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.

Window Shopping: Step Back From the Window, or, Thank You Very Much, Mr. Rebooto

The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline was an especially active period for the Detroit Tigers franchise, which made big moves both with player and front-office personnel.

Detroit traded three of the best players on its 2015 roster in the days and minutes prior to the trade deadline. The team’s biggest move, and arguably the biggest of one of the most active trade-deadline periods ever, was their decision to trade number-one starter David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays. They also sent closer Joakim Soria to Pittsburgh, and, in the final moments before the deadline, Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets.

The basic logic behind each of these moves is that, even prior to these trades, each of these players was, for all practical purposes, not going to be a member of the Detroit Tigers in 2016. That’s because each is in the final year of his current contract, meaning that each becomes a free agent at the end of this season. The Tigers would have no special ability to keep Price, Cespedes, or Soria in Detroit after the end of the 2015 season, and, given their individual successes, each is likely to fetch contract offers on the free market too rich even for Mike Ilitch’s blood. Rather than keep Price, Cespedes, and Soria for August and September on a team that’s unlikely to even make the playoffs, only to watch them walk away in the winter, the Tigers, with an eye on the post-2015 future, decided to cash in some of the value of these assets by trading them now. In doing so, Detroit converted these three expiring assets into six prospects, including five pitchers and one infielder.

Baseball analysts widely praised these transactions as beneficial to the Tigers, who, general manager Dave Dombrowski announced were “rebooting,” selling with the goal of remaining competitive in the near term, rather than undergoing a full rebuilding. The top return for Detroit was Daniel Norris, a now-former Blue Jay who lives in a van and shaves his beard with an ax. They also received Matt Boyd from Toronto, a younger starter who, in his recent Tigers’ debut, beat Johnny Cueto and the Royals.

Of course, the only real question for Detroit was not whom to trade but whether to trade. As July 31 approached, that question divided fans and, it later would be revealed, members of the team’s front office and ownership. As for the former group, most fans recognized the Tigers’ slim playoff odds and supported selling, although a minority that included this writer held out hope that the team could make one more postseason push before initiating a rebuild. Ultimately, Dombrowski’s “rebooting” seemed to satisfy both camps: Detroit would get close-to-ready prospects in exchange for their expiring assets. No long rebuilding process– a full surrender– was in store, just a quick retooling.

Two additional notes in the context of these trades: 1) one week before the trade deadline, Toronto, the biggest buyers, and Detroit, the biggest sellers, sat four and five games out of the last American League wild card position, respectively, and 2) while it isn’t at all likely that Price, Soria, or Cespedes will return to Detroit in the offseason, the effect of an unusual clause in Cespedes’ contract is that the Tigers actually increased whatever chance they have of resigning Cespedes by trading him.

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As the Tigers and their fans were settling into life without Price, Soria, and Cespedes, and enjoying their first trial run with Norris, who had a strong start on Sunday in Baltimore, unbeknownst to them, even more action was afoot behind the scenes.    Continue reading

Shane Greene Outduels A.J. Burnett as Tigers Hurdle Pirates to Avenge Only Loss

hurdle

After the Pittsburgh Pirates handed the Detroit Tigers their only loss of the 2015 season on Monday afternoon, Detroit sought and found revenge against Pittsburgh Tuesday night. The Tigers’ first seven games were marked by nearly unbridled offense (+32 run differential, second only to Kansas City and, excluding third-best Oakland (+28), not close to anyone else), but they looked to their defense for a bounceback win in game eight. Starting pitcher Shane Greene, making his second start for the Tigers after his acquisition from the Yankees during the offsesason, was excellent. In particular, Greene was highly efficient, averaging just over ten pitches per inning for eight innings of three-hit, no-walk, shutout baseball. Not-insubstantial credit for his performance is due to key defensive plays by Jose Iglesias, Ian Kinsler, and J.D. Martinez. (Greene, who was making his first-ever plate appearances as a major leaguer, was generally ineffective with his brand-new Louisville Sluggers, but no one should care because this from his mother was adorable.)

Pittsburgh starter A.J. Burnett also had a strong outing, but he could not keep the Tigers at bay forever. The visitors broke through with one run in the seventh and, thanks to some heads-up baserunning by Iglesias, an insurance run in the ninth. Joakim Soria retired the Pirates side in the bottom of the ninth to seal the win.

