Sports Law Roundup – 2/17/2017

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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:

  • Baseball human trafficking: The federal criminal trial began this week in Miami in a case in which an agent and trainer were indicted for their alleged roles in a smuggling network designed to move baseball prospects from Cuba into the MLB system.
  • Boxing non-fight fight: Boxer Alexander Povetkin sued fellow heavyweight Deontay Wilder after the latter withdrew from the pair’s scheduled fight last May following the former’s positive test for meldonium, the same banned substance for which Maria Sharapova was banned from tennis competition. This week, a jury returned a verdict in Wilder’s favor, but Povetkin’s attorney wants to keep fighting, alleging that Wilder’s lawyer engaged in “gross and extensive misconduct” during the litigation and implying that he would seek a mistrial.
  • NFL turf: In what the Houston Texans are calling “a case of first impression,” former NFL linebacker Demeco Ryans is suing the team for damages arising out of an alleged career-ending, noncontact Achilles tendon injury Ryans says he suffered when he landed on a seam in the turf while playing in a game against the Texans as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Ryans is seeking $10 million, but the Texans say the court should dismiss the case because the NFL collective bargaining agreement preempts his claims. Ryans is hoping to avoid CBA preemption by relying on a prior case involving Reggie Bush, in which Bush injured himself after running out of bounds and slipping on a concrete surface surrounding the field during a game in St. Louis. In Bush’s case, the court ruled that the CBA did not apply, since the injury happened outside the field of play. Ryans’ lawsuit, the Texans highlight, deals with the in-bounds playing surface itself, which, the team argues, is a critical distinction that renders the Bush case inapplicable.
  • Lance Armstrong fraud: A False Claims Act lawsuit against Lance Armstrong will proceed after a judge’s ruling on various motions this week. The case involves allegations that Armstrong, while lying about his doping practices, received millions of dollars from the federal government in connection with his cycling team’s sponsorship by the U.S. Postal Service. Although the government’s case can go forward, Armstrong’s side will be able to argue in mitigation that the government’s benefit from the sponsorship reduces the amount of financial harm it actually suffered.
  • Student-athlete scholarships: Last week, we mentioned a settlement agreement under which the NCAA will pay an average of approximately $7,000 to current and former football and men’s and women’s basketball players who played a sport for four years and were affected by alleged athletic scholarship caps. Now, one of the plaintiffs, former USC linebacker Lamar Dawson, has objected to the settlement, which requires court approval before it’s finalized. Dawson’s concern is that the settlement includes a release of certain labor law claims that were not litigated in that particular case and which he is pursuing separately in a wage-and-hour lawsuit against the NCAA.
  • NBA fan app: A court partially dismissed a fan’s lawsuit against the Golden State Warriors, ruling that, although the fan had alleged facts sufficient to show that she had suffered an actual injury as a result of the team’s smartphone app’s alleged secret recording and capturing of her private communications, she had not stated a claim for relief under the federal Wiretap Act because she had not shown how the team intercepted and used her communications. The judge is allowing the fan the opportunity to amend her complaint.
  • Tennis commentator: After ESPN fired him in connection with an on-air remark about Venus Williams during this year’s Australian Open broadcast, Doug Adler, who worked for the network for nearly a decade, has filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against his former employer, alleging that he was dismissed for saying something he never said. While some heard Adler use the word “gorilla” in reference to Williams, he maintains that he used the word “guerrilla” in describing her approach during the match he was broadcasting. Thanks to the magic of the internet, you can render your own judgment after viewing the clip here.
  • Penn State child abuse: Earlier this month, 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. The trial is supposed to begin next month, but the three defendants are attempting an immediate appeal of the ruling that they must face trial, arguing that a two-year statute of limitations bars the charges, and that Pennsylvania’s child-endangerment laws don’t apply to officials in their positions. In other news, Sandusky’s son, Jeff, has himself been charged with sexually abusing a child.

Sports court is in recess.

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Tuesday Afternoon Inside Linebacker

fairleyALDLAND’s weekly football roundup is back, taking a look at all the highs and lows of the latest round of football action.

College Football

Pregame:

  • In anticipation of the LSU-UGA game, a secret-recipe cheesy bean dip was made. So much was made, in fact, that it lasted much longer than the game, although not quite as long as Georgia coach Mark Richt spent kissing his wife following a win over Kentucky.

The games:

  • LSU-Georgia was a thriller. Georgia continues to lose important players to injury, but it doesn’t seem to slow them down. This week, star running back Todd Gurley sprained his ankle in the second quarter, but backup Keith Marshall filled in and had a career day. In the end, the Dwags outgunned the Tigers 44-41 and are in the driver’s seat on the road to the SEC championship game in Atlanta.
  • I also thought Ole Miss-Alabama would be a good game, but it was not. The Rebels limited Alabama’s scoring early, but they were unable to do any scoring of their own, which is an easy-bake recipe for a loss. Ole Miss 0, Alabama 25.     Continue reading

Tuesday Afternoon Inside Linebacker

tailALDLAND’s weekly football roundup is back following week three of college football and week two of the NFL.

College Football

Pregame:

  • I caught snippets of ESPN College Gameday and Fox Sports 1’s college football pregame shows. Gameday remains the leader of the pack, but I’d like more time to see how FS1’s show develops. In the meantime, I’ll join FS1’s Joel Klatt in sending good wishes to the folks in Colorado dealing with major flooding right now.

