Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
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Tuesday, January 31, 2006
 
Illinois Appeals NCAA Mascot Ban

The University of Illinois has filed a second appeal challenging a decision of the NCAA that would require the school to drop its Chief Illiniwek athletic mascot and logo before it could host any postseason competition. (ESPN) Although the NCAA ruling allows the university to keep its Illini and Fighting Illini nicknames, it ruled that Chief Illiniwek is "hostile and abusive."

I have covered this topic a great deal, usually opposing these types of sanctions (5/25/05). That being said, Chief Illiniwek does seem like a bit of a caricature. And the school gets to keep its nickname -- it just needs to change its mascot. I understand there is tradition at stake, but many teams change logos just for marketing purposes.

On the other hand, there seems to be a great deal of discrepancy in the NCAA policy. "Fighting Illini" is ok. But the NCAA has penalized North Dakota for its nickname -- "Fighting Sioux." And what about the "Fighting Irish," with an arguably far more-offensive caricature mascot. How is that at all different? Is it that most Irish are not offended by the nickname? Well, neither are most Native Americans (9/28/04). Seems like a double standard to me.

 
Coretta Scott King's Death and Respectful Racial Competition

Since Coretta Scott King died this morning, it’s hard for me to concentrate on sports at the moment. I was going to write something about there actually being “sports law”, which would include the standards of review for overturning referee calls, deductions regarding the arbitrariness or due process in league suspensions, and other private law stuff. But all that seems a bit trivial at the moment. I’m feeling a need to relate Ms. King’s death to another, realer game: political competition.

In The Tournament of Races, the team called white people has a significant lead in each major category of human activity: education, entertainment, economics, labor, law, politics, sex, religion, and war. This is what I believe is a benign conception of white supremacy, (as opposed to the conception of hooded warriors who terrorize as the only white supremacists). In some of those areas of activity, entertainment and politics more so than economics and war, white peoples’ lead has diminished. The lead began shrinking when slavery ended, reduced further in the 50s thanks to Brown v. Board of Education, Rosa Parks and Coretta’s husband, Martin Luther King, and others, and reduced further still in the 60s and 70s with the introduction of the Civil Rights Acts, school desegregation and Affirmative Action.

Affirmative Action was the last straw. This was and is seen as a direct threat to white supremacy. White people had to call a timeout. After instituting a new general manager named Reagan, white people began battling back, calling Affirmative Action reverse racism, and pleading with the country to battle the forces of discrimination, not the forces that uphold white supremacy.

Then OJ got off. If a big black buck of dude can kill a white woman and get away with it, then white peoples’ supremacy must have ended, or at least the other teams are close enough so that white people take the car off cruise control and compete with vigor again. In comes Gingrich's Contract with America, the Republican Congress, Karl Rove (especially Karl Rove), and now Bush and the boys.

Now the Supreme Court is really up for grabs. It is already slightly right of center, which probably accurately reflects an aggregated America. Rehnquist was a foe of governmental attempts to level the playing field. O’Connor was not a huge fan, but recognized that when one team wins all the time the game disintegrates, and in the political game disintegration is not pleasant. Samuel Alito, the new nominee, like John Roberts less than a year before him, are of the mind that the playing field is level enough to allow full blown racial competition. Blacks and other minorities vehemently disagree. The playing field is tilted and we’d like to switch at halftime.

Whether there is or is not a level playing field is not really where I’ve been going with this. Tavis Smiley pointed out this morning that the day of Rosa Parks funeral, Bush laid a wreath then nominated Samuel Alito. Then, on the day Coretta Scott King dies, senators will issue statements praising her then turn around and confirm Alito. This despite a Zogby poll claiming that 100% of black people oppose Alito’s nomination.

This certifies in my mind that the white team is back in full effect. And that’s cool. All I ask is that we keep the competition respectful this time, same rules for everybody and no chummying up with the ref. And most importantly, despite all praise of bad sportsmanship on ESPN and everywhere else, just remember, when you’re up by a lot, there’s no need to rub the losing team’s face in it. It’ll just start a fight.

