Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Tuesday, June 29, 2004
 

Victims of Olympic Park Bombing Can Sue: In an opinion issued yesterday, the Georgia Supreme Court held that the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) can be sued by victims of the 1996 Olympic Park bombing. The trial court granted summary judgment for ACOG and against the victims, who claim that lax security allowed the bombing to take place. A state appellate court reversed, stating that the determination should be made by a jury, and not a judge. The state high court upheld the reversal:

    [T]he [Recreational Property Act] limits, with certain exceptions, the liability of an owner of land who has made property available without charge to the public for
    "recreational purposes". . . . [The court uses] a balancing test to determine when mixed-use property is used for "recreational purposes" so as to come within the RPA.

The court held that it should be the fact finder, and not the trial court, that evaluates this balancing test, because of the highly fact-specific nature of the test. Thus, the jury must decide whether or not ACOG's purpose in opening Centennial Park to the public during the Olympic Games.

In addition, the court ruled that in determining ACOG's purpose, the fact finder should consider a broader time frame than just the time of the injury.

    While the moment of injury is the focus for the trial court in determining the legal applicability of the RPA, the fact finder's role in resolving factual disputes over the property owner's purpose in making the property available free of charge to the public may require consideration of a larger time frame. Thus, we do not agree with the Court of Appeals that it is appropriate under the facts in this case to limit the jury's
    consideration to the "time of the explosion." Rather, we agree with ACOG that upon remand of this case the jury may consider evidence of ACOG's purpose in regard to the locus delicti as demonstrated before, during and after the bombing to the extent that evidence may help the jury to determine the purpose why the public was allowed free of charge into the Park "as it existed during the Olympics, and most pertinently, on the date the bomb exploded in the Park."

It now will be for a jury to decide if ACOG should fall under the RPA and escape liability. Plaintiffs with argue that ACOG kept the park open at no charge to increase traffic, and with it, increase sales of food, souvenirs, tickets and anything else that could be sold. This seems distinct from a traditional public park, which is kept open for the convenience and benefit of the community. If ACOG thought it would have been more profitable to charge admission, it may well have done so. And if the organization indeed did not provide enough security based on the number of people, then perhaps it shares in the liability.

On the other hand, the Olympic Games are traditionally a celebration of humanity and the world coming together. ACOG can convincingly argue that its purpose in holding the park open was to embrace this spirit and make the park available for the world community. This could be a winning argument, but now it is up to a jury to decide.

The whole opinion can be read here.

Monday, June 28, 2004
 

The NBA's Age Limit: Following another NBA draft that should have been televised by Nickelodeon, the questions have begun anew of whether the NBA can and should impose an age limit. Sports Law friend Mike McCann makes very compelling arguments that the great majority of players benefit from the decision. This I cannot dispute (at least not yet -- who knows what the future may hold?)

But what is in the league's best interest? David Stern has made no secret of his desire to have an age limit (at 20). In addition, some NBA veterans have also expressed their support for a minimum age, often after having played with those still in their teens. Many fans believe that the style of play has eroded in the league and that skill level is down. Some attribute this to the influx of high schoolers - others say that skills are no longer taught, no matter the level.

But if the league wants to control its product and institute an age limit, will they be able? For its part, the players union, led by Billy Hunter, has said no way. Hunter has been adamant that the union will not agree to any rule that precludes young men from entering the draft. But is there a large enough carrot to get him to change his mind? The union has conceded that if the league agreed to a rule that knocked one year off of the rookie salary cap for each year played in college, then an age limit would be deemed acceptable. The NBA said no to this counter-offer six years ago and is likely to do so again. But this at least shows that when Hunter says "no," he means "No, unless you give us something good."

Legally speaking, the NBA has to get the age limit included in the CBA or it most likely will not fly under Clarett. The courts seem clear that it cannot be unilaterally imposed by the owners, or else there is no labor exemption and antitrust laws will be violated. So, as the negotiations come up on the horizon, the questions are: What will the league be willing to give up? Will it be enough? What will the position be of the NBA veterans who stand to gain the most by an age limit? In the wake of Clarett, this could be the most interesting CBA negotiation in years.

Sunday, June 27, 2004
 

Update on Armstrong: Not surprisingly, Lance Armstrong's attempts to stifle a book that accuses him of doping have not gone well. A French judge called his effort an "abuse of the system" and ordered the cyclist to pay a fine of $1800, as well as legal fees. He was also ordered to pay one symbolic euro in damages for faulty procedure.

Armstrong, who has never been sanctioned for the use of a banned substance in his career, will try for a record sixth straight Tour de France title on Saturday.

 

More on the Duty Owed at Sporting Events: Earlier this month, a Massachusetts appellate court ruled that a professional baseball team does not have a duty to warn fans of the "obvious risk" of a foul ball being hit into the stands.

Now, a New York appellate court has used another baseball case to rule that the assumption of risk doctrine applies not only to active observers, but also to bystanders at sporting events. The case, Sutton v. Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association Inc., dealt with a person who was not watching a soccer game and a player that was not playing in a game.

    Records show that D. James Sutton was attending a soccer tournament in 1999 and had just watched one of his son's games. He walked past another field where several players from a rival club were warming up. His son's team had a tent set up 30 or 40 yards behind the goal to provide a shady resting place for the players when they were not on the field.

    Sutton contends he was getting a sandwich out of a cooler when a practicing player kicked the ball. The ball missed the goal and struck Sutton in the chest, knocking him off his feet, and he injured a knee, he said. He sued the league and the player.

Unlike the Massachusetts court, which ended the analysis at the 'duty' question, the New York court relied on the assumption of risk doctrine. For guidance, the appellate panel looked to a 1981 case, Akins v. Glens Falls City School District, 53 NY2d 325, which said there is always some risk that a spectator at a baseball game will get hit with a ball, and owners of baseball parks do not need to install fences along the baselines or shield the walkways to rest rooms and other facilities.

The court in the present case analogized the plaintiff's activity with a baseball fan that gets up to go to the bathroom. The court wrote:

    Just as the owner of a baseball park is not responsible for the spectator who leaves his or her seat and walks through a potentially more hazardous zone to reach a bathroom or concession stand, thereby assuming the open and obvious risk of being hit by a ball, defendants here cannot be held responsible for the risk assumed by plaintiff when he, aware that players were active on the field, left the sidelines and stood in the tent positioned in an arguably more dangerous zone behind the goal line.

The court seems to have gotten this one correct. An observer at a soccer tournament must constantly be aware of players and errant balls. It would be the same at any youth baseball park. I was getting ready to umpire a game a few years back when I was struck with an errant throw by a player warming up for the next game. To be certain, it hurt and could have caused major injury, but it was my fault. I knew the players were warming up and that they could not be relied on to be accurate. I should have been paying attention and was not. This seems to be a similar situation, and while it is unfortunate that this individual was hurt, the blame cannot fall on anyone other than himself.

You can read the opinion here.

 

On Slacking Off: I apologize for the decline in the number of posts over the last few weeks. I have found myself much busier this summer that I had previously imagined I would be, and as a result have found less time for blogging. This should all change, though, no later than after the 4th of July. Thank you for continuing to read -- I will work hard to ensure there is a consistent amount of new and interesting material.

Monday, June 21, 2004
 

Perhaps the Fans Do Care?: I wrote in a post earlier this year about how fans are often willing to forgive off-the-field problems so long as the team is winning. But when the team is not winning, a scandal can give fans a perfect excuse for dropping their support.

Witness the University of Colorado. After a 5-7 season, the team has been making headlines all summer for recruiting scandals and stories of sexual exploits involving players. The coaching staff and the administration have been implicated as having known of at least some of these problems and many lawsuits have been filed.

Now, fourteen percent of the Buffs' season ticket holders have said, "No thanks" to keeping their seats, a much higher percentage than in normal years. Now, the athletic department faces a potential budget crisis because of the lost revenue. CU, like most schools, relies on football to fund most of its other programs. The cancellations may not be due solely to the scandal, but following a sub-par season, the allegations could not have come at a worse time for the program. One only hopes that they clean up their act, so that the team can begin a revitalization, both on and off the field.

 

Trial Set on Knight's IU Firing: A judge has set a date for a one-day trial to determine whether Indiana University must release records related to its firing of former coach Bob Knight in 2000. Knight was fired for violating a "zero tolerance" policy by grabbing the arm of a student and is claiming breach of contract.

You can view Knight's old Indiana contract here.

You can view his current Texas Tech contract here.

Stay tuned for the Ohio State contract... (but don't hold your breath).

 

Importance of Olympic Bombing Ruling: Law.com has an interesting article on the ramifications of a state court ruling in the Richard Jewell case. As a reminder, Jewell sued the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for libel following the accusation that he was the Olympic bomber at the 1996 Games.

Earlier this month, the court ruled that Jewell could not obtain the identity of the paper's anonymous sources, seriously impeding the path of the former security guard's lawsuit. The ruling prevents a difficult decision for the paper:

    Mather's ruling on sources provided the first part of a double-barreled victory for the Journal-Constitution, which, like most news media, guards the identities of confidential sources who give information that might not otherwise see the light of day.

    As a result of Mather's ruling, not only are the newspaper's sources safe from discovery, but the Journal-Constitution also has sidestepped the difficult decision it would face if Jewell were to prevail -- reveal the names of sources whose identities its reporters had promised to shield, or face contempt of court. A contempt finding, which normally would remain in effect until the Journal-Constitution capitulated, could have resulted in hefty fines or the jailing of newspaper staff. Jewell's attorney also would have been able to argue to a jury that the Journal-Constitution had refused to produce reporters' sources because they either didn't exist or wouldn't verify the allegedly defamatory statements.

The article also suggests that the decision could have an impact beyond just the Jewell case:

    A huge victory for the Journal-Constitution, the ruling had other implications. The judge may have undermined Georgia's "fair report privilege," the principle that newspapers are protected from libel when they faithfully report information that comes from government sources, even if it's false.

    [Jewell's attorney] also suggested that the ruling was a "gift" to defense lawyers for Eric Robert Rudolph, the man who authorities now believe planted the Olympic Park bomb and three others in Atlanta and Birmingham. That's because the judge's ruling supported the existence of an FBI profile of a "hero" bomber who planted the bomb so that he could rescue people. That profile clearly doesn't fit Rudolph, who never tried to rescue anyone and spent years hiding from authorities.

The entire article is worth a read.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004
 

Sports Law Headed to SCOTUS: Sports has made an incredible difference in numerous areas of the law, but perhaps its biggest influence has been in the realm of gender equality. Perhaps moreso than any other law, Title IX has brought women's issues to the forefront of national attention. The law's guarantee of equality in sports has paralleled growing equality in other segments of life and has proved to millions everywhere that women have the same talents, if not greater, than their male counterparts.

Gender relations could take another step forward after the Supreme Court's grant of cert in Jackson v. Birmingham BOE. The case involves Roderick Jackson, the coach of the women's basketball team at a Birmingham high school. Upon discovering that the school denied his team equal funding, equipment and facilities, he began protesting to his supervisors. Jackson claims that this led to poor performance evaluations, and ultimately, his termination.

Now Jackson is attempting to bring suit under Title IX, which guarantees gender equality in sports. The issue is whether Title IX allows individuals like Jackson, who suffer retaliation for trying to protect gender equality but do not themselves suffer gender discrimination, to bring suit. It is already settled that students, parents or others can sue under Title IX to correct alleged inequalities.

The 11th Circuit upheld the district court's dismissal of the suit, saying that the law does not mention "retaliation." The Bush administration, though, urged the Court to take the case and overrule the circuit court.

On first glance, I support the coach in this case. If the people in power cannot speak up to enforce Title IX, it would seem to have almost no impact at all. Yes, individual athletes could file private suits, but this theory is flawed. One, not everyone can afford to file an individual lawsuit and win. Two, why should lawsuits be the way in which problems are solved in this country? I see the irony in encouraging lawsuits by those not discriminated against in order to reduce the overall amount of litigation, but in the long run, if coaches and administrators can effectively voice concerns without fear of retaliation, then the need for individual Title IX suits will decrease. No one should be fired for standing up for a federal law.

Private rights of action must have some limits, but limits that still allow for the purpose of the law to be achieved. Allowing suits such as these under Title IX ensures that gender equality can be preserved, not only in the courts, but also where it counts, in schools across the country.

You can read the 11th circuit opinion here and the US government's amicus brief here.

 

Armstrong Fights Accusations: The story of Lance Armstrong is one of inspiration and a man's triumphant struggle over a deadly disease to achieve the pinnacle of athletic achievement. But a lot of people think this story is tainted. In a book to be released in the coming weeks, Armstrong is accused of using the performance-enhancing drug EPO during his record Tour de France streak. The allegations come from Emma O'Reilly, who worked for over three years as Armstrong's masseur, physical therapist and personal assistant.

Armstrong, who is constantly tested but has never turned up positive for drugs, issued a statement on his website denying the latest allegations. In addition, his lawyers plan to file two lawsuits, one in Britain and one in France, for libel. I know nothing about libel law in these countries, so please let me know if you do.

I find the Lance Armstrong story to be one of the greatest in the history of sport, a real tale of the triumph of the human spirit. If these claims are found to be boundless, then shame on the writers and all of the critics (many of the French) that have derided Armstrong out of jealousy.

But if it's true...well, I will ask: Are there any true heroes left in sports? Armstrong will still be courageous for defeating a deadly illness and getting back on the bike. And his success will still have brought hope to millions of cancer payments. But it will be a falsity, a fraud. And you have to wonder if this is even worse than if he had never won at all.

So, for now we wait and see. I, for one, will be cheering Armstrong on in France and hoping against hope that these stories are baseless.

Monday, June 14, 2004
 

Baseball Owners Not Liable for Foul Ball Injury: A person of "ordinary intelligence" understands that a risk of attending a baseball game is that batted balls could enter the fan area. This conclusion is at the heart of a Massachusetts state court decision that held the Red Sox owed no liability to fan injured by a foul ball at Fenway Park in 1998. Ten minutes after arriving at Fenway, the plaintiff was struck with a foul ball, shattering her facial bones and putting her in critical condition. Her medical bills totaled nearly half a million dollars. The plaintiff claimed that the team had a duty to warn spectators of the dangers, and being unfamiliar with baseball, she did not understand the inherent risks of sitting close to the field.

The court disagreed, and held that the Red Sox did not have a duty to warn spectators of an "obvious" risk.

    Viewing the present case through the lens of the defendant's duty, we are persuaded that the potential for a foul ball to enter the stands and injure a spectator who is seated in an unscreened area is, as matter of law, sufficiently obvious that the defendant reasonably could conclude that a person of ordinary intelligence would perceive the risk and need no additional warning. Even someone of limited personal experience with the sport of baseball reasonably may be assumed to know that a central feature of the game is that batters will forcefully hit balls that may go astray from their intended direction. We therefore hold that the defendant had no duty to warn the plaintiff of the obvious danger of a foul ball being hit into the stands.

Because the court held there was no duty, it did not need to address the assumption of risk doctrine or the effectiveness of the disclaimer printed on the back of the ticket. Despite the obvious sympathy for the plaintiff in the case, I believe the court made the correct decision. A spectator approaching within 40 yards of anyone swinging at a moving object should take heed, no matter the setting. Plaintiff most likely felt insulated, as many fans in the stands do, but this should not shift liability onto the team or the stadium.

Of course, one wonders what would have happened in plaintiff had died from the injury (thankfully, she did not). In a similar case from a few years ago, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the NHL paid a $1.2 million settlement to the family of a little girl that was killed by a puck deflected into the stands. One imagines that the law was on the team and league's side, but both parties likely feared the negative publicity of a drawn-out trial and potential jury verdict. Thus, the settlement. The harsh truth is that whether the plaintiff dies often affects the PR of a case, and thus, the outcome.

But, legally speaking, the court got this one right. If anything is to change, it will be due to policy. The judge, in concluding the case, evinced a hope for just such a change:

    Perhaps a more gracious approach would be for major league baseball to elect to internalize the costs of unavoidable injuries sustained by fans through no fault of their own.

I am not so certain such a change would be good. In a perfect world, no one would get hurt, but the baseball owners are no more at fault than is a car manufacturer when their product is involved in an accident due to human error. People assume risks everyday, in everything they do. Chance and risk are unfortunately a part of life, and as unfair as it seems, there cannot always be compensation for the victims.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004
 

A King's Ransom in Sacramento: Apparently, the city of Sacramento made a rash decision in 1997: loan the city's single professional sports franchise $70 million to help it overcome financial difficulties and remain in the city. In addition, the city made a second loan to the team, to assist it in paying back the first loan. I can only imagine Prof. Sauer's reaction as he reads this. Due to this odd structure, the team has only made a dent in the amount owed, having paid back only $1.5 million of the principal. And, of course, the team now wants more public money for a new downtown arena. At least some officials are hostile to this idea:

    "They've been in the arena a number of years and it looks like nothing has been paid on the principal," said Joe Sullivan, president of the Sacramento County Taxpayers Association. "How much has the city really gotten back?"

Certainly not a championship. Repayment of the loan becomes even dicier if a new arena is built, because the agreement has no stipulation for that scenario.

    A business task force recently concluded that 15-year-old Arco Arena is obsolete and should be replaced within five years. A small team of prominent developers and business leaders has proposed constructing an arena on the east side of the Downtown Plaza on K Street as a way to revitalize the struggling commercial area.

    Although the loan contract addresses what is necessary if the Kings were to move out of the city, it does not specify requirements if the team moves to another arena in Sacramento.

    Sullivan, of the taxpayers group, said his members are concerned that if a new arena deal is forged, the old loan will be waived.

    "That's a lot of money to forgive," Sullivan said. "That's not the way our tax money should be spent."

This is a fascinating story of contracts, loan agreements, and the desire of local governments to keep professional sports franchises. While I generally believe that professional sports teams and new arenas do help cities' economy and revitalization efforts, this seems a bit much. If the Kings do not pay back this money, the citizens of Sacramento have a legitimate beef, and should use the next election to voice their concerns.

I recommend the entire article.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004
 

The End of Hockey For How Long? Now that the Lighting have broken the hearts of Canadians everywhere, the focus shifts to how much longer it will be before another NHL game is played. Many predict that it will be a long time and that hockey will look much different when it returns. Thomas Boswell has an interesting piece on the disaster towards which hockey is moving. As he correctly points out, the labor dispute mirrors that of major league baseball’s 1994 strike, but with one big difference:

    Baseball is America's national pastime. Hockey is Canada's national pastime. Yet the NHL is counting on American fans and American dollars to come back to the NHL the way they came back to baseball. What business would take such a bet-the-industry risk? What union would tempt such career suicide for its members?

As Boswell correctly points out, the potential damage for hockey, a sport already hanging by a thread, is great:

    Here's the kicker, the wild card, the enormous factor the NHL seems not to have considered. The imminent danger for hockey is that if it does anything as destructive as baseball did in '94-'95, the NHL may lose its status alongside the NFL, MLB and NBA as a major professional team sport.

    "Major" is a vague but invaluable distinction conferred in the public mind. Some sports, some events, are major. Some aren't. There's no election, no referendum. Nobody calls to tell you on the day you move from one category to the other. But, over time, it happens. And for years hockey has been slipping back toward "minor." In its most recent TV contract, the NHL accepted terms that were comparable to the Arena Football League.

    Once a major sport falls back into the pack of wannabes, it never recovers. Once, prize fighting and horse racing were huge national sports, far bigger than hockey has ever dreamed of being. Does hockey understand that if it shrinks in popularity as much as boxing and horse racing that it will not just be small, it will almost be invisible? Can you say, bowling? Actually, that would be an insult to bowling with its large participant base.

Actually, hockey’s main concern should be NASCAR. As hockey talks about canceling one season or more, NASCAR continues to schedule races is more major markets, including talks of a race track near New York City. NASCAR’s ratings continue to rise, as does attendance and sponsorship numbers. Soon, I predict that NASCAR might even have a viable “minor league,” similar to the Busch series, but with races held on the smaller, more historic NASCAR tracks that are losing races to the big markets. Fans in these areas will still be hungry for racing, even with slightly less talented drivers, and this will only increase NASCAR’s bottom line and mass appeal. By the time hockey gets back, it may be no more than a “has been” in the pantheon of major sports. And the sad part is: no one involved seems to understand this.

Monday, June 07, 2004
 

Sports and Criminal Trials: Bob Cohn of the Washington Times takes an interesting, if not somewhat apparent, look at the impact of celebrity in the criminal trials of professional athletes.

    Perhaps money can't buy happiness. But it can buy good lawyers. Beyond that, there is a widespread perception that because of the fame and adulation they often receive, athletes are afforded special treatment by the legal system.

    In many cases, the perception is the reality.

    "I think we're a society where everybody is struck by celebrity," said Rich Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida. "No matter how thorough the pretrial questioning, there are people who will be dazzled in the courtroom, whether it's O.J. Simpson or Jayson Williams or Kobe Bryant. Maybe their jaws won't be open, but they will be thinking of their athletic feats."

Of course, the arguments made are not unique to sports. Movie stars have the same, if not more, celebrity status than do their sports counterparts. And all wealthy people, including CEOs accused of corporate fraud, Martha Stewart, and politicians, can afford high-priced legal counsel.

Is this right? Even putting aside the celebrity issue, something smells when the level of representation you receive depends on the amount of money in your bank account. What makes an indigent person less worthy of a legal defense than a millionaire? But on the other, we live in a free market, supply and demand, system. Those that can afford the price of the "best" get just that, and the rest of us are left with the services of those we can afford. The same is true in health care, food, cars, and almost anything else you can think of.

"Sports law" is often derided by people that think it is nothing more than athletes being acquitted of criminal charges merely because they are athletes. But, as I hope this blog shows, sports law means much more than that. And, the issue of the well-to-do buying justice is not unique to sports, nor should it be treated as such. So long as we live in a free market society, this practice will continue, for better or for worse.

 

The Problems of 'Pay-for-Play': The Orlando Sentinel features an article on the NCAA's major problems with a system of compensation for college athletes in 'revenue-producing' sports. The main argument is the same: paying football and basketball players out of those sports' revenues decreases the funding for the many other non-revenue sports.

 

More on Mike Williams: Former (and perhaps soon to be current) USC wide receiver Mike Williams is taking steps towards seeking reinstatement from the NCAA. Apparently, Williams has more to do than just renounce his agent contacts, since he has taken a trip on a private jet and accepted numerous gifts. The NCAA is now faced with the precarious situation of a player who wants to be back in school but a tough decision that could create a dangerous precedent of receiving compensation but being allowed back in school.

On the other hand, the facts of this case are unique enough that the NCAA could make an exception and not change its tough stance. Mike Williams and USC can only hope that this is the path taken by the NCAA.

Paul Woody has more on the caution this tale should elicit in the future.

 

Use of 'Victim' Barred at Bryant Trial: Kobe Bryant and the Lakers may have been victims of a devastating Pistons defense (no pity here), but at his criminal trial, his accuser will not be called "victim."

    In a ruling made public Monday, state District Judge Terry Ruckriegle said he agreed with Bryant's lawyers that the term implies guilt and should not be used at trial. He said she must be referred to by name; or in jury instructions, where she must be referred to as "person."

    "Its use under these circumstances could improperly suggest that a crime had been committed such that the presumption of innocence might be jeopardized," Ruckriegle said.

This is absolutely the correct ruling to make in this situation. Unlike in a murder, or a personal injury case, the exact question in a rape trial is whether or not the accuser was injured at all. As of now, with the presumption of innocence, the accuser is not a "victim" until the state proves its case.

This leads me to wonder, though, what if a civil trial had occurred first? I know that situation is unlikely, but it could happen if the state were to drag its feet or feel it needed more time to gather evidence. Hypothetically, a defendant could be found civilly liable for sexual assault (or whatever the civil equivalent of rape is). In that case, should the accuser be called "victim" at the later criminal trial. On the one hand, a jury has found that the accused was indeed injured, and the defendant was at fault.

However, this finding would be made using the less stringent "preponderance of the evidence" standard, rather than the criminal threshold of "beyond a reasonable doubt." In addition, the presumption of innocence remains in a criminal trial, notwithstanding a finding of civil liability. Finally, the use of the term "victim" almost certainly will have some effect on the ability of the jury to equitably judge the defendant. Thus, while a harder case, it seems prudent to avoid using the term "victim" until after a criminal conviction is rendered.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004
 

A Dangerous Precedent? The story of Raul Mondesi has become very intriguing and has many (including myself) wondering if baseball should step in to prevent players from taking this sort of action. To recap the past month, Mondesi formerly played for the Pirates. In early May, he left the team to return to the Dominican Republic, citing a need to defend himself in a lawsuit filed by a former colleague. The Pirates, dismayed at their player's sudden departure, placed him on the inactive list on May 11 and ordered him to return on May 18. He did not return, saying that he would not play the rest of the season because of the need to defend himself and his assets. In response, the Pirates placed him on waivers and released him.

Now, less than two weeks later, Mondesi has signed with the Anaheim Angels, a team in first place (the Pirates are in last). Before signing with Anaheim, he negotiated with six other teams, all of which are in contention. Thus, it is becoming more apparent that he was less concerned about this lawsuit, and more concerned about wasting away the summer on a last place team. As soon as a contender came calling, Mondesi's troubles suddenly seemed less dire.

Now, this could all be a coincidence, but even so, it sets a dangerous precedent for major league baseball. A player refuses to play for a last-place team, they release him and he signs with a contender. Without action from baseball, players could begin mid-season hold-outs, demanding a trade or forcing a type of in-season free agency.

Baseball does have something in place to prevent this. The Pirates did not have to release Mondesi -- the team could have kept him on the inactive list, which does not require the team to pay his salary. But this does open the team up to a union grievance, and arbitrators are anything but predictable. The solution seems easy: if the player wants his money, he plays. For the team he is under contract with. If the player refuses to play, he does not get paid and he cannot play for any other team. Players that want to avoid potential problems can sign one-year contracts and take the risks that come with them. But to say that a player can refuse to play in order to finagle a move to a winning team only raises more problems for a sport desperately looking for solutions.