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A minor subplot during this pitchers’ duel was the seemingly vertically compressed strike zone of home-plate umpire David Rackley, who had little interest in labeling anything up in the zone a strike. I was watching the Pittsburgh broadcast via MLB Network, but even I had to agree with the Pirate faithful that Rackley was robbing Burnett, who was throwing plenty down and away, when he even tried to go up in the zone. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle certainly thought so, and after Rackley sided with the batter on a second or third Burnett pitch that really appeared to be in the zone, Hurdle started hollering at Rackley from the dugout, and Rackley tossed him as Jim Leyland watched from the front row.

Taking a fresh look at last night’s pitches this morning, it appears that my eyes did not deceive me, and Hurdle et al. were justified in their complaining:

burnettpitchplotI’ve circled in blue what I believe to be the Burnett pitch that immediately preceded the Hurdle ejection. Looked like a strike last night, and it looks like one today too. In Rackley’s limited defense, he wasn’t really calling any high strikes, but that defense isn’t much of a defense at all in the broader scheme of things. Consistency is important, but an umpire’s imposition of his own personal, deviant strike zone really isn’t.

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Our 2015 Tigers series, Window Shopping, will begin in earnest very soon. Consider this post a prequel, and until I can get the engine revved up, I encourage you to enjoy this 2015 Tigers season preview to which I contributed in significant part.

The Forgettable Gene Lamont

These days, Gene Lamont is known, if at all, as one of the holdover members of Jim Leyland’s merry band of ice-cream-nibbling baseball veterans, now filling the role of bench coach for rookie Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. Attentive fans might know that he, along with former first base coach Andy Van Slyke, were together with Leyland in Pittsburgh when the skipper managed the Pirates, and even that Lamont himself managed those Pirates when Leyland left Pittsburgh to manage the Marlins and Rockies. If the Tigers fan we’re describing is me, then that’s pretty much the extent of common Gene Lamont knowledge.

As I wrote last month, if baseball fans think of one thing when they think of 1994, they think of the Montreal Expos. Everyone agrees they had the best team in baseball during that shortened season and would’ve won the franchise’s only World Series had it not been cancelled due to a labor dispute, potentially changing the course of baseball history in the process. Everyone, that is, except for Gene Lamont.

On Sunday, FanGraphs posted an interview with Lamont, who was the manager of the Chicago White Sox from 1992-95. Excerpts from that post follow:    Continue reading

ALDLAND Podcast

The ALDLAND podcast finally gets around to some non-college football topics. MLB playoffs and NFL are both on the menu this week, as we make our picks for the World Series and recap the first quarter of the NFL season. But don’t worry if college football is your thing, since we obviously can’t go a week without discussing that either.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

Seeing Barry Bonds

This is not a new idea, but after seeing a recent picture of Barry Bonds, it seemed worth reprising.

Here’s Bonds in 1992. Age 28.

Bonds in 2007. Age 43. Besides having ballooned physically, Bonds is doing a coupe of interesting things here. One, he is wearing a Rod Beck memorial patch, like the rest of his teammates did that year. That’s how I dated this photo. Two, he apparently was wearing Ryan Klesko’s batting helmet. Klesko and Bonds were teammates for one year.

Bonds in 2012. Age 48. From the hosting site:

Now comes word that Bonds over the weekend was hanging around in Aspen and spending time on his bike in the mountains. How much does he weigh now? The guy in the neon green shirt is 6-5, 185. Bonds was said to be 6-2, 228 in 2007.

Time to invest in Bonds again?

America Has a Stadium Problem (via Pacific Standard)

Over the past 20 years, 101 new sports facilities have opened in the United States—a 90-percent replacement rate—and almost all of them have received direct public funding. The typical justification for a large public investment to build a stadium for an already-wealthy sports owner has to do with creating jobs or growing the local economy, which sound good to the median voter. “If I had to sum up the typical [public] perspective,” Neil deMause . . . told me via email, “I’d guess it’d be something along the lines of ‘I don’t want my tax money going to rich fat cats, but anything that creates jobs is good, and man that Jeffrey Loria sure is a jerk, huh?’” This confused mindset has resulted in public coffers getting raided. The question is whether taxpayers have gotten anything in return.