Andre Smith

 
Sports Agent Finds Himself Caught Between A Rock and A Hard Place

Liz Mullen of Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal does an excellent job of reporting on the latest labor and agent news -- especially when it comes to digging up the dirt in the sports agent business. In her column this week, "NFLPA hasn't given up on disciplining Dunn," she discusses the current situation of agent David Dunn, who was suspended by the NFLPA in 2003 for two years based upon testimony given by NFL players at a trial in 2002 in which a jury found that Dunn unfairly competed against his former partner, Leigh Steinberg. Dunn then filed for personal Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which put a hold on all administrative actions against him, including the NFLPA two-year suspension. Last spring, the jury verdict was reversed on appeal, but the NFLPA still wants to suspend or decertify Dunn because the reversal was based upon technicalities, including jury instruction errors.

At the 2002 trial, there was testimony from an NFL player that Dunn had solicited him to fire Steinberg and join Dunn at Dunn’s new agency, Athletes First, which is a blatant violation of the NFLPA agent regulations. Also, a former NFL player testified: 1) that Athletes First never told him that Steinberg had filed a grievance over fees the former player owed Steinberg; and 2) that he did not know that Athletes First had answered the grievance on his behalf, denying he owed the fees.

Next month, the NFLPA will argue in federal court that Dunn’s certification should not be subject to bankruptcy protection. According to NFLPA counsel Lisa Fenning,

“If we win, it means a ruling by the district court that his [NFLPA
certification] is outside the bankruptcy and can be terminated by the
NFLPA. The NFLPA would certainly terminate it if David Dunn continued to refuse to submit to the disciplinary process.”

Mullen notes that even if the NFLPA loses its motion, Dunn may still be forced out of bankruptcy protection and into the union’s disciplinary procedures because he has a February 15 deadline to propose a financial reorganization plan and an April deadline to confirm that plan.

Now, you might think that a bankrupt agent that is on the verge of being heavily sanctioned (even decertified) for NFLPA rule violations would have some difficulty obtaining clients? Apparently not. Dunn currently represents about eight of this year’s draft prospects, and about 50 NFL players, including Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer. And Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart reportedly gave strong consideration to having Dunn represent them.

More to come from me later this week on the sports agent business....

Monday, January 30, 2006
 
Doesn't Pay to Be Honest In Sports

Ron Artest and Terrell Owens and others believe they are being paid to play their sport, when the media and team officials think they are paying them to play the 'game'. Neither Artest nor Owens will play certain parts of the game. The part they hate most is lying. According to team officials, the media, and most of the sports watching public, athletes, well paid or not, are to follow an unwritten code that mandates lying if it means that your team or teammate or league or sport will be dishonored by your honest opinion. The only exception to this rule is that a player can dishonor other players whom the media or sport officials have labeled as 'problematic'. To avoid this, athletes could refuse to talk to the media, and risk their reputations that way and at the same time get fined by their respective leagues.

What does this have to do with Ron Artest? Artest did not attempt to scuttle the Indiana-Sacramento deal, or at least did not do so with any malice. The Kings, doing their due diligence, asked the Artest if he would be happy playing for the Kings. Artest being Queensbridge through and through responded honestly, that he would not. If being stuck in the middle of Indiana is a problem for Artest, and I am 110% sure that it is, going out to cowtown Sacramento is not a pleasant idea either. The problem is, he honestly expressed how every non-cowtown-wanting-to-go-to player in the league feels.

The Sacramento Kings, accepting the integrity of Artest's statements, rightly and rightfully declined to add on a player who would be unhappy in their town. Good for them, good for Ron, not good for the Pacers, and not good for hegemonic authority over athletes. For that, he is a trouble maker again. Of course the trade went through, but the media portrayal of Ron Artest was clear.

Ask yourself, "what did Terrell Owens say that he didn't honestly believe?"

Andre Smith

 
Performance-Enhancing Drug or Air Conditioning?

Saturday's edition of the Wall Street Journal had a front-page article that caught my eye -- a piece on the Finnish cross-country team and the use of "alpine cottages." (Newman, "Fake Mountain Air Gives Some Skiers Level Chance for Gold," WSJ, 01/28/06-subscription only).
    In cross-country skiing, a granddaddy of aerobic endurance sports, there is no such thing as a level playing field. Because mountain air boosts energy-generating red blood cells, mountainous countries like Norway and Sweden have a leg up on the Finlands of the world that are mountain-deprived.

    Several years ago, a Finnish scientist invented a way to give his country an even chance: a mechanical altitude simulator called the "alpine cottage."

    ***

    "In Finland we have no mountains," says Prof. [Heikki] Rusko, a trim 62-year-old who works here in Jyväskylä, 170 miles north of Helsinki, at the Finnish research institute for Olympic sports. "Why shouldn't we have the same chances as countries that do?"

    The alpine cottage is Prof. Rusko's mountain-moving device. It can take the form of a sealed-off apartment or just a duct-taped tent. Added nitrogen changes the mix of the air inside, reducing oxygen content while leaving pressure unchanged. The cottage lets low-country athletes live in simulated chalets, making extra red blood cells as they sleep.
But not everyone thinks these cottages are a good idea, or even within the spirit of competition. In Italy, where the Olympics are being held next month, the cottages are illegal. And a number of people thinks that the cottages are no different than the use of a performance-enhancing drug that can have the same effect on red blood cells.

But Prof. Rusko disagrees, saying that the more appropriate analogy is to the use of air-conditioning in a hot gym. It isn't harmful and it does not give anyone an unfair advantage.

So which is it? Should alpine cottages be treated like performance-enhancing drugs? Or are they more like air conditioners, which no doubt can increase the amount of time an athlete can spend training, and thus, improve their chance for success? Where does laser eye surgery fall into the mix (4/21/05)? How about bionic surgery (3/28/05)?

As technology continues to improve, where should sports draw the line?

 
Major League Baseball v. Fantasy Sports

http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/01/15/baseball.stats.ap/

Expansion of personal proprietary rights (the exclusive right to commercially exploit one's name, image or likeness) is not appropriate in the context of fantasy sports. Companies that offer commercial fantasy sports products, like CDM, Rotoworld, CBS Sportsline, etc., have customarily, though reluctantly, acknowledged a players economic right to his statistics, and accordingly have been paying licensing fees to players associations like the MLBPA.

It hadn't been a problem because players associations need revenue to fund the organization and especially to build a war chest, so very few had been denied a license. MLBPA recently gave its marketing rights to Major League Baseball properties, who is now withholding licenses to fantasy games operators. A company named CBC is fighting MLB on this issue, claiming that statistics are news and in the public domain, free for all to use and exploit.

I have not read the briefs yet. It will be interesting to see which "right" of the players MLB is seeking to protect: trademark in the player's name, state laws relating to one's image and likeness, statistics as a league held commodity.

Those are some of the positive concerns. For me the normative concern, relates to monopoly. Copyrights and patent rights are a Constitutionally required monopoly. All other attemtps to monopolize should be highly suspect, as illustrated by section 2 of the Sherman Act, and violative of the goal toward perfect competition in the marketplace. Without the aid and now depsite the resistance of sports leagues, fantasy sports has become a multi-billion dollar industry, creating jobs and profit for many. There are even analogous fantasy competitions. I've recently come across a fantasy law professor game, where the participants get points for article citations (bonus points if cited by a court). Major League Baseball, on behalf of the players union, claims a right to have stifled these novel ideas and business long ago if it, or the players, had so chosen.

Funny how the greedy greedy players or their agents never sought to monopolize this industry. If MLB can prevent the granting of licenses, then fans can legally play the games only on MLB. MLB will not have the incentive to innovate or make it cheaper. Of course, Fantasy sports including baseball would still continue, illicitly, with otherwise lawabiding middle aged participants as criminals, not unlike their music-downloading teenage children.

Even if MLB holds this economic right, I don't believe Congress should allow them to control it absolutely. Like the compulsory licensing scheme in the music industry, fantasy operators should pay a statutorily set fee to rights holders. As an eligible free agent in the law professor game, I don't want to stop people from betting that my article's will make it into the Harvard Law Review, I just want to get paid if it does.

Andre Smith

UPDATE: For more on this topic, see this earlier post (1/3/06). -- ed.

 
Andre Smith - Guest Blogger

Good morning all,

My name is Andre Smith. I am an assistant professor of law at Florida International University, in Miami, Florida. I teach Federal Income Tax, Estate and Gift Tax, Administrative Law, and Sports and Entertainment Law. I do not teach Critical Race Theory or Employment Discrimination, but I do have strong opinions on the subject of race and sports, and I will share them with you.

Also, I am a fan of economics; not necessarily the conclusions economists make, especially those made by law and economic types. I am in love with the method and the presuppositions that equality (or equilibrium) is brought about by perfect competition, utilitiy maximization, perfect information, and no transaction costs. Looking at sports and race and race and sports in this context drives me towards many of my opinions.

Aside from that stuff, I am also an avid fantasy sports player and am certainly in defense of the industry in its battle against Major League Baseball's attempt to monopolize the industry via proprietary control over newsworthy information. Disclosure: I am affiliated with a website, www.hiphopsports.net, that is heavily involved in the fantasy sports arena.

I'm not a fan of monopolies. I believe the problems created by monopolies are the hardest for the common person to perceive. These "misperceptions" drive wedges between people who actually have common interests, and absolve those who profit from the problem in the first place.

Oh, and I am hiphop. So bear with me if my language, a mixture of English, American, Patois, Ebonics, and HipHop, confuses you at times. I'll try to be clear.

Those are the generalities. I'll be back with a real opinion or blurb or something in a moment.

Sunday, January 29, 2006
 
Because We Don't Want To Take Money Away From State Lotteries

From FindLaw:
    The Sporting News agreed to a $7.2 million settlement with the federal government to resolve claims it promoted illegal Internet and telephone gambling in print, on its Web site and on its radio stations.

    U.S. officials said Friday that the advertising ran from spring 2000 through December 2003.

    ***

    The Sporting News paid a $4.2 million fine Thursday. The remaining $3 million of the settlement will be for public service ads aimed at dissuading people from gambling over the Internet or via telephone.


 
OU Keeps Fans in the Stands; Team Still Wins

As a follow-up to my post from last week on fans rushing the court (1/26), I want to commend the efforts of the University of Oklahoma, who kept their fans in the seating area following an upset victory over arch-rival Texas on Saturday night. What herculean effort was the school forced to undertake to hold back the masses of fans? Try a PA announcement during the game warning the students that there would be consequences for coming onto the court. That's it.

Kind of makes you think that other schools would have similar success, if they actually tried.

Thanks to Andy Katz for noting this in his game recap.

Saturday, January 28, 2006
 
Top Positions in Division I-A Athletics Are Overwhelmingly White

Last week, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida released an interesting study entitled, "The Buck Stops Here: Assessing Diversity Among Campus and Conference Leaders for Division I-A Schools in 2006." The study found that the people who make the key decisions in the athletic departments and on college campuses of Division I-A programs are overwhelmingly white: 94 percent of the school presidents, 89 percent of the athletic directors, 94 percent of the faculty athletic reps and 100 percent of the conference commissioners. The study also included head coaches, offensive and defensive coordinators, and assistant coaches. During the 2005 season, there were only four minority head football coaches in Division I-A, and two were hired at the end of the 2005 season at Kansas State University and SUNY Buffalo.

According to Richard Lapchick, the head of the Institute and author of the report:
"The study shows that the vast majority of the most powerful people in college sport are still white. Does the fact that the leadership at our institutions of higher education is overwhelmingly white and male have an impact on the hiring of head football coaches? How could it not? History shows that in the 'old boys' network, white men are likely to hire people who look like them. Many African-American coaches are waiting in the wings, ready to lead Division I-A programs, but when more than 92 percent of our campus leaders are white, chances are they will seek who they know."

In last Thursday's edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Brad Wolverton highlighted two recent developments that, according to Lapchick, could help give minority job seekers more opportunities in college sports. The first is that NCAA president Myles Brand hired Charlotte Westerhaus, an African-American woman, to lead the NCAA's diversity efforts. Secondly, a "report card" produced by the Black Coaches Association, in which colleges are graded not just on whom they hire but on the number of minority candidates they interview for openings, has encouraged more colleges to consider more minority candidates for jobs.

Another way to ultimately get more minority representation in head coaching positions would be to increase the pool of minority assistant coaches and grad assistants so that there are more available minority coaches to be considered for the head coaching positions. For example, the rules could be revised so that colleges would be permitted to hire a third grad assistant coach if that coach is a minority (colleges are currently only allowed to hire two). Colleges need to take a more proactive stance in hiring minorities as offensive and defensive coordinators, assistant coaches, assistant athletic directors and all entry-level administrative and coaching positions. Thus, it would seem that the minority percentage data at these positions around college campuses is as equally important as the data at the leadership positions. According to the study, an overwhelming majority of the coordinators and assistant coaches last year were white: 88 percent of the offensive and defensive coordinators and 72 percent of the assistant coaches. It would be interesting to see the minority percentage data at the assistant and entry-level administrative positions as well, but my guess is (and it is purely speculation) that it pretty much follows suit with the minority percentage data in the leadership administrative positions.

Friday, January 27, 2006
 
Rondo Rides in Style, NCAA Says "OK"

As a very proud University of Kentucky alumnus, I hesitate to bring further attention to this story. However, Eddie Sutton, Dwayne Casey, Chris Mills, Claude Bassett and Hal Mumme provided enough fodder for truckloads of jokes about the (allegedly) corrupt nature of the University of Kentucky athletic department, so hopefully my decision to post this is simply the electronic equivalent of delicately placing a smoldering match on top of an already blazing forest fire.

Valerie Honeycutt and Jerry Tipton of the Kentucky Herald-Leader filed a report in Friday's edition detailing circumstances surrounding the smooth ride currently being driven by sophomore PG Rajon Rondo. I would imagine that the collective public muttering was quite audible around Lexington when student-athlete Rondo was seen cruising the streets around campus in a 2006 Yukon Denali.

The car is apparently titled to Derek Anderson, a member of Kentucky's 1996 national championship team, a Louisville native and current member of the Houston Rockets. Anderson and Rondo apparently forged a tight bond while Rondo was still a young prep star in Louisville, and according to the Herald-Leader, the NCAA investigated Rondo's driving the ex-Wildcat's vehicle prior to Rondo bringing it onto campus. The NCAA felt that Anderson and Rondo's relationship was genuine and that it developed well prior to Rondo's becoming a recruiting target of Tubby Smith's staff. Therefore, Rondo driving Anderson's SUV meets the standards set forth by the NCAA and violates none of its regulations. My favorite part of the article is that Rondo "uses the vehicle often, but not exclusively". Of course he does! What right-minded sophomore in college could get by with only a 2006 Yukon Denali. Every time my mom's old 1983 yellow Volvo station wagon conked out on the side of a campus thoroughfare, I recognized the desparate need that I had for backup transportation. Unfortunately, my backup was my own two feet. If I had only known the "Rondo Rule", I would have made a point to develop a "mentor-protege" relationship with Rick Robey when he was living down the street from my childhood home.

Too bad Sam Bowie did not decide to settle down in Toronto after his playing career was over. That would have prevented my buddies and me from snickering at Jamaal Magloire when he was seen sputtering down Euclid Avenue in a broken-down, early 80's Toyota Corolla.

 
Don't Give Away Those Tickets!

Giving away tickets to the game? You never know what you're going to miss. For one Los Angeles man, exams and birthday parties have kept him from witnessing history -- twice.
    Stern, a vice chairman of a Los Angeles asset management firm, was an 18-year-old sophomore at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., in 1962 when he bought two tickets to see the then-Philadelphia Warriors play the New York Knicks in nearby Hershey.

    But when one of his professors scheduled a test for the next day, Stern gave the tickets away -- and thus failed to see Wilt Chamberlain score 100 points.

    Now Stern is a Lakers season ticket-holder, meaning he had tickets to see Sunday's game against the Raptors. But Stern opted to attend a birthday party instead -- and thus failed to see Kobe's 81-point outburst.

    "Two historic games, 44 years and 3,000 miles apart with one common thread -- stupid me," Stern told the Los Angeles Times.

 
Stadium JumboTrons: More than Just a Marketing Tool

Greg Garber of ESPN has a fascinating look at a new use for the big-screens at stadiums. As it turns out, some players -- including Tiki Barber -- have used the screens during plays to locate blockers if they get disoriented. For example:
    "If I'm run blocking, I can look at the JumboTron to see where the running back is," Vikings receiver Marcus Robinson said. "And if there's a man chasing you, you're looking at the JumboTron to see where he is. If you're running, instead of turning around and [slowing], you can look up at the screen and see if he's gaining, or if he's coming in a different direction."
Yet another way that technology is changing sports. Check out the whole article.

