Sports Law Roundup – 7/14/2017

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:

  • Hou-Hugh Feud: Houston Nutt, which is a real human man’s name, is the former head football coach at Ole Miss. He has sued that school and its athletic department because, he alleges, school representatives’ public statements linking an ongoing NCAA investigation of the university’s football program to Nutt violated a term of the 2011 severance agreement between Nutt and Ole Miss precluding the university from, in the complaint’s words, “making any statement whatsoever relative to Coach Nutt’s tenure as an employee of Ole Miss that might damage or harm his reputation as a football coach. Ole Miss was contractually prohibited from making any statement whatsoever, truthful or not, that may damage or harm Coach Nutt’s reputation.” The complaint highlights, in substantial detail, statements to reporters by Ole Miss Athletic Director Ross Bjork, Sports Information Director Kyle Campbell, and current head football coach Hugh Freeze, whose scheduled appearance at SEC Media Days was twenty-four hours after Nutt filed his lawsuit. Freeze did not directly address the allegations that day, saying only that he was not happy with the “ironic” timing of the filing of the suit and that he hadn’t seen Nutt in years. Freeze also read a prepared no-comment statement during his turn at the podium, thereafter referring to the NCAA investigation– and, indirectly, the lawsuit– as “the lot that we’ve inherited or caused in some cases,” a statement Nutt likely will cite as Freeze’s unrepentant casting of blame on Nutt.
  • Cheerleader wages: In May, the Milwaukee Bucks and Lauren Herington, a former cheerleader for the team who alleged that the team violated federal and state labor laws by underpaying her and her fellow cheerleaders, reached a $250,000 settlement of Herington’s proposed class action lawsuit that provided for the settlement funds to be divided as follows: $10,000 for Herington; $115,000 for Herington’s attorneys; and unspecified shares of the remaining $125,000 to Herington and other would-be class members who opt into the settlement based on their hours worked during the three-year period (2012-15) at issue. Now, the judge overseeing the case conditionally certified it as a collective action for settlement purposes but refused to approve the settlement agreement itself, explaining that he currently lacks sufficient information to determine “whether the settlement ‘is a fair and reasonable resolution’ of” the dispute. Prior reports indicated that the $250,000 settlement amount was significantly less than what some other teams paid to resolve similar lawsuits.
  • Daily Fantasy Sports: Last month, the inevitable merger between DraftKings and FanDuel announced last November hit a probably inevitable regulatory hurdle when the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the merger, and a judge granted the FTC a temporary restraining order that halted the merger. In an email to users sent yesterday, DraftKings announced that it has “formally terminated our merger with FanDuel and will withdraw litigation from [sic?]” the FTC.
  • Baseball DUI: This spring, 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, but it arose out of his third DUI arrest in his native country. As a result, Kang had trouble securing a visa to reenter the U.S., which caused him to miss all of spring training, and, now, the entire first half of the current MLB season. This week, Pirates GM Neal Huntington said that one could “pretty much eliminate the thought” that Kang would play for Pittsburgh in 2017, and that the team has turned its “optimistic” eyes toward a 2018 return.
  • Umpire discrimination: Last week, Angel Hernandez, a longtime MLB umpire who is of Cuban descent, sued the league on claims arising out of general allegations of racial discrimination against minority umpires in promotions to crew chief status and in World Series assignments, among other claims. This week, FanGraphs identified Hernandez as the umpire responsible for the worst called strike of the first half of the 2017 season.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 3/31/2017

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:

  • 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.

Sports Law Roundup – 3/3/2017

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:

  • Football head injuries: Two former Purdue football players have sued the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference, seeking class-action treatment for their claims that those defendants failed to disclose information about head-trauma risks and provide the university with concussion-management policies. Both named plaintiffs allege that they currently suffer from depression, memory loss, and headaches as a result of concussions experienced while playing football in college.
  • Professional athlete Ponzi scheme: Last year, a banker pleaded guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud, and money laundering in connection with a Ponzi scheme she ran with former NFL player Will Allen designed to defraud investors with a plan to make loans to professional athletes seeking offseason financing when they weren’t receiving payments from their team salaries. On Wednesday, a court sentenced the banker and Allen each to six years in prison for their roles in the criminal scheme.
  • Baseball DUI: A South Korean court has sentenced Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang to eight months in prison after the player admitted guilt on a DUI charge. The prison sentence is 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.
  • Rams fans: Last year, St. Louis-area holders of Rams personal seat licenses suing the team after its move to Los Angeles requested class-action status for their case. Having consolidated various of these cases, the judge now has ordered the parties to mediation.
  • Penn State child abuse: Earlier this year, 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. Last month, the three defendants asked for an immediate appeal of the ruling that they must face trial, which remains scheduled for next month. Now, the court has denied those appeal petitions, clearing the way for the trial to begin as scheduled on March 20. (Last week, the judge granted the prosecutor’s request to add a conspiracy charge to the list of criminal counts pending against the defendants.)

Sports court is in recess.