Sports Law Roundup – 4/28/2017

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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 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.

MLB in retrograde

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I’m not always the quickest to notice changes in my surrounding environment, including the baseball component thereof, and I’ve had a lot (of really good things) going on that have necessarily kept me from fully jumping into the still-young MLB season thus far. Last night, I had a little window, though, so I dialed up the Tigers and Rays on MLB.tv, only to be met with a video-streaming brick wall. After a couple hours with tech support, I discovered that MLB Advanced Media (“MLBAM,” which produces MLB.tv) had discontinued service to the device model– a Lenovo tablet running Android– I’d purchased last year for the sole purpose of running MLB.tv. I have cancelled my subscription and demanded a refund.   Continue reading

Sports Law Roundup – 2/17/2017

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:

  • 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.

What does Adam Schefter’s publication of Jason Pierre-Paul’s medical records mean for the future of athlete health information?

In the context of yesterday’s Jason Pierre-Paul fireworks/amputation news, my latest post for TechGraphs asks whether the increasing use of wearable sports technology could have negative consequences for athletes, and, further, whether athletes may be effectively powerless to avoid those consequences.

The full post is available here.

Can technology rescue the NFL?

A variety of well-publicized incidents have kept the focus of NFL leaders on the correction of off-field problems this season, but player safety on the field remains an ongoing challenge for the league, particularly in the area of head injuries. Fans likely would agree that the success of the NFL’s approach to addressing head injuries has been mixed, both in terms of prioritization and implementation. Some have criticized rule modifications ostensibly designed to protect vulnerable players as fundamentally (and detrimentally) changing the game by neutering defenses. Others have been dismayed by the fact that the much-lauded NFL concussion settlement appears designed to excludemany players who have and will suffer from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease found in those with histories of repetitive brain trauma.

One positive development on player-safety front that seems likely to satisfy all interested parties is the NFL’s XPRIZE-like initiative known as the Head Health Challenge. The NFL, together with some of its corporate partners, committed “up to $20 million to fund innovative solutions that will help” to “advance the development of technologies that can detect early stage mild traumatic brain injuries and improve brain protection.”

Earlier this month, the league announced seven new Head Health Challenge winners, each of which received $500,000 (and the opportunity to receive an additional $1,000,000) toward the further development of their proposed safety technology. The winners included a government agency, universities, and private companies. The winners’ proposals include new helmet technology, of course, but they go beyond that to address improvements in on-field concussion diagnostics and changes to the playing surface itself. Each winner created a short video to explain its project, and the videos from Emory University in Atlanta and Viconic Sporting, Inc., a Dearborn, Michigan-based company that draws technological inspiration from the automotive industry, are illustrative of the latter two proposals:

Links to all of the winners’ videos are available here.

One of the implicit promises of projects like these is that they offer a means to improving player safety without altering the way the game is played, something that is likely to satisfy players and fans alike.

It is apparent from the deaths and life-changing injuries of players such as Dave Duerson, Junior Seau, and Mike Utley that the NFL has plenty of ground to make up in this area. While it is not clear whether or how soon the NFL or other football organizations will adopt any of these safety technologies, one message of the Head Health Challenge seems clear: if the league is willing to invest in the development of safety technology, it is likely to be met with a ready supply of implementable solutions.