that jumps out is his batting average on balls in play, which, at .296, is below .300 for the first time ever (career .345 BABIP). Last month, Weinberg did the logical thing and dove into Cabrera’s swing profile and batted-ball data tabulated by StatCast. The problem, from our perspective, is that there isn’t a ton there. Cabrera continues to rank high (currently number one, minimum 200 at bats, by a large margin) on the xwOBA-wOBA chart, an indication that he’s making good contact despite poor results. From watching games this season, it seems like Cabrera turns away from inside (but not that inside) pitches more often than in years past, which makes me wonder if he simply isn’t seeing pitches as well. (Weinberg noticed that he’s swinging less often than usual at inside pitches.)
      When observing the decline of a great player, it can be fun to take a break from the dissection to remember his youth, which the remarkable achievements of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper gave us occasion to do today:

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Sports Law Roundup – 8/4/2017

aslr

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:

  • NBA fan assault: After declining a plea offer in June, Charles Oakley, a former member of the New York Knicks who was arrested and charged with assault after an argument with Knicks owner James Dolan during a game at Madison Square Garden, accepted a similar offer today. While Oakley’s earlier decision appeared designed to force Dolan to provide public testimony at a trial, Oakley, through his lawyer, now says that he “will be pursuing all civil remedies against Mr. Dolan based on this incident.” Pursuant to the terms of today’s agreement, prosecutors will drop the criminal charges against Oakley if Oakley stays out of MSG for one year and otherwise avoids criminal trouble for six months.
  • ESPN parody: The parody sports website NOTSportsCenter.com, which appears to exist today mostly as a Twitter account, defeated a challenge by ESPN that sought the transfer of the NOTSportsCenter.com web domain to ESPN because, ESPN complained, the parody website was confusingly similar to ESPN’s registered “SportsCenter” trademark and operated in bad faith. The arbitration panel found that the owner of the NOTSportsCenter.com domain, Will Applebee, was not using the domain in bad faith, was not attempting to disrupt ESPN’s business, and does not keep people from visiting ESPN’s website. Finally, the arbitrators noted that ESPN’s “delay in taking action against [Applebee] nullifies its arguments,” finding the Worldwide Leader’s decision to wait six years to challenge the domain registration to be a material piece of evidence. Attorneys from Greenberg Traurig, an international law firm with more than two dozen offices around the world, represented ESPN. Applebee represented himself.
  • Daily fantasy sports: On Wednesday, Delaware and Maine became the latest states to legalize daily fantasy sports. The Maine law prohibits DFS contests based on collegiate athletics. Legislative action in other states suggests that Pennsylvania, Illinois, and California could be next in line, while Massachusetts appears to be moving in the other direction.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 6/2/2017

aslr

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.

After a week off, this feature returns with the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Penn State child abuse: All three of the former Penn State University administrators charged in connection with the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault scandal inside the university’s football program will spend time in jail. In March, former PSU vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley pleaded guilty to one count each of endangering the welfare of children, leaving former school president Graham Spanier as the sole defendant in the case facing a trial on charges of child endangerment and conspiracy. A jury subsequently convicted Spanier of a single misdemeanor count of child endangerment. Curley and Schultz each received sentences of a maximum of twenty-three months in jail. Curley will serve three of those months in jail and Schultz will serve two months, with each completing the remainder of his sentence in house arrest. Spanier was sentenced to a maximum of twelve months in jail and will serve two, with the remainder in house arrest, and still indicates he intends to appeal.
  • Cheerleader wages: The judge overseeing the proposed antitrust class action lawsuit brought by a former San Francisco 49ers cheerleader known in the context of the case as Kelsey K. in connection with alleged wage-suppression tactics has dismissed the case, although he is allowing the plaintiff’s attorneys until June 15 to attempt to amend the complaint. In February, the judge denied the lead plaintiff’s request to proceed with the case under the “Jane Doe” pseudonym, though he did permit her to use only her first name and last initial.
  • NASCAR pit crew: A judge denied the majority of two competing summary judgment motions and will allow a wrongful termination case by a former NASCAR pit crew member to proceed against his former employer, Michael Waltrip Racing (“MWR”). The plaintiff, Brandon Hopkins, injured his shoulder when a racecar hit him during a race. Treatment from MWR’s training staff was ineffective, and surgery was necessary. Surgery was delayed for reasons the parties dispute, however. Days before the scheduled surgery, Hopkins met with a supervisor, who assured Hopkins his job was safe. When Hopkins left the office to go home, he brought a particular tool– the design of which MWR considered confidential– with him, which, he said, was an accident. MWR did not believe Hopkins’ story and fired him the next day. Office security camera footage also showed Hopkins removing what may have been confidential documents from the office two days prior. The judge determined that there were sufficient facts that a jury could determine that Hopkins’ firing was connected to his injury, an impermissible basis for termination, or his misappropriation of confidential company information, which would be a permissible basis.
  • NBA fan assault: In February, Charles Oakley, a former member of the New York Knicks, was arrested and charged with assault after an argument with Knicks owner James Dolan during a game at Madison Square Garden. Now, Oakley has declined a prosecutor’s offer to drop the charges and requested that the matter be resolved in a trial, which Dolan likely views as a vehicle for unwanted public attention on himself.

Sports court is in recess.

ALDLAND Archives: Is the Worldwide Leader not long for this world? Imagining the end of ESPN

ESPN is in the midst of a significant layoff of on-air talent this week, and most of the casualties’ names are coming to light today. The cuts are leading many to ask some fundamental questions about the network’s future. Below, from the past, a potential answer to one such question.

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Is the Worldwide Leader not long for this world? Imagining the end of ESPN

December 7, 2015

My latest post at TechGraphs asks a simple question: why does ESPN still exist?

The full post is available here.

Sports Law Roundup – 2/17/2017

aslr

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:

  • Baseball human trafficking: The federal criminal trial began this week in Miami in a case in which an agent and trainer were indicted for their alleged roles in a smuggling network designed to move baseball prospects from Cuba into the MLB system.
  • Boxing non-fight fight: Boxer Alexander Povetkin sued fellow heavyweight Deontay Wilder after the latter withdrew from the pair’s scheduled fight last May following the former’s positive test for meldonium, the same banned substance for which Maria Sharapova was banned from tennis competition. This week, a jury returned a verdict in Wilder’s favor, but Povetkin’s attorney wants to keep fighting, alleging that Wilder’s lawyer engaged in “gross and extensive misconduct” during the litigation and implying that he would seek a mistrial.
  • NFL turf: In what the Houston Texans are calling “a case of first impression,” former NFL linebacker Demeco Ryans is suing the team for damages arising out of an alleged career-ending, noncontact Achilles tendon injury Ryans says he suffered when he landed on a seam in the turf while playing in a game against the Texans as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Ryans is seeking $10 million, but the Texans say the court should dismiss the case because the NFL collective bargaining agreement preempts his claims. Ryans is hoping to avoid CBA preemption by relying on a prior case involving Reggie Bush, in which Bush injured himself after running out of bounds and slipping on a concrete surface surrounding the field during a game in St. Louis. In Bush’s case, the court ruled that the CBA did not apply, since the injury happened outside the field of play. Ryans’ lawsuit, the Texans highlight, deals with the in-bounds playing surface itself, which, the team argues, is a critical distinction that renders the Bush case inapplicable.
  • Lance Armstrong fraud: A False Claims Act lawsuit against Lance Armstrong will proceed after a judge’s ruling on various motions this week. The case involves allegations that Armstrong, while lying about his doping practices, received millions of dollars from the federal government in connection with his cycling team’s sponsorship by the U.S. Postal Service. Although the government’s case can go forward, Armstrong’s side will be able to argue in mitigation that the government’s benefit from the sponsorship reduces the amount of financial harm it actually suffered.
  • Student-athlete scholarships: Last week, we mentioned a settlement agreement under which the NCAA will pay an average of approximately $7,000 to current and former football and men’s and women’s basketball players who played a sport for four years and were affected by alleged athletic scholarship caps. Now, one of the plaintiffs, former USC linebacker Lamar Dawson, has objected to the settlement, which requires court approval before it’s finalized. Dawson’s concern is that the settlement includes a release of certain labor law claims that were not litigated in that particular case and which he is pursuing separately in a wage-and-hour lawsuit against the NCAA.
  • NBA fan app: A court partially dismissed a fan’s lawsuit against the Golden State Warriors, ruling that, although the fan had alleged facts sufficient to show that she had suffered an actual injury as a result of the team’s smartphone app’s alleged secret recording and capturing of her private communications, she had not stated a claim for relief under the federal Wiretap Act because she had not shown how the team intercepted and used her communications. The judge is allowing the fan the opportunity to amend her complaint.
  • Tennis commentator: After ESPN fired him in connection with an on-air remark about Venus Williams during this year’s Australian Open broadcast, Doug Adler, who worked for the network for nearly a decade, has filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against his former employer, alleging that he was dismissed for saying something he never said. While some heard Adler use the word “gorilla” in reference to Williams, he maintains that he used the word “guerrilla” in describing her approach during the match he was broadcasting. Thanks to the magic of the internet, you can render your own judgment after viewing the clip here.
  • Penn State child abuse: Earlier this month, a court ruled that three former Penn State University administrators will face criminal child endangerment charges stemming from the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault scandal inside the university’s football program. The trial is supposed to begin next month, but the three defendants are attempting an immediate appeal of the ruling that they must face trial, arguing that a two-year statute of limitations bars the charges, and that Pennsylvania’s child-endangerment laws don’t apply to officials in their positions. In other news, Sandusky’s son, Jeff, has himself been charged with sexually abusing a child.

Sports court is in recess.

Baseball Notes: The WAR on Robbie Ray

baseball notes

There are a few things we know with reasonable certainty about Robbie Ray. He was born on October 1, 1991 just south of Nashville in Brentwood, Tennessee. In 2010, the Washington Nationals drafted him in the twelfth round of the amateur draft. The Nationals traded him, along with two other players, to the Detroit Tigers in 2013 in exchange for Doug Fister. A year later, the Tigers traded him to the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of a three-team trade that netted the Tigers Shane Green and the New York Yankees Didi Gregorius. So far, Ray has seen major-league action as a starting pitcher with the Tigers and Diamondbacks. He showed promise in his first three appearances (two starts and an inning of relief), for Detroit. He showed less promise in his remaining six appearances– four starts and two relief innings– for that team. Things have ticked back up for Ray since his arrival in the desert, however.

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Most baseball fans likely have some familiarity with the player-valuation concept of wins above replacement player, usually labeled WAR. What many fans may not realize, however, is that there actually are three different versions of the WAR statistic. The goal of each version is the same: to determine a comprehensive valuation of an individual baseball player. Each takes slightly different paths to reach that comprehensive valuation, but they typically reach similar conclusions about a given player, such that it’s common to see or hear a player’s WAR cited without specific reference to the particular version utilized.

For example, the three versions– Baseball-Reference’s WAR (“rWAR”), FanGraphs’ WAR (“fWAR”), and Baseball Prospectus’ WARP (“WARP”)– all agree that Mike Trout had a great 2016. He finished the season with 10.6 rWAR, 9.4 fWAR, and 8.7 WARP, good for first, first, and second by each metric, respectively. For another example, they also agree about Trout’s former MVP nemesis, Miguel Cabrera: 4.9 rWAR, 4.9 fWAR, 3.9 WARP. (In my anecdotal experience, WARP tends to run a little lower than rWAR and fWAR for all players.)

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While the WAR varietals typically and generally concur, that isn’t always the case. Pitchers can be particularly susceptible to this variance, because the measurement of pitching performance is one of the areas in which the three metrics are most different. Continue reading