Sports Law Roundup – 6/23/2017

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 trademark: As predicted (not by me) back in 2015, the Supreme Court heard and now has ruled on a trademark case involving a band called The Slants that has a direct effect on the Washington Redskins, whose trademark registrations were revoked under the same policy applied to The Slants. That policy sought to ban registration of trademarks that were disparaging or offensive, but a unanimous (8-0) Court held that the ban violated the First Amendment. “It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend,” Justice Samuel Alito explained.
  • NFL fan access: A Green Bay Packers fan has sued the Chicago Bears because the Bears won’t allow him on the sidelines before games at Soldier Field while he’s wearing Packers attire. The fan is a Bears season-ticket holder who built up enough “points” to receive an award in the form of a pregame warmup sideline experience. Despite his entitlement to that experience under the terms of the Bears season ticket program, the Bears refused to allow him to participate while wearing Packers clothing.
  • Daily Fantasy Sports: The inevitable merger between DraftKings and FanDuel announced last November has hit a probably inevitable regulatory hurdle. The Federal Trade Commission has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the merger, which, the FTC says, would create a single company that controls ninety percent of the daily fantasy sports market. On Tuesday, a judge granted the FTC a temporary restraining order that halts the merger for now.
  • Golf drugs: The PGA has asked a judge to reconsider her May ruling that the tour breached an implied duty of good faith it owed to Vijay Singh in connection with a 2013 suspension the PGA issued to him after he told a reporter he’d used a product called The Ultimate Spray, which contains “velvet from the immature antlers of male deer,” something that supposedly aids golf performance. The PGA’s arguments in support of reconsideration involve evidentiary matters pertaining to witness testimony regarding the financial consequences of Singh’s suspension and the judge’s understanding of whether the PGA reviewed materials from the World Anti-Doping Agency (“WADA”), which maintains the tour’s agreed list of banned substances, to confirm that the spray in fact contained or constituted a banned substance. During Singh’s suspension, WADA issued a public statement clarifying that use of the spray was not prohibited, and Singh argued that the PGA should have confirmed this fact with WADA before it suspended him.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 6/2/2017

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.

After a week off, this feature returns with the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Penn State child abuse: All three of the former Penn State University administrators charged in connection with the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault scandal inside the university’s football program will spend time in jail. In March, former PSU vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley pleaded guilty to one count each of endangering the welfare of children, leaving former school president Graham Spanier as the sole defendant in the case facing a trial on charges of child endangerment and conspiracy. A jury subsequently convicted Spanier of a single misdemeanor count of child endangerment. Curley and Schultz each received sentences of a maximum of twenty-three months in jail. Curley will serve three of those months in jail and Schultz will serve two months, with each completing the remainder of his sentence in house arrest. Spanier was sentenced to a maximum of twelve months in jail and will serve two, with the remainder in house arrest, and still indicates he intends to appeal.
  • Cheerleader wages: The judge overseeing the proposed antitrust class action lawsuit brought by a former San Francisco 49ers cheerleader known in the context of the case as Kelsey K. in connection with alleged wage-suppression tactics has dismissed the case, although he is allowing the plaintiff’s attorneys until June 15 to attempt to amend the complaint. In February, the judge denied the lead plaintiff’s request to proceed with the case under the “Jane Doe” pseudonym, though he did permit her to use only her first name and last initial.
  • NASCAR pit crew: A judge denied the majority of two competing summary judgment motions and will allow a wrongful termination case by a former NASCAR pit crew member to proceed against his former employer, Michael Waltrip Racing (“MWR”). The plaintiff, Brandon Hopkins, injured his shoulder when a racecar hit him during a race. Treatment from MWR’s training staff was ineffective, and surgery was necessary. Surgery was delayed for reasons the parties dispute, however. Days before the scheduled surgery, Hopkins met with a supervisor, who assured Hopkins his job was safe. When Hopkins left the office to go home, he brought a particular tool– the design of which MWR considered confidential– with him, which, he said, was an accident. MWR did not believe Hopkins’ story and fired him the next day. Office security camera footage also showed Hopkins removing what may have been confidential documents from the office two days prior. The judge determined that there were sufficient facts that a jury could determine that Hopkins’ firing was connected to his injury, an impermissible basis for termination, or his misappropriation of confidential company information, which would be a permissible basis.
  • NBA fan assault: In February, Charles Oakley, a former member of the New York Knicks, was arrested and charged with assault after an argument with Knicks owner James Dolan during a game at Madison Square Garden. Now, Oakley has declined a prosecutor’s offer to drop the charges and requested that the matter be resolved in a trial, which Dolan likely views as a vehicle for unwanted public attention on himself.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 5/26/2017

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The sports law roundup is on vacation this week. Here’s a sports law story from the sports law archives.

  • Tennis revenue sharing: During the 1983 U.S. Open, John McEnroe, then the world’s top-ranked player, engaged in verbal sparring with a courtside fan named Christopher Schneider during a preliminary-round match. The latter was no fan of the former, and the former did not appreciate the latter’s expressions of support for the former’s on-court opponent, an unranked player named Trey Waltke. (A brief sidebar on Waltke, who appears to have established himself as something of a provocateur earlier in the year, when, at Wimbledon, he “caused a stir when he donned 1920s era long flannel pants, a white buttoned-down long-sleeved shirt, and a necktie for a belt” during a first-round victory. Prior to that, Waltke had defeated McEnroe in the first round of an April tournament in Las Vegas. Waltke had beaten McEnroe in a tournament in Memphis in 1981, a year in which he also beat Jimmy Connors.) After the match, Schneider, the fan, sued McEnroe seeking $6 million (nearly $15 million in 2017 dollars) and alleging that McEnroe, who cursed at Schneider during the match and flung some rosin dust in his direction, caused him “grevious [sic] physical and mental injuries.” Judge Francis X. Becker of the Nassau County Supreme Court oversaw the case, and the opening to his final order suggests he did not hold a high opinion of McEnroe:

Its disciples consider tennis to be a cosmopolitan game. Played and watched by men and women a cut above the average “jock” and “fan” of other big time sports. The facts giving rise to this action make it eminently clear however that a fair amount of “Roller Derby etiquette” has found its way to center court.

Defendant, John McEnroe, is a professional tennis player. The best player in the world today, he is not noted for his court decorum. . . .

Judge Becker nevertheless ruled in McEnroe’s favor on all counts, issuing a brief and delightfully worded order that is available in full right here.

Sports court remains in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 5/19/2017

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:

  • Basketball mugging: Moses Malone Jr., son of NBA great Moses Malone, sued James Harden, claiming that Harden paid a group of people $20,000 to mug Malone Jr. at a Houston strip club last summer after critical comments by Malone Jr. about Harden’s youth basketball camp angered Harden. Malone Jr. posted a Facebook.com comment about the $250-per-attendee cost of Harden’s camp and then was beaten and robbed at the strip club. One of the men charged in the attack reportedly told Malone Jr. during the attack that Malone Jr. “disrespected James Harden and that he needs to be punished after that.” At this time, police have not established a connection between Harden and the attack.
  • Golf drugs: Vijay Singh won a victory in his lawsuit against the PGA this week when a court ruled that his claim that the tour breached an implied duty of good faith it owed to Singh could proceed. Singh’s case arises out of a 2013 suspension the PGA issued to him after he told a reporter he’d used a product called The Ultimate Spray, which contains “velvet from the immature antlers of male deer,” something that supposedly aids performance. The PGA suspended Singh based on his admission before checking with the World Anti-Doping Agency (“WADA”), which maintains the tour’s agreed list of banned substances, to confirm that the spray in fact contained or constituted a banned substance. During Singh’s suspension, WADA issued a public statement clarifying that use of the spray was not prohibited. Singh’s contention is that the PGA should have confirmed this fact with WADA before it suspended him.
  • Football painkillers: The judge overseeing the proposed class action brought by former NFL players against the league’s thirty-two teams improper dispensation of painkillers dealt the plaintiffs another serious blow this week by dismissing almost all of the claims remaining in the case, and he does not seem to be impressed by the plaintiffs’ efforts: “perhaps the bloat of inapposite allegations is the product of some advocacy-based agenda rather than any attempt to comply with pleading requirements. For present purposes, however, this order makes clear at the outset that what matters is not whether plaintiffs have drawn attention to widespread misconduct in the NFL but whether each plaintiff has properly pled claims for relief against each individual club and, if so, whether those claims survive summary judgment.” At this time, the only claims that remain in the case are those brought by two individual players against three teams, the Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, and San Diego Chargers.
  • Baylor sexual assaults: Amazingly, Baylor’s legal troubles continue to mount. After a former student sued the university earlier this year, alleging she was the victim of a group rape committed by two football players in 2013 that the school ignored; 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”; and that, between 2011 and 2014, thirty-one Baylor football players committed a total of fifty-two rapes, including five gang rapes, another former student has sued the school based on similar allegations. The new case, filed by a former volleyball player for the university, is the seventh Title IX lawsuit brought against the school, and it alleges that up to eight Baylor football players drugged and raped the plaintiff in 2012. The complaint explains that the attack was photographed and videotaped and happened in connection with a football hazing program.
  • NBA ticket devaluation: A San Antonio Spurs fan has sued the Golden State Warriors and one of that team’s players, Zaza Pachulia, claiming that Pachulia’s contribution to the injury of Spurs star Kawhi Leonard “devastated the quality of the Spurs’ chances of being competitive,” thereby diminishing the value of the plaintiff’s tickets to future Spurs playoff games. Video of the play in question is available here. It shows Pachulia moving in front of Leonard, who is in the air releasing a shot, and Leonard subsequently landing on Pachulia’s foot, resulting in an exacerbation of Leonard’s ankle injury that caused him to miss the remainder of the first game and all of the second game of the NBA’s Western Conference finals. Leonard did not participate in practice yesterday, and his status for tomorrow’s game remains undetermined.
  • MLB streaming: Facebook and MLB have reached a live game streaming agreement that grants streaming rights to the social media platform for certain Friday night games. Streams will be free to users in the United States, and it appears that blackout restrictions will not be enforced, meaning fans located in the participating teams’ geographical regions should be able to watch as well. The initial deal includes twenty games, beginning with tonight’s Rockies-Reds matchup. More games may be added later. It is not clear whether this announcement has anything to do with the new lawsuit filed earlier this month by fans seeking to enforce a previous settlement agreement that required MLB to provide more live streams of in-market games by 2017, but it sure seems like it does.
  • Football jokes: An individual who posts jokes on the internet has sued Conan O’Brien, alleging that O’Brien stole a joke from him about Tom Brady winning the Super Bowl MVP award two years ago. Super Bowl MVPs apparently receive pickup trucks as prizes, and Brady, having won multiple such awards and having no use for a truck, has been giving them to a teammate he feels deserves it. Following New England’s last-second victory over Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX, Brady gave the truck to Malcolm Butler, who secured the game-winning interception. The essence of the joke was that Brady should’ve given the truck to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who, many thought, made a very bad play call on that play. I’m not sure what the statute of limitation is on joke-theft claims, but any joke that takes this long to explain probably isn’t worth stealing.  (It also seems kind of obvious, at least in retrospect.) A judge has ruled that the case will go before a jury, which will decide whether O’Brien infringed the individual’s copyright on that joke and two others.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 5/12/2017

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:

  • NFL draft suit: A man has sued two members of the Tennessee Titans, Tajae Sharpe and Sebastian Tretola, claiming that the players beat him “unconscious” after he argued with the players at Tin Roof, a Nashville bar, about a potential reduction in playing time for Sharpe in light of the Titans’ decision to draft Corey Davis, who plays the same position as Sharpe. The man is seeking at least $500,000 in his civil lawsuit, the filing of which supports my theory that nothing good happens at Tin Roof after midnight.
  • Arena football head injuries: This spring, a former Arena Football League player sued the league, claiming he had “direct evidence” of the league’s intentional refusal to pay expenses related to his concussion-related injuries. He also asserted that evidence of his specific targeting by the league for injury existed. The AFL sought summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff was required to pursue his claims under the applicable state workers’ compensation statute, and the player countered that the evidence of intentional misconduct placed his claims outside the workers’ compensation regime. Yesterday, the court granted the AFL’s motion and dismissed the case against the league. Judge Eldon Fallon, one of the country’s most prominent trial judges, determined that, in order to avoid the workers’ compensation statute, the former player needed to demonstrate that playing football was “substantially certain” to cause a concussion and could not do so: “Though this court acknowledges that it is not uncommon for football players to experience brain injury, such injury is not ‘inevitable’ as is required to meet the exception to the” statute. Judge Fallon also rejected as unsubstantiated the plaintiff’s claim that the AFL intentionally refused to pay medical expenses.

Sports court is in recess.

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.

Sports Law Roundup – 4/28/2017

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.

After a slow news week off, we’re back with the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Hockey head injuries: The NHL suffered another loss in the pretrial discovery process in the ongoing head-injury lawsuit between the league and a group of former players. Last month, the court ordered the public release of certain internal NHL communications and other documents, some of which contained embarrassing and damaging statements by team and league officials, including Commissioner Gary Bettman. Now, the court has mostly denied the NHL’s motion to force Boston University’s CTE Center to produce research documents and information about test subjects, although it will allow production of documents pertaining to deceased players whose families authorize the release of those records, as well as documentation of the Center’s public statements to the press regarding research on NHL players. The league responded by filing its opposition to the plaintiffs’ request for class-action treatment, arguing that there is not a scientifically established link between head trauma and “neurodegenerative” diseases like CTE. According to the NHL’s filing, “any causal relationship between head injury in contact sports and later-in-life development of CTE remains scientifically unproven.” The league also argued that it would be inappropriate to certify a nationwide class for a medical-monitoring claim, since the applicable laws vary on a state-by-state basis.
  • More hockey head injuries: With the NHL already embroiled in head-injury litigation, two of its teams, the St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils, now face another lawsuit filed by a former player, Mike Peluso, addressing the same situation. Peluso, an enforcer for the Blues and Devils (as well as the Blackhawks, Senators, and Flames) in the 1990s, alleges that the teams had actual knowledge of the medical risks of additional head injuries he personally faced, yet continued to encourage him to play and fight on the ice. According to Peluso’s complaint, which also names an insurance provider as a defendant, “This is not simply a case were [sic] defendants are alleged to know the link between head injuries and permanent brain damage. This is a case where defendants knew the link between Mr. Peluso’s head injuries and permanent brain damage because they had their own Board Certified Team Neurologist tell them that Mr. Peluso would have brain damage if they allowed him to continue to receive head injuries” and hid that information from him. The complaint also alleges that Peluso suffers from permanent brain damage and dementia and is permanently disabled. Peluso, now fifty-one years old, claims he engaged in 240 fights in his nine-year NHL career and suffered at least nine grand mal seizures. A member of New Jersey’s 1995 Stanley Cup-winning team, Peluso finished among the top-ten players in the league in penalty minutes in four of his nine seasons, leading the league in the 1991-92 season. Mike Peluso should not be confused with his cousin, Mike Peluso, who had a brief NHL career with the Blackhawks and Flyers in the early 2000s.
  • Football biometric data: The NFLPA and Whoop, a company that sells wearable fitness monitoring devices, have entered into an agreement in which Whoop will provide players with devices that track “strain, recovery, and sleep” and can transmit that data to Whoop’s web-based applications. As part of the agreement, the players will be able to customize the aesthetic design of their device for their own use and for retail sale. Significantly, the agreement grants each player ownership rights of all data his device collects. While headline-writers have feasted on the possibility (apparently authorized under the agreement) that players may sell their data in some manner, the real purpose of this deal likely is to stem growing concerns that it would be the teams or leagues that would own (and potentially misappropriate) players’ biometric data.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 4/14/2017

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:

  • Aaron Hernandez: This afternoon, a jury acquitted Aaron Hernandez, who played tight end for the New England Patriots and Florida Gators, of charges that he murdered two people in Boston in 2012. Hernandez already is serving a life term without parole for a 2013 murder. Despite the acquittal on the murder charges, the jury did convict Hernandez on a firearm charge.
  • St. Louis Rams: The City of St. Louis has sued the NFL and all thirty-two of its teams for losses related to the Rams’ departure to Los Angeles in 2016. The suit alleges that the team failed to make a good-faith effort to stay in St. Louis before leaving in violation of league rules. According to a public statement by the city’s mayor, the city spent a substantial amount of public money in the hopes of keeping the team, and it did so in reliance on the expectation that the team would comply with NFL team-relocation rules.
  • Baylor sexual assault: Earlier this year, 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. She 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 claimed that, between 2011 and 2014, thirty-one Baylor football players committed a total of fifty-two rapes, including five gang rapes. Now, the judge overseeing the case has largely denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss, narrowing the plaintiff’s emotional distress claim but otherwise allowing her case to proceed, calling the allegations “disturbing.”
  • Volleyball sponsorship: Kerri Walsh Jennings, who won three Olympic gold medals for the United States beach volleyball team, is suing the Association of Volleyball Professionals for breach of a sponsorship contract. Walsh Jennings alleges that AVP still owes her $150,000 on a $450,000 agreement despite her compliance with all of the contract’s terms. Part of the backdrop of this dispute may be another dispute between Walsh Jennings and AVP over whether she will play in AVP’s 2017 professional tournament.
  • NFL memorabilia: What purports to be new evidence in two 2014 lawsuits against Eli Manning, Steiner Sports (a memorabilia company with which Manning has a formal relationship), the Giants, and a team equipment manager alleging that the defendants worked together to sell collectors “game-worn” items that were not, in fact, game-worn emerged this week in the form of an email exchange between Manning and the equipment manager. In it, Manning requests “2 helmets that can pass as game used,” and the manager responded that he “should be able to get them for tomorrow.” The collectors who filed the lawsuits contend that this exchange proves that Manning knowingly provided Steiner with “fraudulent” items to sell to fans. The team now says the email exchange was taken out of context, and that its release now constitutes an attempt to defame Manning.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 4/7/2017

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:

    • MLB defamation: A judge will allow a defamation lawsuit brought by Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and former Philadelphia Phillies designated hitter Ryan Howard against Al Jazeera and two of its employees to proceed. The Ryans’ case relates to a documentary that aired on the television network in 2015 that included claims that they were among a group of players who purchased performance-enhancing drugs from an anti-aging clinic. In partially denying the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case, the judge explained that the argument that Al Jazeera and its employees simply were reporting the statement of an employee at the clinic “is unpersuasive, because a reasonable viewer could certainly have understood the documentary as a whole to be an endorsement of Sly’s claims.” The ruling was not a total victory for Howard and Zimmerman, however, as the judge did dismiss claims related to a related news article about the documentary, as well as all claims against one of the Al Jazeera employees, an undercover investigator. Since the airing of the documentary, the clinic employee has recanted his statements.
    • Athlete financial adviser: A former financial adviser to former San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan pled guilty to wire fraud in connection with allegations that the adviser tricked Duncan into guaranteeing a $6 million loan to a sportswear company the adviser controlled. He could spend as many as twenty years in prison and owe a fine of as much as $250,000, plus restitution to Duncan. Duncan filed a separate civil lawsuit against the advisor, which was stayed pending the resolution of the criminal action.
    • NFL streaming: The NFL and Amazon have reached a one-year agreement, reportedly valued at $50 million, that grants Amazon the exclusive streaming rights for ten of the NFL’s Thursday night games in 2017. Last year, the NFL partnered with Twitter on a streaming deal for the Thursday games reportedly worth $10 million.
    • NFL fax machine: A court has preliminarily approved a settlement in a case involving a claim that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers violated federal law by faxing unsolicited advertisements for game tickets to local businesses in 2009 and 2010. Final settlement payout numbers are not yet available, but, in the meantime, we can ask: did the faxes work?
      bucs home attendance

Sports court is in recess.

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.