Sports Law Roundup – 11/3/2017

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:

  • Soccer relocation: Citing a duty to taxpayers, a judge in San Antonio is calling for a criminal investigation of the Columbus Crew’s announced proposal to move the team to Austin. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff had been involved in San Antonio’s attempt to secure an MLS franchise, which includes a joint purchase by the city and county governments of an $18 million soccer stadium. According to Wolff, Mark Abbott, the head of MLS, was supportive of San Antonio’s campaign for an expansion franchise in 2015 and said that MLS would not place teams in both San Antonio and Austin. Wolff has asked the Bexar County district attorney to investigate the situation.
  • NFL hiring collusion: Last month, free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick filed a labor grievance with the NFL alleging that the league’s member teams are colluding to keep him out of a job because of his leading role in player protests during the National Anthem. According to a report this afternoon, team owners Jerry Jones (Cowboys), Robert Kraft (Patriots), and Bob McNair (Texans) will be called to answer questions under oath about Kaepernick’s claims and disclose their cellular telephone records. According to the report, “others owners, teams and league officials also will be deposed, but those individuals have been confirmed for now.”
  • NASCAR pit crew: In June, a judge allowed a wrongful termination case by Brandon Hopkins, a former NASCAR pit crew member to proceed against his former employer, Michael Waltrip Racing. Hopkins injured his shoulder when a race car 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. The parties now have settled the case on undisclosed terms.
  • Daily fantasy sports: On Monday, Pennsylvania legalized daily fantasy sports, and Connecticut took similar steps on Tuesday. Pennsylvania will impose a fifteen-percent tax on operator revenue and other licensing requirements and makes it easier for that state to legalize traditional sports betting. The Connecticut policy, which includes a 10.5-percent tax on operators’ gross revenue, requires amendments to the state’s agreements with the two Indian tribes that operate the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun Casinos and will become effective only after those tribes approve the amendments.

Sports court is in recess.

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Sports Law Roundup – 12/2/2016

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:

  • MLB CBA: Shortly before the December 1 deadline, MLB and the MLBPA reached agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement that will govern the sport for the next five years.
    2016-mlb-cba
    Details still are emerging, but early analyses are labeling this round of negotiations another win for ownership. (Others see it as a mere “setup for war in 2021.”) One of the most visible changes fans will notice is that the All Star Game no longer will determine home-field advantage in the World Series; instead, that perk will go to the team with the better regular-season record. Another aesthetic change: no more chewing tobacco (although current players are free to chaw down; the ban only applies to new players as they enter the league). Following in the NFL’s footsteps, MLB has indicated plans to play a regular-season game in a foreign country, possibly England or Mexico, as soon as 2018.
  • Football player suspension challenges: Lane Johnson, a fourth-year offensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles who is serving a ten-game suspension following a second failed test for performance-enhancing drugs, has challenged his suspension by filing complaints against the NFL and NFLPA with the National Labor Relations Board and U.S. Department of Labor, alleging that the suspension procedure violated his rights under his employment contract and federal labor law. While the filings currently are not public, Johnson’s challenge appears, based on a statement from his lawyer, to be a collateral attack on the collective bargaining agreement itself: “During Lane’s appeal, it became apparent that the written words in the collectively bargained Performance-Enhancing Substances (‘PES’) Policy, under which Lane was disciplined, are meaningless. The NFL and NFLPA have undermined these protections leaving the players — including Lane — with a hollowed-out process devoid of any protections.”
    Faced with a similar situation, Mike Pennel, a third-year defender for the Green Bay Packers, is challenging the adequacy of the suspension-appeal procedures by filing an action in federal court. Pennel’s allegation is that the use of only two arbitrators, rather than three, for his appeal hearing violated the league’s substance-abuse policy.
    Both Pennel and Johnson are represented by the same law firm, Ohio-based Zashin & Rich.
  • NBA arena: A court’s denial of two citizens’ organizations’ petitions will allow construction to proceed in San Francisco on a new, privately financed, $1 billion arena for the Golden State Warriors. The groups had sought to block the project because, in their view, the city’s environmental analysis was insufficient, specifically including an allegation that increased traffic would interfere with the operation of the nearby UCSF hospital. The Warriors will leave their current home in Oakland to begin play in the new San Francisco arena in 2019.
  • Sharper sentencing: A judge sentenced longtime NFL safety and serial rapist Darren Sharper, previously most famous for playing fourteen seasons for the Packers, Vikings, and Saints, and for his supporting “role” in this viral video, to twenty years in prison as part of a plea bargain in which Sharper admitted to drugging and raping women in four states. Sharper, whose victims number more than a dozen, previously pleaded guilty in a federal trial for drugging three women so he could rape them and is appealing the eighteen-year sentence he received in connection with that plea.
  • Inmate phone calls: Former Florida Gator and New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez, who is incarcerated in Massachusetts following his conviction for murdering one person and being charged with multiple additional murders, has sued Securus Technologies, one of the largest providers of inmate telephone services. Based on media reports of a Securus data breach, Hernandez’s suit alleges that the company failed to protect privileged and confidential information, such as telephone calls between Hernandez and his lawyers.
  • Whistleblowing coach: A judge awarded former Penn State football coach Mike McQueary an additional $5 million Wednesday after determining that the school terminated his employment as a result of his testimony against other PSU officials who failed to act in response to McQueary’s report on child sexual abuse by another football coach. McQueary previously won $7.3 million in a jury trial on claims related to the university’s investigation of the assault and its related defamation of McQueary. (Yes, the PSU community really did attack McQueary for reporting a football coach’s child sexual abuse. Four years later, that community appears to be as delusional as ever.)
  • Football painkillers: In an update to a story previously highlighted in this space, a judge has ordered Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to sit for a deposition in a lawsuit by former NFL players alleging that teams irresponsibly dispensed painkillers to their players in order to keep them on the field, granting a discovery victory to the players. The victory was a partial one, however, because the judge denied the plaintiffs’ request to depose Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, famous guitars, and a personal history of painkiller abuse.
  • Super Bowl hotel rooms: Marriott has emerged victorious in a contract dispute with a sports travel agency after a judge ruled that the hotel chain was not bound by its obligations to the agency to provide 300 rooms for the Super Bowl in Houston, because the agency, in selling 240 of the rooms to another broker, violated a no-transfer provision of the agreement with Marriott. When Marriott cancelled the contract, the agency sued, accusing Marriott of violating their contract in order to pursue a more lucrative opportunity with the NFL and alleging that Marriott knew of the agency’s practice of reselling rooms. Even if that was true, the judge explained, the no-transfer clause was clear, and the agency could not enforce a contract it had breached.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 11/18/2016

