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.

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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

World Series Game 7 in two tweets

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Last night’s World Series finale had everything, and it was amazing to watch. You’ll find plenty to read about it across the web today. For now, anyway, my contribution to that plenty will be, like the bulk of what you usually find here, minimal, derivative, and frivolous.

The game had numerous memorable moments, and one of the most memorable was Rajai Davis’ game-tying home run off Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning. You can see on the graph above right where it happened, and, if you want an even more graphical recollection, the video is here. As the above starkly illustrates, the Cubs were, more or less, cruising by this point. Sure, Chicago manager Joe Maddon was doing his best to keep the game interesting by mismanaging his pitching staff, but the Cubs’ lead appeared as solid as a lead reasonably can appear late in a game-seven setting. Roughly an hour before Davis’ world-inverting homer, though, when things seemed relatively quiet on the eastern front, came this tweet:

Then, a moment before Davis came to the plate, a second tweet arrived:

And then the rains came. What a night.

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

Slaughterhouse Monday

While I was in Chicago, I got into a discussion with a reader about whether high school was too early to read Vonnegut. While the results of that conversation were inconclusive, this post is unequivocally too late. So it goes.

Week three of college football and week two of the NFL definitely stand as prime territory for some on-field slaughters, and this past weekend did not disappoint in that regard. First, Vandy took the Presbyterian Blue Hose to the woodshed in Nashville, where the Commodores claimed their first win of the season by a 58-0 mark behind new starter Austyn Carta-Samuels. It was the Vanderbilt running game, nonexistent last week against Northwestern, that shone this Saturday, when Zac Stacy took the first Vanderbilt play from scrimmage 86 yards to the house and never slowed down.

There was no shortage of lopsided scores around the country Saturday, including Clemson’s 41-7 takedown of in-state team Furman, the expected Arkansas defeat at the hands of Alabama, 52-0, and other top five blowouts, including LSU’s (63-14 over Idaho), Oregon’s (same score, over Tennessee Tech), and Florida State’s (52-0 over Wake Forest). Not all of said slaughters were so favorable for teams this space likes to track, particularly including Notre Dame’s 20-3 takedown of Michigan State in East Lansing, for which there is no excuse. I’m glad I couldn’t watch it.

The NFL wasn’t especially compelling this weekend, even though a number of games on Sunday afternoon came down to the wire, technically speaking. The main NFL topic this week is likely to be the Monday night game, which has already seen its share of storylines, including multiple Peyton Manning interceptions early and an apparent lack of control by the scab referees.

To round out the slaughter theme, of course, we go to the Motor City, where the Tigers continue to lose, first on a blown save by Jose Valverde against the mighty Cleveland Indians, and then in a make-up game this afternoon against the inexplicably division-leading White Sox.

The DET Offensive: Call the Experts!

I’ve gone from highlighting the good to trying to pinpoint the bad in this space for the Detroit Tigers’ promising season that, so far, has not gone according to plan. I’ve tried to get answers from the experts, particularly ESPN/Grantland’s kindly baseball insiders Buster Olney and the more interactive (with me) Jonah Keri. Both Olney and Keri were high on the Tigers before the season started, and the latter finally took to the task of assessing the current state of Motor City’s baseball team. His evaluation, excerpted:

What’s going wrong with the Tigers?

One of the biggest culprits for Detroit’s struggles has been the most predictable one: lousy team defense. Only the Mets have been worse defensively this season. . . . [A] roster full of no-glove options was rendered worse defensively when Jim Leyland curiously decided to play noted butchers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder every day as corner infielders. Cabrera hasn’t been quite as atrocious as you might have expected after converting back to third base following years away from the position, then taking a ground ball to the face early on (on a very sharply-hit ball, it should be noted). But both no-glove sluggers have still been bad enough, with the Tigers getting a collective sub-.600 OPS from its designated hitters thanks to Delmon Young’s lousy year and some curious choices to start at DH the rest of the time.

Oh, just that, huh?

[T]here were plenty more reasons to fear regression for the Tigers, despite the 95 wins+Fielder=Profit(?) formula. Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta hit out of their minds last year, and were prime bets to pull back in 2012. Valverde going unblemished all year long in save opportunities wasn’t going to happen again even if the Tigers moved to the Sally League. Even the seemingly loaded 2011 Tigers weren’t necessarily 95-win quality by at least one metric: Their runs scored and runs allowed totals suggested an 89-win club.

I see. I suppose that about covers it though, right?

The biggest surprise, though, has been Detroit’s shaky offense. The Tigers rank just ninth in the American League in runs scored, trailing Texas, every AL East team, and two clubs in their own division. There’s been plenty of suck to go around. Fielder’s hitting a very pedestrian (for him) .286/.349/.458. After an impressive outburst last postseason that suggested he might finally turn the corner, Delmon Young’s been a replacement-level player, hitting just .248/.302/.358. Peralta’s also slugging a Rey Sanchez-esque .358. Brennan Boesch has a .287 OBP. Avila’s hitting .225 with a .309 OBP. Tigers second basemen are collectively hitting about as well as a Deadball Era pitcher with gout, one good eye, and a candy cane for a bat.

Oof. Build me back up, Jonah. Any light at the end of the tunnel?

Some of this can’t help but turn in the Tigers’ favor. There’s a good chance they don’t have another series all year with as many squandered opportunities as they had against the Indians (3-for-29 with runners in scoring position). They’ll face very few other pitchers as dominant against right-handed hitters as Masterson is and was Thursday; righties went just 1-for-12 against Masterson for the day. And they likely won’t lose many more games in which Verlander goes eight innings, allows just seven baserunners, and ends his day by striking out the side with a 98-mph fastball, a 101-mph fastball, and a preposterous 83-mph looping curve.

Okay, so maybe things aren’t so bad after all. I’m feeling better already.

But there are still reasons to worry. The Tigers’ best hitter this year, Austin Jackson, just hit the disabled list. They lack major league-ready impact prospects at their weakest positions. And perhaps most of all, they’re chasing a pretty good team [in the Indians].

Alright. I didn’t need that. Thought we were in the clear there. Leave me with some perspective. This is a great team, right? They’ve had strong halves of seasons before. Everything’s going to be fine?

Detroit stood six games back of Cleveland through 44 games last season too, before demolishing the league in the second half and cruising to the division title. The question is, does this year’s Tigers team match up with last year’s squad? And, will the Indians fall apart for the second year in a row? A quick and healthy return for Jackson and returns to normal levels for Cabrera and Fielder could lead a Tigers resurgence, and the Indians’ iffy starting rotation could pull Cleveland back toward the pack. Another 95-win season and a runaway AL Central title, though? That bet’s all but off the board.

…Thanks?

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