Sports Law Roundup – 2/3/2017

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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.

After a week off to attend a fancy law conference, we’re back with the top sports-related legal stories from the past week or so:

  • Baylor sexual assault: The scope of the sexual assault scandal at Baylor University continues to expand. Last week, a former Baylor student sued the university because, she alleged, she was the victim of a group rape committed by two football players in 2013 that the school ignored. The plaintiff also alleged that football players were responsible for numerous other crimes “involving violent physical assault, armed robbery, burglary, drugs, guns, and, notably, the most widespread culture of sexual violence and abuse of women ever reported in a collegiate athletic program.” She further claims that, between 2011 and 2014, thirty-one Baylor football players committed a total of fifty-two rapes, including five gang rapes. The complaint makes out claims under Title IX and common-law negligence theories. One significant hurdle for the plaintiff is that both types of claims are subject to two-year statutes of limitations. Since her alleged rape occurred in 2013, the university is likely to seek a dismissal on that basis.
  • College football defamation: In more Baylor football news, former head coach Art Briles now has dropped the defamation lawsuit he filed just two months ago against three Baylor regents and the university’s senior vice president and CEO for their statements that Briles was aware of sex crimes reportedly committed by his players and failed to provide that information to proper authorities, among other claims. As of this writing, no one has made an official comment on Briles’ behalf explaining the dismissal, but it appears to be connected to documents some of the same defendants in the Briles case filed in a new defamation case brought this week by former Baylor football director of operations Colin Shillinglaw. Those documents supposedly demonstrate Briles’ awareness of and attempts to cover up his players’ wrongdoing. If you’re the TMZ type, you can read more about the contents of the alleged Briles communications here.
  • Wrestling ban: Iran has announced that it will not allow the American wrestling team to compete in the 2017 Freestyle World Cup, which the Iranian city of Kermanshah is hosting this month. The ban comes as a form of retaliation for President Donald Trump’s January 27 executive order temporarily blocking people from entering the United States from Iran and six other majority-Muslim countries.
  • Football head injuries: A state court judge in New York denied the NFL’s motion to dismiss a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the son of deceased player Arthur DeCarlo Sr., who, his son alleges, died as a result of CTE he contracted from head injuries sustained while playing football. This is the only CTE case against the NFL that is outside of the federal multidistrict settlement based in a Pennsylvania federal court. Addressing a statute-of-limitations issue, the New York judge likened the case to asbestos claims by describing CTE as a latent condition, the manifestation of which is not discoverable until the completion of a posthumous autopsy. Meanwhile, on Monday, a group of former college football players filed suit against helmet manufacturer Riddell seeking class-action status and alleging that Riddell made false claims about its helmet’s ability to protect against concussions. This is the fifth active concussion-related lawsuit pending against Riddell.
  • Cheerleader wages: A former San Francisco 49ers cheerleader filed a complaint against the NFL and the twenty-six NFL teams that have cheerleaders, alleging that they conspired to suppress cheerleader wages (which are between $1,000 and $1,500 per year, according to the complaint) below market value. The unnamed plaintiff is seeking to represent a class of all NFL cheerleaders employed in the past four years.
  • Child abuse: 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. PSU’s former president, senior vice president, and athletic director were successful in quashing charges of failing to report child sexual abuse, but their trials on the remaining charge will go forward next month.
  • Student-athlete rights: The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board issued an official memorandum stating that football players at Division I FBS schools “are employees under the [National Labor Relations Act], with the rights and protections of that act.” The precise legal consequences of this memorandum are unclear, at least to this writer, but the practical consequences likely will include an increase in unionization attempts and unfair labor practice filings among student-athletes at the covered schools. The memorandum already has generated critical comments from some members of Congress who believe it would have “devastating consequences for students and academic institutions[,] puts the interests of union leaders over America’s students, and . . . has the potential to create significant confusion at college campuses across the nation.”
  • Baseball hacking: As punishment for their hacking of the Houston Astros’ database, MLB fined the St. Louis Cardinals $2 million and forced them to forfeit two 2017 draft picks (the fifty-sixth and seventy-fifth overall picks) to the Astros. In addition, the league banned the currently jailed St. Louis employee who hacked the Houston system multiple times from future MLB employment. Most commentators and team officials regard the sanction as a light one.
  • Daily Fantasy Sports: The European island nation of Malta has granted daily fantasy sports website DraftKings a license to operate in that country, and that license may allow the site to operate in other European jurisdictions that recognize the Maltese license as well.
  • Live game streaming: MSG has entered into an agreement with the NHL to broadcast the four New York and New Jersey hockey teams (Sabres, Rangers, Islanders, and Devils) on the network’s live streaming service, MSG GO, which is available for free to MSG subscribers. Meanwhile, another New-York-area network, SNY, will begin streaming Mets games on its own website and the NBC Sports app. (NBC previously reached a streaming agreement with MLB Advanced Media for in-market access to Cubs, White Sox, Phillies, Athletics, and Giants games starting this year.)

Sports court is in recess.

Erin Andrews says the NFL enforces an in-game press embargo

Erin Andrews, an NFL sideline reporter for Fox, told Stephen Colbert last night (4:37 mark of the above video) that she is not allowed to report actual comments she hears from players or coaches.

“I hear the craziest things you could ever imagine,” Andrews said, explaining that she wished she could report them, but “the NFL doesn’t allow that.” Instead, she said, she is required to “paraphrase” what she hears in very general terms. Andrews wouldn’t elaborate on potential consequences of such reporting, saying only that “it’s just a rule, as a sideline reporter, I cannot repeat verbatim what I hear on the sideline.”