Economists have long known stadiums to be poor public investments. Most of the jobs created by stadium-building projects are either temporary, low-paying, or out-of-state contracting jobs—none of which contribute greatly to the local economy. (Athletes can easily circumvent most taxes in the state in which they play.) Most fans do not spend additional money as a result of a new stadium; they re-direct money they would have spent elsewhere on movies, dining, bowling, tarot-card reading, or other businesses. And for every out-of-state fan who comes into the city on game day and buys a bucket of Bud Light Platinum, another non-fan decides not to visit and purchases his latte at the coffee shop next door. All in all, building a stadium is a poor use of a few hundred million dollars.

This isn’t news, by any stretch, but it turns out we’re spending even more money on stadiums than we originally thought. In her new book Public/Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilities, Judith Grant Long, associate professor of Urban Planning at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, shatters previous conceptions of just how much money the public has poured into these deals. By the late ’90s, the first wave of damning economic studies . . . came to light, but well afterwards, from 2001 to 2010, 50 new sports facilities were opened, receiving $130 million more, on average, than those opened in the preceding decade. (All figures from Long’s book adjusted for 2010 dollars.) In the 1990s, the average public cost for a new facility was estimated at $142 million, but by the end of the 2000s, that figure jumped to $241 million: an increase of 70 percent.

Economists have also been, according to Long, drastically underestimating the true cost of these projects. They fail to consider public subsidies for land and infrastructure, the ongoing costs of operations, capital improvements (weneedanewscoreboard!), municipal services (all those traffic cops), and foregone property taxes (almost every major-league franchise located in the U.S. does not pay property taxes “due to a legal loophole with questionable rationale” as the normally value-neutral Long put it). Due to these oversights, Long calculates that economists have been underestimating public subsidies for sports facilities by 25 percent, raising the figure to $259 million per facility in operation during the 2010 season. … Read More

(via Pacific Standard)

ESPN: Outside the Lines delivers the definitive Dock Ellis experience

Commodawg sent me a quick email containing only a url link and a note: “I’m guessing this is in your wheelhouse.” The link led to an ESPN/Outside the Lines feature, “The Long, Strange Trip of Dock Ellis.” Commodawg was right: I am never not on drugs when working on this website, an admission that likely comes as no surprise to ALDLAND’s reader(s), so this piece is pretty squarely in my wheelhouse.

I’ve read all the stories about Ellis. I’ve seen all the videos, including the one everybody considers high art (no pun intended, seriously; it’s way overrated, its only redeeming aspect being the employment of actual audio of Ellis) and the one of former Deadspin editor A.J. Daulerio’s less entertaining stunts, in which he attempts to pitch a no-hitter in a video game while under the influence of LSD. Save yourself some time and watch neither.

The only real rub in the Ellis story at this point is whether Ellis really was on acid when he pitched that no hitter. Some recent writers (again, I’m sparing you the links) have advanced a view of Dock that suggests he was good at making up and perpetuating stories to fuel a love of the spotlight, implying that the most famous story about him was such a fabrication. Obviously that’s a boring road to go down.

This ESPN/OTL piece by Patrick Hruby and Joe Ciardiello blows right by all of that, though. It’s transcendent not because it’s about drugs, but because it transcends the debates and localized tropes that bring people to Ellis and tells a real story that answers all of these lightweight questions without even asking them because it starts with little baggage. It just tells the story of the man. Don’t feel bad if you found your way to Ellis, even to this post, because you kinda want to find out what it’s like to take LSD– that’s the reason anybody who didn’t know him or isn’t a weirdo fan of the Pirates finds their way to him– but know that your preconceived inquiries will be both resolved and shown to be irrelevant. The digital design features of the piece play no small part in contributing to this article and deserve separate comment from someone authorized to make such comments, but they extremely appropriately add to the experience, both visually and substantively.

Rereading what I just sputtered, maybe this one does convey what it’s like to be on acid after all.

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=Dock-Ellis

(HT: Commodawg)

ALDLAND Podcast

Welcome back, loyal ALDLAND Podcast listeners.  Last night, Chris and I took time out of getting physically and mentally prepared for the premiere of Breaking Bad to record this extra special podcast for you.  So take a listen, you will likely be at most moderately disappointed.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here: