Two years ago, in the context of the then-emerging conversation about compensation based on college athletes’ names, images, and likenesses (“NIL”), I wrote something that should have been uncontroversial:
It’s easy to forget that athletics organizing entities, and especially in light of their popularity and rhetoric the NCAA, NFL, and MLB, do not act and regulate their respective sports with the force of actual law. (In fact, they in some sense operate outside the law thanks to formal and informal antitrust exemptions.) During baseball’s meltdown over Barry Bonds’ superhuman ascension in the early aughts, you could be forgiven if you weren’t sure whether steroids were illegal illegal or merely MLB “illegal.” The NFL also has done an effective job of coopting this officious language into its in-sport vernacular as well (e.g., “illegal touching” having quite different meanings on and off the field). All of these groups have “committees” that issue “rules” and “regulations” just like real government agencies!
In other words, try as they sometimes might to convince us otherwise, sports-organizing bodies are not the literal government.
That didn’t stop Roger Goodell from trying, though.
In the leadup to Super Bowl LVII, held this past Sunday on a public golf course in Glendale, Arizona, the City of Phoenix, probably totally of their own accord and without any outside influence, suggestion, or pressure, established a downtown “Special Promotional and Civic Event area . . . to support events and activities related to Super Bowl LVII.” Within that area of town, the City granted the NFL the real, actual legal approval authority over signage or displays that might appear on private property. Move over, Peyton Manning; Goodell’s a real sheriff now!
Or at least he was. An owner of property inside the NFL Dictatorial Enclave sued and, days before the Super Bowl, prevailed in court: Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Bradley Astrowsky ruled that the establishment of the special zone was unconstitutional for multiple reasons, including because it impermissibly infringed on free-speech rights and was an improper delegation of government authority to the NFL.
Believing he was freed of his unwanted NFL overlords, that property owner, Bramley Paulin, was able to install signs on his property advertising some sort of hardware product. Success, right?
Hours later, in broad daylight and what Paulin called “an orchestrated event,” two men used a ladder to climb the fence around Paulin’s property, removed his signs, and left with them in their truck.
Was this a covert NFL censureship operation by extrajudicial means? Paulin filed a report with the Phoenix Police Department, but will the municipality Paulin just beat in court investigate vigorously? Was the breaching of Paulin’s fence especially bad press for the MAXguard, the fence-related hardware Paulin apparently was attempting to advertise? You have the facts, now you be the judge. Or Judge Astrowsky can be the judge. It probably makes more sense that he be the judge.
The NCAA’s response to Georgia’s new NIL law reveals the emperor’s new clothes
Erin Andrews says the NFL enforces an in-game press embargo
Jonathan Vilma’s response to his one-year suspension
Buy a share of the Green Bay Packers, sit down, and shut your mouth (and your wallet)
Why is Roger Goodell carrying water for the NCAA?