Sports Law Roundup – 12/2/2016


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 CBA: Shortly before the December 1 deadline, MLB and the MLBPA reached agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement that will govern the sport for the next five years.
    Details still are emerging, but early analyses are labeling this round of negotiations another win for ownership. (Others see it as a mere “setup for war in 2021.”) One of the most visible changes fans will notice is that the All Star Game no longer will determine home-field advantage in the World Series; instead, that perk will go to the team with the better regular-season record. Another aesthetic change: no more chewing tobacco (although current players are free to chaw down; the ban only applies to new players as they enter the league). Following in the NFL’s footsteps, MLB has indicated plans to play a regular-season game in a foreign country, possibly England or Mexico, as soon as 2018.
  • Football player suspension challenges: Lane Johnson, a fourth-year offensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles who is serving a ten-game suspension following a second failed test for performance-enhancing drugs, has challenged his suspension by filing complaints against the NFL and NFLPA with the National Labor Relations Board and U.S. Department of Labor, alleging that the suspension procedure violated his rights under his employment contract and federal labor law. While the filings currently are not public, Johnson’s challenge appears, based on a statement from his lawyer, to be a collateral attack on the collective bargaining agreement itself: “During Lane’s appeal, it became apparent that the written words in the collectively bargained Performance-Enhancing Substances (‘PES’) Policy, under which Lane was disciplined, are meaningless. The NFL and NFLPA have undermined these protections leaving the players — including Lane — with a hollowed-out process devoid of any protections.”
    Faced with a similar situation, Mike Pennel, a third-year defender for the Green Bay Packers, is challenging the adequacy of the suspension-appeal procedures by filing an action in federal court. Pennel’s allegation is that the use of only two arbitrators, rather than three, for his appeal hearing violated the league’s substance-abuse policy.
    Both Pennel and Johnson are represented by the same law firm, Ohio-based Zashin & Rich.
  • NBA arena: A court’s denial of two citizens’ organizations’ petitions will allow construction to proceed in San Francisco on a new, privately financed, $1 billion arena for the Golden State Warriors. The groups had sought to block the project because, in their view, the city’s environmental analysis was insufficient, specifically including an allegation that increased traffic would interfere with the operation of the nearby UCSF hospital. The Warriors will leave their current home in Oakland to begin play in the new San Francisco arena in 2019.
  • Sharper sentencing: A judge sentenced longtime NFL safety and serial rapist Darren Sharper, previously most famous for playing fourteen seasons for the Packers, Vikings, and Saints, and for his supporting “role” in this viral video, to twenty years in prison as part of a plea bargain in which Sharper admitted to drugging and raping women in four states. Sharper, whose victims number more than a dozen, previously pleaded guilty in a federal trial for drugging three women so he could rape them and is appealing the eighteen-year sentence he received in connection with that plea.
  • Inmate phone calls: Former Florida Gator and New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez, who is incarcerated in Massachusetts following his conviction for murdering one person and being charged with multiple additional murders, has sued Securus Technologies, one of the largest providers of inmate telephone services. Based on media reports of a Securus data breach, Hernandez’s suit alleges that the company failed to protect privileged and confidential information, such as telephone calls between Hernandez and his lawyers.
  • Whistleblowing coach: A judge awarded former Penn State football coach Mike McQueary an additional $5 million Wednesday after determining that the school terminated his employment as a result of his testimony against other PSU officials who failed to act in response to McQueary’s report on child sexual abuse by another football coach. McQueary previously won $7.3 million in a jury trial on claims related to the university’s investigation of the assault and its related defamation of McQueary. (Yes, the PSU community really did attack McQueary for reporting a football coach’s child sexual abuse. Four years later, that community appears to be as delusional as ever.)
  • Football painkillers: In an update to a story previously highlighted in this space, a judge has ordered Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to sit for a deposition in a lawsuit by former NFL players alleging that teams irresponsibly dispensed painkillers to their players in order to keep them on the field, granting a discovery victory to the players. The victory was a partial one, however, because the judge denied the plaintiffs’ request to depose Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, famous guitars, and a personal history of painkiller abuse.
  • Super Bowl hotel rooms: Marriott has emerged victorious in a contract dispute with a sports travel agency after a judge ruled that the hotel chain was not bound by its obligations to the agency to provide 300 rooms for the Super Bowl in Houston, because the agency, in selling 240 of the rooms to another broker, violated a no-transfer provision of the agreement with Marriott. When Marriott cancelled the contract, the agency sued, accusing Marriott of violating their contract in order to pursue a more lucrative opportunity with the NFL and alleging that Marriott knew of the agency’s practice of reselling rooms. Even if that was true, the judge explained, the no-transfer clause was clear, and the agency could not enforce a contract it had breached.

Sports court is in recess.


Mr. Scherzer goes to Washington

Overnight, the long-anticipated news of this baseball offseason finally broke: The Washington Nationals won the Max Scherzer sweepstakes by signing the former Detroit Tiger to a seven-year, $210 million contract.

Scherzer made news last March when, heading into his final season before becoming a free agent, he turned down the Tigers’ six-year, $144 million offer to stay with the team. That failed (from the team’s perspective) dance fouled up a variety of personnel matters for Detroit. They had already traded Prince Fielder and much, but not all, of his contract to Texas and starter Doug Fister to Washington for figuratively literally nothing all probably in an attempt to clear the books for Scherzer’s new contract. When Scherzer balked at the offer, the team responded by giving Miguel Cabrera all the money. Last season got off to a rough start, and, at least from a business perspective, Scherzer was at the center of it.

Max probably was my favorite amongst a very likable group of guys playing for the Tigers over this last stretch of seasons. His relief appearance against Oakland in the 2013 playoffs always will be among my most favorite half-innings of baseball.   Continue reading

August Bodies: Cabrera, Upton, and the Ex-Presidents

August is the only month in the American calendar without a holiday, which leaves us free to craft ad hoc celebrations of events taking place in the moment.

For baseball fans, this is the time of year when the action really starts to heat up. There are a deceptively large number of games remaining in the season, but it’s the beginning of crunch time for teams looking to secure their positioning for the postseason.

The Detroit Tigers and Atlanta Braves are two of the best teams in baseball this year, and they happen to be two of the teams followed closely on this site. Each also has a star hitter who has ramped up his performance this month.

I’ve already noted that Miguel Cabrera is following up his 2012 season– in which he won both the MVP and Triple Crown– with an even better 2013. This month, it is widely becoming clear we are witnessing a special season from the Detroit third baseman, who is becoming something of a living Babe Ruth-Kirk Gibson combination. Due to injuries, Cabrera basically is playing on one leg, making it difficult to do things like run the bases. His response has been to hit a lot of home runs so he doesn’t have to run the bases. He has sixteen hits in eleven games in August, and six of them were homers. Here are his numbers through last night, broken out by month:

As more and more turn their eyes to the Motor City to gaze upon this remarkable production, the number of articles testifying to Cabrera’s greatness to which I could link here are many. Consider this one from yesterday, though, which nicely combines text and visuals describing Cabrera’s recent exploits.

While Cabrera’s August is allowing us to marvel at his ability to persistently perform in historic fashion, Justin Upton is offering up a late-summer burst that shows him rising to the great levels expected of him when he joined the Braves in the offseason.

After a ridiculous start to the season, which included five home runs in his first five games, the younger Upton cooled off. He hit a total of twelve HRs in April, but he only hit four in all of May, June, and July. He’s already hit six through thirteen games this month, though, and his .380 batting average is the highest monthly mark he’s posted all year by almost one hundred percentage points. Here are his numbers through last night, broken out by month:

juptonstatsFinally, we come to the (mostly) ex-presidents. The United States Senate often is referred to as an “august body.” The president of the Senate is the vice president of the United States, and the president of the vice president is the president of the United States, and so here we have scouting reports on the pitching prospects of all of the United States presidents since William Howard Taft. Enjoy.

NHL realignment: Take two

This might be the new NHL division map. No one seems to know for sure, and the internet is full of conflicting maps. This one appears to have come from Canada, though, so that seems legit.

We covered the initial saga of the latest episode of this story back in December 2011. What foundered then now is coming to be realized, at least in the short term: the NHL is rearranging itself into two conferences, each with two divisions. You can read about the details, consequences, and history of the negotiations over this issue in this article.

The NHL’s problems don’t have much to do with realignment issues, so I feel free to evaluate this proposal purely as a myopic fan of my team, the Detroit Red Wings. The linked article tells me that, from that vantage point, I’m supposed to be happy about all this:

[T]he Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets love the plan, because they were Eastern time zone cities playing in the Western Conference. Detroit owner Mike Ilitch had been lobbying commissioner Gary Bettman for 15 years, so his team could have better travel and his fans could have better TV start times, and he felt he was owed the move to the East. The Wings are an Original Six team that sucked it up and played at a disadvantage for a long time.

I don’t like it, though, even if that means I’m out of step with Mr. I. Here’s why:  Continue reading

Capitol Punishment: Nationals flaunt double jeopardy, biology, the odds


It’s tough to find genuine outrage in sports for at least a few reasons, including things like the general absurdity of the NCAA, the silly off-field behavior of athletes, and the fact that the labor market for sportswriters, who have to drum up content on a frequent and regular basis, may be the only one with a supply more flooded than the legal profession, but last year I admittedly hammered the Washington Nationals in a podcast for their colossally stupid decision to bench their best pitcher for the remainder of the season and playoffs in September on the basis of some arm-preservation notion. Rehashing that issue will only inflame my ulcer, so I’m going to skip it.

But now Washington has decided that it’s “World Series or bust“?? Why now? That is some Nattitude of a degree heretofore unseen. Why wasn’t last year World Series or bust? What has happened to Strasburg’s arm in the offseason that it now is ok to work him until his shoulder explodes, all in the pursuit of a championship, that did not exist last season?

As I said last fall, there’s no guarantee that a team will even make the playoffs in a given year. There are too many variables in baseball’s long season. Washington was hot and had maybe the best batch of young stars, but they decided to call off the dogs and play for a championship next year. This isn’t the Colts resting their starters in Week 17 or a golfer laying up for a safer wedge approach; it’s like the Colts forfeiting their first playoff game or the golfer just packing it in and saying, “See you at the next tournament.” There was a World Series to be won in 2012, and there is a new and distinct one to be won in 2013. If you’re willing to go “World Series or bust” in 2013 with the same players you had in 2012, why wouldn’t you go all out then, too?

I hope the Nationals lose every game.

Bill Murray plays golf for the fans, both young and very old

I’m really only interested in golf when it intersects with non-golfing elements, although I’ve begun to find fan favorites Bubba Watson and Brandt Snedeker (with whom I technically tailgated at the Florida-Vandy game this fall) entertaining. There can be no greater favorite among fans than Bill Murray, though, right?

From morning to night, Vanderbilt stages a Signing Day worth celebrating (via Yahoo! Sports)

cjf - fordeIn a rare quiet moment in the Vanderbilt war room Wednesday, Ava Franklin walked in and was overtaken by curiosity.

“What are the balloons for?” asked the impossibly cute, 5-year-old daughter of the Commodores’ head coach.

For the National Signing Day party, she was told.

Ava thought for a second, then delivered the perspective-packed question of the afternoon, “What’s Signing Day?”

You’ll find out soon enough, kid. But if you must know now …

Signing Day is what has obsessed your father and his colleagues for months. It is what gets him into the office before you awaken, and gets him home after you go to sleep. It is a high holy day in the college football world, a festival of hope for fans and a culmination of dreams for players.

And on Wednesday at your daddy’s office, Ava, Signing Day went like this: … Read More

(via Yahoo! Sports)

NFC Champtionship notes

The San Francisco 49ers meet the Atlanta Falcons this afternoon in the Georgia Dome to play for the opportunity to go to the Super Bowl in New Orleans. Hidden between the media’s heavy stereotyping of this matchup are a few nice preview pieces that actually track pretty well those for last week‘s game, as well as my prediction for this afternoon’s outcome:    Keep reading…

The most essential national championship preview

If there’s one outcome-determinative piece of information I can give you in advance of tonight’s college football national championship game between #1 Notre Dame and #2 Alabama, it would be this: Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron brought along thirty pairs of shoes for the occasion. Everything else you’ll read is nonessential.

That said, I’ll add my prediction, which is Continue reading