Sports Law Roundup – 7/14/2017

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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:

  • 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.

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Sports Law Roundup – 5/5/2017

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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:

  • NBA profiling: In 2015, Mike Scott, then a member of the Atlanta Hawks, and his brother were pulled over and subsequently arrested after a search of their rented vehicle turned up marijuana, ecstasy, and $1,684 in cash.  The deputy sheriff who made the stop later was found to have been racially profiling drivers as part of a forfeiture scheme and placed on administrative leave. Records provided by the Scotts’ attorneys show that the deputy sheriff “pulled over more than 1,400 vehicles in 2015 and 2016 but issued only eight traffic citations. He also arrested 47 people, at least 44 of whom were minorities.” As a result of the profiling, the judge overseeing the Scotts’ drug case this week threw out the key evidence against the defendants.
  • Baseball broadcast settlement: In early 2016, MLB settled a fan antitrust lawsuit targeting the league’s television blackouts and other components of its broadcast system. While the blackouts survived, the fans did win reduced-price single-team subscription options for MLB.tv (I am a subscriber, to varying degrees of satisfaction), as well as a price reduction for the full MLB.tv package. The agreement also included a component that would allow MLB to raise prices in the future in exchange for providing more live streams of in-market games by 2017. That component now is at issue in a new motion filed by the fan group demanding that the court enforce the terms of the settlement agreement. The fans allege that MLB raised prices without the required corresponding in-market streaming increase. They concede that the league may have agreements in place with local television providers to provide the in-market streams, but, the fans argue, “the obvious purpose of the settlement was not that ‘agreements’ of some kind be reached, but that the actual games be available.” The fans also argue that, contrary to what they were promised, MLB has failed to make the “follow your team” game broadcasts available when the selected team is playing the team based in the fan’s local broadcast market.
  • Cheerleader wages: 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, have reached a $250,000 settlement of Herington’s proposed class action lawsuit that provides 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. While not insubstantial, the Journal Sentinel notes that Milwaukee’s $250,000 settlement amount is less than what other teams– for example, the Oakland Raiders ($1.24 million), Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($825,000), and Cincinnati Bengals ($255,000)– have paid to resolve similar lawsuits. Upon learning that Herington was wavering on whether to agree to the settlement, her lawyer, who wanted her to accept the deal, reportedly was overheard telling her that “it’s a Bucks dancer’s choice my friend, better take my advice.”
  • Minor League baseball wages: As predicted two months ago, the court overseeing  the minor-league baseball players lawsuit against MLB for higher wages and overtime pay will permit the parties to appeal its recent ruling certifying the case for class-action treatment. In doing so, the court also decided to stay the case pending resolution of the class-certification issues by the appellate court.

Sports court is in recess.

Farewell, again, dear Prince

Nearly three years ago, Detroit Tigers fans said goodbye to Prince Fielder, whom the team traded in the 2013 offseason to Texas in exchange for Ian Kinsler. At the time, many were glad to see him leave, though some, including this author, were not. All must agree, however, that when Fielder left Detroit, he became barely a shadow of his former Ironman self. In his two years as a Tiger, he didn’t miss a single game. Excluding his rookie year, in the eight years he spent in Milwaukee and Detroit, he missed a total of thirteen games, playing the full 162 in four of those eight seasons. That’s an impressive accomplishment for any player.

If one wanted to be cold about it, one might note that, 2014, Fielder’s first in Texas, was a year of insult and injury for Prince. Not only did his trade replacement, Kinsler, make the All-Star team on his way to completing the second-best season of his career, but Fielder underwent season-ending neck surgery in late May, appearing in just forty-two games for his new club. He seemed to bounce back in 2015, posting a .305/.378/.463 line in 158 games, but it has been trouble again for Fielder in 2016. Despite his team’s success, Prince arguably was the worst position player of the first half of the season, and things weren’t looking up in the second half. After playing in all but five of the Rangers’ games through July 18, Fielder again went on the disabled list and, after undergoing a second neck surgery, is expected to miss the remainder of this season.

It may not just be the rest of the season he misses, however, as shocking reports emerged this afternoon that Prince’s career may be over:

If true, then, as a number of people have pointed out, Prince will finish with a .283/.382/.506 line, .304 TAv, .377 wOBA, 133 wRC+, 26.8 fWAR / 23.8 bWAR / 30.3 WARP, and 319 home runs, the same number of home runs his father, Cecil, with whom he seems to have reconciled, hit in a career just one season longer than his son’s.

Although serious injuries seemed to dim his wattage following the trade to Texas, I always will remember Prince Fielder as a complete hitter who was one of the happiest baseball players I ever saw. His friendship with Miguel Cabrera was particularly endearing.  What follows are some of my favorite images and clips from Prince’s playing days:   Continue reading

One thing that is not among the Three Failures That Doomed Doug Melvin

Yesterday, the Milwaukee Brewers relieved General Manager Doug Melvin of his general managing duties. Today, Dave Cameron, writing for JABO, detailed “Three Failures That Doomed” Doug Melvin. (To save you a click: poor drafting, trading Zack Greinke for peanuts, and retaining a bunch of bad players.) One thing that is not one of the Three Failures That Doomed Doug Melvin is the simple fact that he looks like Kurt Vonnegut If Kurt Vonnegut Had Been Born And Lived His Life In Wisconsin.

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(Here note for the sake of completeness that Dave Cameron also is not one of the Three Failures That Doomed Doug Melvin.)

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Previously
Phil Jackson is Ron Burgandy?
Visualizing NFL Politics (Mike Smith is John McCain?)

Window Shopping: We Got Robbed

The Detroit Tigers shot out to a hot start in 2015, but things have not been too good for Detroit since then. They’ve won just five of their last thirteen series. The team’s active six-game losing streak is its longest in four seasons.

The title of this year’s serial Tigers feature at this site, Window Shopping, comes from the common theme of Detroit season previews that, with respect to a World Series championship, the team was trying to keep open its “window of opportunity,” assuming that proverbial window had not already slammed shut under the weight of expensive long-term contracts, aging players, and perceived defensive burdens.

After the last month and a half, though, it is as if these window shoppers, gazing upon the Commissioner’s Trophy in a fancy Harrod’s storefront display (did we fight the Revolution for nothing??), reached into their back pockets in consideration of making the eventual purchase, only to find they suddenly had no money, no credit cards, no traveler’s checks, nothing. They’ve been robbed.

The Tigers are in a tailspin, and it isn’t exactly anyone else’s fault. Their recent struggles have come in games against teams largely regarded as mediocre or worse, including the Athletics, Angels, and Brewers. What’s happening?

After starting the season with an 11-2 record, the Tigers have gone 17-24, and their performance somehow has felt even worse. By my count, since April 21, the date they entered with that 11-2 mark, Detroit has a -19 run differential. Only two other American League teams– the White Sox and Red Sox– have worse run differentials during that period, and only one AL team, Toronto (187), has allowed more runs over that span than Detroit’s 185. Of course, the Blue Jays also scored 213 runs in those games, a number that dwarfs the Tigers’ 166 and is the most in the league. On the other hand, just seven AL teams have scored fewer than 166 runs since April 21, and two of them, Kansas City and Tampa Bay, still maintained positive run differentials. (Both Sox teams, along with Seattle, Baltimore, and Oakland round out this low-scoring group.) In terms of offense and defense (the fundamental terms of competitive team sports), it’s hard to be worse than Detroit right now.

Offense fueled the Tigers’ strong start, and its disappearance has triggered their decline. They averaged 5.38 runs per game through April 20. Since then, though, they’ve scored just 4.05 runs per game, a drop of more than a run and a third. Omit a blowout 13-1 win against the Twins on May 14, and that per-game scoring average falls to 3.83. No bueno.   Continue reading

Ryan Braun’s Kansas City Jam

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A week ago, Baseball Prospectus’ daily podcast celebrated its 500th episode by holding a “baseball draft” in which a few writers drafted their favorite things about baseball. Grant Brisbee’s first-round draft pick was “the other Ryan Braun,” a focal point of his interest in baseball players with the same name as each other. As it turns out, just before that Ryan Braun synthetically rose to prominence, a young-ish reliever named Ryan Braun pitched for the Kansas City Royals for two seasons.

On Monday, I started a free trial of satellite radio. I’m still deciding if I’ll stick with it, partly because I tend to think the stations can be too narrow in scope, but for now I really am enjoying their bluegrass station and the fact that I can listen to the Detroit Tigers Radio Network game broadcasts outside of the conventional listening area. One of the first songs I heard was by someone named Lou Reid, and I heard it again last night. (So much for the liberating medium of satellite radio!) We’re big Lou Reed fans here, so the conceit of this post birthed itself pretty quickly. Today’s Jam is the only video version of that Lou Reid song I could find, and if you’re wondering about the audio quality, yes, this is an amateur taping of a CD release party, which was held in the parking lot of a North Carolina Wal-Mart.

If I can, I’ll just add a quick happy birthday note to ALDLAND. It’s been a fun three years. Thanks for stopping by.

The Many (okay, two) faces of Ryan Braun

Yesterday, Ryan Braun, the Milwaukee Brewer who won the 2011 NL MVP and 2007 NL Rookie of the Year awards, agreed to a sixty-five game suspension from Major League Baseball for his violation of MLB’s drug policy and released the following statement:

As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers organization. I am very grateful for the support I have received from players, ownership and the fans in Milwaukee and around the country. Finally, I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed — all of the baseball fans especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization and my teammates. I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love.

Braun failed a drug test back in October 2011, but he was successful in overturning a fifty-game suspension on appeal by identifying a procedural deficiency in the testing process. During the pendency of that appeal, Braun stated:

This is all B.S. I am completely innocent.

Following its resolution in his favor in February 2012, Braun held a press conference where he issued a long statement, excerpted here:


[T]this is without a doubt the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced in my life, and it’s made it that much more challenging that I’ve had to deal with it publicly. But I truly view this challenge as an opportunity, just as I’ve viewed every other challenge in my life – as an opportunity. I’ve tried to respect this process, even though the confidentiality of the process was breached early on. I’ve tried to handle the entire situation with honor, with integrity, with class, with dignity and with professionalism because that’s who I am and that’s how I’ve always lived my life.

If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally, I’d be the first one to step up and say, “I did it.” By no means am I perfect, but if I’ve ever made any mistakes in my life I’ve taken responsibility for my actions. I truly believe in my heart, and I would bet my life, that this substance never entered my body at any point.

I’ve always stood up for what is right. Today is about everybody who’s been wrongly accused, and everybody who’s ever had to stand up for what is actually right. Today isn’t about me, it isn’t just about one player – it’s about all players. It’s about all current players, all future players and everybody who plays the game of baseball.

Ultimately, as I sit here today, the system worked because I am innocent, and I was able to prove my innocence. After today I look forward to returning my focus to the game of baseball, being able to get back with my teammates, allowing my life to return to some sense of normalcy and focusing on helping our team get back to the post-season.

Braun closed the brief question-and-answer period with this statement:

I guess the simple truth is I’m innocent. I’ve maintained my innocence from Day 1, and ultimately I was proven to be innocent.

The voice of West Michigan sports moves on

Even though I no longer live in the listening area, I still tune in to WBBL– “West Michigan’s Sports Leader”– from time to time when I want a dose of local perspective on Michigan-based teams, and I did so this morning, expecting to hear “Bakita & Bentley,” the station’s usual morning show. I heard Ray Bentley, but the other voice was one I didn’t recognize. At first, I assumed it was someone filling in for the show’s usual lead, Bret Bakita, but as the conversation between Bentley and “Doc” continued, I began to get the feeling that the two were working on developing a more lasting rapport between each other and with the listening audience. Bakita was never mentioned as being out sick or on vacation. Before leaving for work,  I found this story, which confirmed that Bakita had left the show and the station.

This isn’t the death of Pat Summerall— the voice of the NFL, along with John Madden, for a generation– or even the departure of Paul Finebaum from WJOX— the temporary silencing of the voice of the SEC– but Bret Bakita was WBBL, and WBBL was West Michigan sports radio. He joined the station in early 1994, and he was the most prominent on-air voice across the station’s programming for the nineteen-year period that ended in late February of this year.  Keep reading…

C-3P-No: Chris Paul, David Stern, the fourth wall, and McCulloch v. Maryland

In a matter of hours last night, the following events occurred, in sequence, beginning around 8:00 Eastern:

  1. The Hornets, Rockets, and Lakers agree to a trade that would send Chris Paul (aka CP3) to Los Angeles, Lamar Odom, Louis Scola, Kevin Martin, and Goran Dragic to New Orleans, and Pau Gasol to Houston. Or something like that.
  2. The NBA and the re-formed players’ association finalize the new collective bargaining agreement, officially ending the lockout.
  3. David Stern, on behalf of the league, nullified the trade for “basketball reasons.”

In trying to understand what happened here, citing “basketball reasons” is pretty unhelpful. I suppose it’s preferable to “bocce ball reasons,” but still. Stern ostensibly was acting on behalf of small-market owners, including Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert, who objected to the deal. What he won’t tell you in this conversation, but everyone else knows, is that the league owns the Hornets. Keep reading…