The games — excitement building:

  • With a couple East Carolina fans in town, we watched the Pirates hang with Virginia Tech for about three quarters. The Hokies did all they could, including badly missing a bunch of close kicks, to hand ECU the game. Frank Beamer looked like he wanted to puke, but his team managed to hold it together in the end. Virginia Tech 15, East Carolina 10.
  • We were flipping between that game and UCLA-Nebraska. When I first checked in on this one, Nebraska had a 21-3 lead, and it looked like the best early game of the day would not materialize into a competitive affair. That turned out to be sort of true, but not in the way I expected. UCLA scored thirty-eight unanswered points to beat the now-mythological blackshirt defense in Lincoln 41-21.
  • The game of the day belonged to Alabama and Texas A&M, and it lived up to the hype. Johnny Manziel and the Aggies started very hot, jumping out to a 14-0 lead and choking the Tide’s early drives. A&M scored touchdowns on its first two drives, which averaged 71.5 yards and 2:06 off the clock. Alabama responded, though, methodically amassing thirty-five temporarily unanswered points and carried a 42-21 lead into the fourth quarter. The Aggie defense had yielded to The System, but Manziel wasn’t through, although twenty-one fourth-quarter points wouldn’t be enough to top Alabama. The Crimson Tide remain undefeated, winning 49-42, but Manziel unequivocally proved that he is must-see football every time he plays, and his cohort, receiver Mike Evans, deserves some credit too.     Continue reading

Tuesday Afternoon Inside Linebacker

tailSince “Monday Morning Quarterback” and “Tuesday Morning Quarterback” are taken and uninspired, and because I’m preempting my own exhaustion of “Monday“-themed alliterations, ALDLAND’s regular football/weekend roundup will move to Tuesday afternoons, which also permits incorporation of the Monday night NFL game. With week two of college football and week one of the NFL in the books, here goes:

College Football

Pregame:

  • Brendan and Physguy were in Ann Arbor for ESPN College Gameday, and the only evidence is a couple cryptic tweets from Brendan.

The games — No surprises:

  • I was able to find Michigan State’s game against South Florida on television in the Southeast, which may be thanks to USF’s participation in the game, but which also felt like finding a unicorn in the wild. MSU’s defense continues to outscore their offense, and that’s with three quarterbacks! Even Sparta only ever had two kings at once. Michigan State 21, South Florida 6.
  • I also found Vanderbilt-Austin Peay on TV, which is a reminder that it’s week two for the broadcasters as well. VU had no problem with its Middle Tennessee neighbors, winning 38-3.

Why is Roger Goodell carrying water for the NCAA?

After delaying the supplemental draft to hear ovations from disgraced former Ohio State University quarterback Terrelle Pryor, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell decided, contrary to the apparent application of NFL rules, that Pryor would be allowed to enter that draft, and, contrary to ready explanation, that Pryor would be suspended for the first five games of the regular season.

That Goodell would allow Pryor into the supplemental draft was not a surprise. Despite a likely inability to make the requisite showing of “changed circumstances,” Pryor was too (in)famous to be left out, and some teams had whispered an interest in him.

What is surprising, though, is the condition Goodell imposed on Pryor’s eligibility: a five game suspension. Indeed, Pryor cannot even practice with the team that drafts him–assuming a team drafts him– until Week 6 of the regular season. Pryor’s high-profile agent, Drew Rosenhaus, appeared to accept the terms of admission graciously: “We accept that voluntarily. It’s a small price to pay for him to have a chance to pursue his dream of playing in the NFL.” Pryor’s attorney was less gracious: “Terrelle is going to [the] NFL because the NCAA mandated that he feed their families but he couldn’t feed his own.”

The five-week suspension just so happens to exactly mirror the suspension Pryor would have faced had he returned to play at Ohio State, assuming he would face no further sanctioning. It’s unlikely that this is a coincidence, since it is a disproportionately heavy punishment when compared with other NFL game suspensions.

The obvious and unanswered question about the conditions of Pryor’s eligibility is, “why?” Goodell’s reputation, as established early and often through his treatment of players like Pacman Jones and Michael Vick, is as a tough, paternalistic disciplinarian. Players who violate league policy or the law can expect to be punished by the NFL under Goodell’s watch.

What was completely unexpected, however, was that Goodell would act to enforce violations of NCAA policy. Pryor has violated no laws, and no policies of the NFL. Why, then, is Goodell punishing him?

The only answer can be that Goodell is punishing Pryor for violating NCAA policies, something that 1) is absolutely beyond his authority, and 2) sets an untenable and inappropriate standard as applied to events in the recent past and the potential near future.

For example, what of Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who fled Los Angeles as his USC program went down in NCAA-sanction flames (to say nothing of Reggie Bush)? What if the new NCAA investigation of the University of Miami finds that current NFL players who played there violated NCAA rules? What if the NCAA’s ongoing investigation of Auburn turns up infractions by Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers’ new starting quarterback?

Does this new aspect of the Goodell Doctrine, the Pryor Precedent, mean that all NCAA rule breakers who go to the NFL now can expect to face punishment from the professional league as well? And why wasn’t Pryor himself entitled to notice of this new punishment policy?

Finally, it is notable just how transparent a departure the suspension was from anything resembling the norm. After hearing the news of Pryor’s conditional eligibility at lunch yesterday and going to post a 140-character version of this post on Twitter, I found the feed full of links to similar reactions. Even for those on board with Goodell’s “new sheriff in town” approach before this week, I imagine this is a departure too attenuated to justify. What, after all, was Goodell’s motive here?