No sports entity is more interested in image control than the NFL (although execution sometimes is a different question), so it’s not shocking that Roger Goodell would have a gag order in place to keep what he undoubtedly sees as his reporters from relating to the public the actual comments of what he undoubtedly sees as his players.

This really shouldn’t come as a surprise if you recall the story that broke over the summer, when the league dictated to NBC which announcers the network was required to use on its Thursday and Sunday night broadcasts.

In the professional football world, the NFL Network is state-run media, obviously, but little leaks like the NBC Al Michaels/Mike Tirico story and Andrews’ revelation last night serve as gentle reminders that, for the NFL, there is no such thing as an independent press.

How to view the Belmont Stakes

Our horse racing coverage has been derelict this year, which is inexcusable, particularly in light of American Pharoah’s chance to score a historic Triple Crown win tomorrow night at Belmont Park. To make it up to you, the very least I could do is tell you when and how you can watch (or listen to!) the Belmont Stakes, which runs Saturday night at about 6:50 pm, and the very least is what I have done.

For only the barest of bones Belmont Stakes preview, gallop, don’t trot, over to my post at TechGraphs.

The only surprising part of Will Ferrell’s tour de baseball

will ferrell baseball chopper

Everybody had a good time with Will Ferrell’s Major League Baseball debut last week, and that’s no surprise. Will Ferrell is funny and good at making people laugh, and, it’s always seemed with him, the bigger the stage, the bigger the laughs. Ferrell started Thursday as an undrafted amateur free agent signee of the Oakland Athletics, and he finished the day as a San Diego Padre. In between, he appeared in games as a member of eight other teams and played every position, including designated hitter (pictured above). He even has his own Baseball-Reference page!

All of this feels like it belongs within Ferrell’s entertaining wheelhouse. Close examination of his B-R page reveals a little surprise, however:

wfb-rWho knew Cincinnati held Norm’s rights to begin with? Maybe it has something to do with the Marge Schott joke he made on Weekend Update nineteen years ago, forever “preserved” on this broken NBC.com video? Baseball, like Norm, proves to be a continually unfolding mystery of the most enjoyable variety.

The second chapter of Sports on Earth

Back in August, I noted the launch of what then appeared to be a new heavy hitter in the high-end online sportswriting market: Sports on Earth, helmed by the well-known (for varying reasons) Joe Posnanski. After working out expected opening-day kinks, the site was getting off the ground nicely, and SoE has found a good niche providing current, day-to-day content in digestible bites by good writers. With those good writers and the backing of USA Today and Major League Baseball, the site seemed to be in a good place.

After just five months, though, Posnanski left without explanation, which had the effects of calling the site’s future viability into question and bolstering Posnanski’s reputation as a drifter. (His immediate destination was not a mystery, though: he joined NBC Sports to “writ[e] long-form stories” and a weekly column on Fridays called “The Big Read,” which seems like a painfully obvious play on “The Big Lead,” a popular, all-purpose sports site USA Today– Posnanski’s most recent former employer– bought a year ago. Weird.)

SoE lumbered on through the winter without a formal leader, and, really, seemed no worse for the wear. Spring arrived last week, Easter is this weekend, and yesterday, former “contributing writer” Will Leitch issued this announcement:

I am pleased to announce that next month, I will be joining the staff of Sports On Earth full-time, as a lead writer for the site. I’ve been writing for the site part-time since it launched last fall, but now I’m going to be there every day. It’s going to be my home.

My columns up to this point have been mostly media columns, but this is a more expansive role: I’m basically gonna be writing about everything, traveling all over the place, serving as the face (or one of the faces, anyway) of the site. I will also be hosting a daily podcast and will occasionally contribute for MLB.com, and certain columns will also be running in USA Today. Basically: I’m gonna be all over the place there.

Will’s writing voice has some built-in modesty to it, but the circumstances (including the fact that he is leaving his full-time position at New York magazine) make it clear to me that he has claimed Posnanski’s vacant seat as the head and face of Sports on Earth.

I think this is great news. Leitch remains a fresh voice in the media and sports realm, and he combines that with the experience that comes from operating very successfully and with perspective online. Will seems to have retooled and stretched out a bit since leaving Deadspin, and I think we’re at the point where we’re all going to benefit from his taking an in-earnest plunge back into the sports world.

Leitch’s first day in his new role is April 15.

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Related
The Weekend Interview: Charlie Warzel

Previously
And then there were four: Joe Posnanski’s Sports on Earth joins the fray

24/7: The 2011-2012 New York Rangers’ highs and lows, with Tracy Morgan

For whatever reason (probably because I don’t watch their games), I always have a hard time keeping track of just who’s on the New York Rangers, but I did have in my mind that they were favorites in the East this year, and I was surprised they weren’t the ones meeting LA in the finals. This look inside the locker room offers some answers, though:

Friday Super Jam

Ok, I said we were closing up blog shop on the NFL back on Wednesday, but then there was the Ricky Williams retirement and story about his missing years later that day, and now it’s Friday, and I’m still remembering that NBC played some pretty solid bumper music to go in and out of commercial breaks during the Super Bowl, and some of the commercials weren’t bad either. Here are two jams– the first from the game, and the second from a commercial– to serve as a postlude on the 2011 NFL season:

Slow Jam Friday

Things have been a little slow around here this week. Really it has been the slowest week in the history of ALDLAND. To make it up to you, I present three Friday jams for your enjoyment.

First up is one of my favorite slow jams (apologies for the visuals):

In preparing this, my thoughts first went to the Jimmy Fallon/The Roots feature in which they slow jam the news (the latest edition of which appears to be here), and, as it turns out, The Roots have a new album:

Finally, I’m on the road this weekend tracking Root Glen, and this cut off what may have been the first CD I ever owned sets the theme: