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.
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.