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 stadium netting: On Wednesday, the trial court dismissed a lawsuit seeking increased fan-safety measures in baseball stadiums, including expanded safety netting behind dugouts and along the foul lines, based on a lack of standing. I previously wrote about this case over at TechGraphs (see here, here, and here), generally discussing the ways in which it– despite the legal weaknesses in the plaintiffs’ position– already was effecting change. Although those legal weaknesses proved to be the downfall of this suit, the court’s ruling was not without its admonitions to Major League Baseball. For example, an early footnote contains this observation: “Why Major League Baseball, knowing of the risk [foul balls pose] to children in particular, does little to highlight this risk to parents remains a mystery.” The order also expressly suggests the possibility that future litigation along these lines may be more availing in other states, where the “Baseball Rule,” which makes it very difficult for fans to recover against baseball teams and leagues, has fallen under attack: “Thus, it is conceivable that, under the right set of circumstances, a plaintiff could obtain the type of relief that plaintiffs seek here. Given the changing nature of both the baseball game experience and the injuries at issue, which are far different from those in 1914, what is a ‘reasonable expectation’ on an ‘ordinary occasion’ is not a static concept.
  • Football painkillers: Attorneys for retired NFL players in a lawsuit against the league alleging that team doctors dispensed painkillers “‘as if they were candy’ regardless of long-term effects” are seeking permission to depose team owners Jerry Jones and Jim Irsay. Outside of football, Irsay, who inherited ownership of the Indianapolis Colts from his father, is known for collecting famous guitars– including Jerry Garcia’s Tiger, Les Paul’s Black Beauty, and Prince’s Yellow Cloud— and having a history of abusing painkillers. The plaintiffs also have amended their complaint to add a RICO claim, which, among other things, introduces the potential for tripling their financial recovery in the lawsuit.
  • NCAA transfer rules: Johnnie Vassar, a former Northwestern basketball player, filed a putative class-action lawsuit against the NCAA, alleging that the rule forcing transferring students to sit out of their sport for their first year at their new school violates antitrust laws. Vassar claims that he attempted to transfer from Northwestern but was unable to do so, because all of his target schools only would accept him if he could play immediately. In recent years, Northwestern has emerged as a cradle of anti-NCAA legal activity.
  • Triathlon death: A wrongful death claim brought in connection with the drowning death of a competitor in the 2010 Philadelphia Triathlon cannot proceed, a Pennsylvania appellate court ruled, concluding that the triathlete knowingly and voluntarily assumed the risk of participating in the event when, in the course of registering for it, he executed a detailed liability waiver.
  • Cuban baseball-player smuggling: In a federal criminal case against a sports agent accused of conspiracy to smuggle Cuban baseball players into the United States, the government has listed numerous professional players, including Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Abreu, as trial witnesses. For more on this general subject, ESPN The Magazine’s feature on Yasiel Puig is a must-read.
  • Boxing fraud: The defendants– Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, HBO, Top Rank, and others– in twenty-six lawsuits alleging that they improperly concealed Pacquiao’s shoulder injury leading up to the fighters’ 2015 bout in order to boost pay-per-view sales admitted that the plaintiffs– fans and bars– had standing to pursue their claims, even as the defendants denied that those claims had any merit.
  • Gambling: West Virginia, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi and Wisconsin are asking the United States Supreme Court to review a Third Circuit decision rejecting New Jersey’s attempt to open up sports gambling in its state. The five states, together, filed an amicus brief in support of New Jersey’s cert petition (formal request that the Supreme Court allow them to appeal the Third Circuit’s ruling), arguing that the manner in which Congress has regulated sports gambling is unconstitutional and threatens the balance of power between the federal and state governments. In an unrelated story, daily fantasy leaders FanDuel and DraftKings announced a merger agreement this morning.
  • Secondary football ticket market: Under pressure from state regulators, the NFL agreed to end its league-wide imposition of a price floor on game tickets sold on the secondary market that had prevented the resale of tickets at prices below face value. The agreement does not apply to tickets for the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl, nor does it prevent teams from acting “unilaterally” to enforce price floors, meaning that the practice could continue.
  • Campus police records: The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed a trial court’s dismissal  of ESPN’s lawsuit seeking the University of Notre Dame Police Department’s incident reports involving student athletes, deciding that the ND Police Department is not a “public agency” and thus cannot be compelled to produce the requested materials under the state’s open records law.

Sports court is in recess.

The NFL Lawsuit That Could Be Bigger Than The Bounty Scandal (via Deadspin)

Preliminary arguments began Thursday in Minneapolis in a lawsuit against the league that harks back to the worst sports scandals of the last generation: unrestrained collusion among the owners to keep payrolls down.

The facts in the White case are straightforward and damning, and largely agreed upon by both sides. In 2010, the last year of an expiring labor deal, there was no salary cap. Teams were ostensibly free to carry whatever payroll they could afford, but in their summer meetings the owners came to a secret agreement. No one would cross the $123 million boundary, because if some teams spent freely, that would drive up prices for teams that would rather not spend at all.

The imaginary salary cap “came up several times in our meetings,” said John Mara, Giants owner and chairman of the NFL’s management committee. Still, four teams took the gentlemen’s agreement as something less than binding, because after all: There was no actual rule. The Redskins, Cowboys, Raiders, and Saints all spent more than $123 million, despite being warned “at least six times” that serious consequences would follow. And sure enough, the gavel came down. This season and next, Washington and Dallas (the two biggest spenders) will forfeit a combined $46 million in salary cap space, to be distributed among the other teams.

In other words: Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones are being punished for failing to collude with their fellow owners in a secret deal to keep hundreds of millions of dollars out of the hands of NFL players. … Read More

(via Deadspin)

Not Every Team Needs Cheerleaders (via WSJ)

If the Dallas Cowboys don’t win the Super Bowl this year, owner Jerry Jones should turn his ire to the sidelines. No, not head coach Jason Garrett—the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.

Based on recent history, having cheerleaders on the sidelines may be the ultimate championship killer. There are six teams in the NFL that don’t have cheerleaders: the Bears, Browns, Giants, Lions, Packers and Steelers. Those franchises have won four of the last six Super Bowls and have made up half of the Super Bowl participants during that span.

Last year, Green Bay beat Pittsburgh in the first-ever Super Bowl that did not include cheerleaders from either squad. The Steelers won Super Bowls XLIII (2009) and XL (2006), while the Giants stunned the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII (2008). The Bears played in Super Bowl XLI (2007), but not having cheerleaders wasn’t enough to overcome the Indianapolis Colts.

This season is no exception. The Packers and Steelers are once again among the best teams in their respective conferences, while the Lions have clinched a wild-card spot and the Giants remain in playoff contention. (The Browns are in last place, but some teams are simply beyond help.)

Of course, at least one of the six teams that doesn’t have cheerleaders may be wishing it still did. The Bears disbanded their cheerleading squad, the Honey Bears, right after the 1985 season—the last time they won the Super Bowl.

(via WSJ)

Merry Monday

Christmas came early for the Detroit Lions, who dominated the Chargers on Christmas Eve and earned their first playoff berth since 1999, giving the team a chance to win their first playoff game since 1991, their first NFL championship since 1957, and their first Super Bowl ever. I’m carried away one sentence into this post, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. In other NFL news, the Packers proved that, if another team is to beat them, they will need their starting quarterback and running back in action. They face the Lions next week, and given the chance that those teams will see each other again in the playoffs, I expect the game to go one of two ways: 1) both teams lay out cautions gameplans, with the Packers particularly careful to protect their starters; 2) the Lions miss the memo detailing option (1) and go all-out in an attempt to knock Aaron Rogers out and get the remainder of their defense suspended in the process. All Lions-Packers games that happen from here on out will be played in Lambeau. Cold weather proved to get the better of Tim Tebow, who got destroyed by the Bills of Buffalo.

The NBA regular season returned yesterday, and most of the games were pleasantly close. Two that were not were the finals rematch between Miami and Dallas, where the visiting Heat handled the defending champs easily, and a game involving Oklahoma City. (That’s all I can say about the latter.) The Knicks won a close one over Boston in the early game, and many have been saying that, despite the win, New York’s weaknesses were exposed. I have been saying that, despite everything and nothing, Spike Lee is so, so tired. By contrast, the Bulls won a close game over the Lakers when Derick Rose blew right past the SAT check-in table to flip in a game-winning floater in the lane, and most people are saying that this close win for Chicago showed their strength. I have been saying that, despite that, it shows that the Lakers are going to have a really long, somewhat bad year. Finally, the other LA team continued its winning ways. This was the only game I watched most of. The Warriors hung around for the first three quarters, but new Clipper addition Chris Paul took charge in the second half of the fourth quarter (known as “the start of the game” in player parlance) and secured a comfortable win for his new team. Meanwhile, in New Orleans, someone said, “basketball?”

On the docket for this week is more bowl game coverage and some looks back at the year that is soon to end (i.e., 2011).

UPDATE:

Isn’t one of you supposed to be….? Oh nevermind.