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.

Fatwas, Feminism, and Forehands: The Life of Indian Tennis Superstar Sania Mirza (via Vice Sports)

fatwas-feminism-and-forehands-the-life-of-indian-tennis-superstar-sania-mirza-body-image-1421329478Sania Mirza had offended Islam. Such was the judgement of a group of Muslim clerics. It was September of 2005, and Mirza, then 18 years old and the No. 34-ranked tennis player in the world, was on her way to Kolkata, India to play in the Sunfeast Open.

Then came the fatwa. It would be Mirza’s first brush with radical Islam, but not her last.

Issued by Haseeb-ul-hasan Siddiqui, a leading cleric with the little-known Sunni Ulema Board, the religious order demanded that Mirza, a practicing Muslim, stop wearing “indecent” clothes to play tennis.

Instead of standard-issue t-shirts and skirts, the board ruled, she should wear long tunics and headscarves, like a group of female Iranian badminton players. Or else.

“She will be stopped from playing if she doesn’t adhere to it,” Siddiqullah Chowdhry, a cleric with a Kolkata-based Muslim group Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Hind, told Reuters. The threat was vague, but still alarming. … Read More

(via Vice Sports)

Tennis Time

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Most jr.-tennis coaches are basically technicians, hands-on practical straight-ahead problem-solving statistical-data wonks, with maybe added knacks for short-haul psychology and motivational speaking. The point about not crunching serious stats is that Schtitt . . . knew real tennis was really about not the blend of statistical order and expansive potential that the game’s technicians revered, but in fact the opposite — not-order, limit, the places where things broke down, fragmented into beauty. That real tennis was no more reducible to delimited factors or probability curves than chess or boxing, the two games of which it’s a hybrid. In short, Schtitt and [Incandenza] found themselves totally simpatico on tennis’s exemption from stats-tracking regression. Were he now still among the living, Dr. Incandenza would now describe tennis in the paradoxical terms of what’s now called “Extra-Linear Dynamics.” And Schtitt, whose knowledge of formal math is probably about equivalent to that of a Taiwanese kindergartner, nevertheless seemed to know what Hopman and van der Meer and Bollettieri seemed not to know: that locating beauty and art and magic and improvement and keys to excellence and victory in the prolix flux of match play is not a fractal matter of reducing chaos to pattern. Seemed perversely — of expansion, the aleatory flutter of uncontrolled, metastatic growth — each well-shot ball admitting of n possible responses, n^2 possible responses to those responses, and on into what Incandenza would articulate to anyone who shared both his backgrounds as a Cantorian continuum of infinities of possible move and response, Cantorian and beautiful because infoliating, contained, this diagnate infinity of infinities of choice and execution, mathematically uncontrolled but humanly contained, bounded by the talent and imagination of self and opponent, bent in on itself by the containing boundaries of skill and imagination that brought one player finally down, that kept both from winning, that made it, finally, a game, these boundaries of self.

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest 81-82 (Back Bay Books, Nov. 2006) (1996).

In tennis, the better player doesn’t always win. Sometimes, she loses in straight sets.

Imagine if basketball, football or hockey games were decided by which team outscored the other in the most periods. Get outscored by 20 points in the first quarter, and it’s no problem, you just have to eke out the last three by a point each to take the game.

That’s sort of how tennis works. Win more sets than your opponent, and you win the match — even if your opponent played better throughout. These anomalous results happen rarely, but more often on grass, the surface of play at Wimbledon, which started this week.

Wacky outcomes like [Rajeev] Ram’s pair of lottery matches happen more often at Wimbledon than at the other Grand Slams. Since 1991, 8.8 percent of completed Wimbledon men’s matches have been lottery matches, won by the player who was less successful at protecting his serve than his opponent. At the other three Grand Slam tournaments, that proportion ranged between 6.4 percent and 6.6 percent, according to data provided by Jeff Sackmann of Tennis Abstract.

The sport’s time-tested scoring system has many virtues, even if total fairness isn’t one of them. Its symmetry makes players alternate the deuce and advantage sides, switch sides of the net, rotate serving and returning. It guarantees that a player trailing by a big margin gets all the time it takes to stage a comeback, provided she performs well enough to earn that time. It keeps matches that are lopsided short, and lets close matches take all the time they need.

Carl Bialik, “An Oddity of Tennis Scoring Makes Its Annual Appearance at Wimbledon,” FiveThirtyEight.com (June 25, 2014, 7:31 a.m.).

Part of the reason baseball is so susceptible to statistical analysis is that the season is long enough for players’ and teams’ statistical averages to settle out and meaningfully describe their performance. Another reason is that the game itself is comprised of isolated interactions. No other sport is so susceptible, but the reasons appear to be different in each case. Basketball may be next up, held back only by our (diminishing, thanks to technology) inability to track and store data. Hockey statistics are thought to be less meaningful because the season isn’t long enough for the random bounces of the puck to settle out from the averages.

To my poorly informed knowledge, advanced statistical analysis has made few inroads into tennis. Part of the reason for this may be that tennis’ scoring structure, alluded to in the second passage above, does not as easily allow for the clean, direct reflection of averaged rates of good things or bad things in individual (and therefore aggregated) match outcomes. On the other hand, maybe looking to a statistical rationale for an explanation of statistics’ inability to aid in the understanding of tennis is futile. Or at least I think that’s what the first passage means.    Continue reading

Let’s see action! Tennis > Baseball > Football?

Entering that time of year when baseball and football overlap, I was reminded of the mostly uninteresting sports superiority debate, one football usually wins because of its media popularity and perception that it offers a lot more action than the other sports. It’s pointless to swim against the tide of football supremacy, but is it really true that a football game offers more action than a baseball game?

I found myself reevaluating this question while flipping between baseball and football games on college football’s opening weekend, simultaneously enticed by shiny football and entranced by the playoff potential of my favorite and local baseball teams. Baseball seems slow, of course, and there’s no clock. Most of the time, though, a televised baseball game takes as much time to complete as a televised football game. As a comparison of these two random articles indicates, MLB games actually tend to consume less time than NFL games. The nature of the gameplay is what it is, but a fan is going to spend the same amount of time– roughly three hours– watching a game of one or the other.

We can go deeper and wider, though. Fewer Americans watch tennis than either the official or unofficial national pastimes, but even men’s tennis matches (played as the best of five sets, rather than the women’s best of three) tend to take less time than baseball or football. Moreover, as a set of recent Wall Street Journal studies conclude, it’s tennis– not baseball or football– that packs the most action per match or game.

Read the full article here.

New season Monday

Football is underway at all levels, which means that this weekly roundup/preview post is back.

College football’s second week portended less excitement than its opening week, and yet there seemed to be more surprising results this week than last. In particular, two teams with a lot of preseason promise took big hits on Saturday. The Wisconsin Badgers fell out of the Top 25 and fired their offensive line coach after a loss to Oregon State in which the traditional running power generated only thirty-five yards on the ground. Arkansas’ drop from the rankings was even more precipitous, as the Razorbacks lost to Louisiana-Monroe. Michigan, fresh off a no-show against Alabama, nearly lost their home-opener to Air Force, while Clemson nearly doubled up Ball State to stay undefeated, a status they’re likely to carry into their meeting with #5 Florida State in two weeks after facing in-state lightweight Furman this weekend. Michigan State also stayed undefeated with an easy win over Central Michigan, while Vanderbilt fell to 0-2 at Northwestern in a game I attended and more about which I will writehave written.

Robert Griffin III was the star of the NFL’s first Sunday of 2012, while Andrew Luck found himself grouped with more pedestrian rookie QB starters Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill. The always-overhyped Jets turned in the surprise team performance of the day, a 48-28 win over Buffalo. The Lions, who have an official drum line, came from behind to beat the Rams in the last ten seconds of the game, and Peyton Manning returned to form in an ultimately convincing win over Pittsburgh.

Outside of the football world, Serena Williams gutted out a win at the U.S. Open, her fifteenth Grand Slam title, and Jeff Gordon announced that his “absurdly comical mustache” for the NASCAR Chase (i.e., playoffs), which begins this weekend in Chicago.