 
NBA Dress Code, Genetic Testing of NBA Players, and Player Autonomy

This afternoon I will be speaking at the University of Pennsylvania Law School as a guest of the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Labor and Employment Law. I am one of three panelists on a panel that will discuss the new NBA dress code, genetic testing of NBA players, and broader issues of autonomy and privacy in the NBA. The other two panelists are Alan Milstein, who needs no introduction, and Hal Biagas, deputy counsel of the National Basketball Players' Association. The panel's moderator is Professor N. Jeremi Duri of Temple Law School. The panel is part of the Professional Sports and Entertainment Symposium, which will also be featuring Donald Fehr, Executive Director of the Major League Players' Association, among other distinguished speakers.

In conjunction with this talk, I'm pleased to make available a draft of my new law review article: The Reckless Pursuit of Dominion: A Situational Analysis of the NBA and Diminishing Player Autonomy, 8 U. Pa. J. Lab. & Emp. L. __ (forthcoming, 2006). I invite you to download the draft on the Social Science Research Network, and I welcome any comments (my e-mail address is mmccann[at]mc.edu]). Here is an abstract -- and I will post more on it next week:
The Reckless Pursuit of Dominion examines required genetic testing of NBA players from a situational vantage point, integrating socio-psychological, legal, and ethical analyses. The core argument may be expressed as follows: required genetic testing of NBA players appears consistent with a broader and largely deleterious agenda by the NBA to control players. Since implementation of the rookie wage scale in 1995 through the recent imposition of a paternalistic player dress code, the NBA has increasingly usurped player autonomy. The NBA’s capacity to do so largely rests in its adroit manipulation of the situational influences that influence fans and media. For instance, because of unappreciated cognitive biases, fans and media often embrace distorted views of player’s maturity, arrest propensity, and collegiate experiences. As a result, NBA players tend to be wrongly identified as immature, out-of-control, and hopelessly uneducated. In turn, the NBA has designed policies that ostensibly remedy these feigned “problems” while less-detectably transferring autonomy from player to league. In short, the league sees that others often fail to see, and that enables it to surreptitiously control players.
Here is an excerpt from The Reckless Pursuit of Dominion on the new NBA Dress Code (from pages 11-12):
A number of NBA players have characterized the dress code as “racist” and emblematic of the NBA’s increasing control over player autonomy and human expression. Perhaps bolstering this sentiment are recent NBA endorsement and licensing agreements that appear to celebrate the very lifestyle norms prohibited by the dress code. Consider the league’s decision to hire British comedian Sacha Cohen (a.k.a. “Ali G”) to promote the NBA in television commercials. In the commercials, Cohen is dressed in a tracksuit accessorized by a large, bulky chain, while donning a skullcap and wraparound sunglasses—in other words, his attire expresses the very same “street” or “hip-hop” culture prohibited by the dress code. Similarly, the league has licensed a videogame called “NBA Ballers,” which pitches itself as, “the exclusive one-on-one basketball videogame highlighting the bling-bling lifestyle of NBA players.” In the game, players take on the identity of actual NBA stars and accumulate “mansions, cars, jewelry, women -- if you've spotted it on ‘MTV Cribs,’ you're going to see it here" . . . Indeed, when the league exercises its authority, it celebrates “bling-bling”; when the players exercise their autonomy, the league castigates “bling-bling.”
And lastly, here is an excerpt on required genetic testing (from page 50):
Perhaps we should not find it surprising that an NBA player represents the first professional athlete petitioned to take a DNA test, that the player skipped college altogether, that the test was designed to detect the presence of an obscure illness, that comparable and less invasive exams had already been passed, and that an NBA team perceived broad public support and moral authority in orchestrating such a requisition. Indeed, the entire Eddy Curry affair appears consistent with the NBA’s grander effort to extract player rights, and to do so while enjoying broad situational support in the face of counter-factual evidence.
As noted above, this is a pre-edited draft, so there may be a typographical error or two, and I would not be surprised if there are perhaps several blue-booking errors in the footnotes (and my apologies to the Journal's editors for that!). In any event, I hope that you get a chance to download and read it. Like I said, I very much welcome any feedback by e-mail.

Thursday, January 26, 2006
 
SEC Takes Action for Fans Rushing the Court

The SEC did the right thing in fining the University of Tennessee as a penalty for its fans rushing the court after the upset win over Florida. The only problem -- $5,000 is not much of a fine. On the other hand, UT will likely take measures to prevent students from rushing the court again -- a second offense is $25,000, and a third will cost them $50,000. That will get a university's attention. (CNN/SI). The penalties are the result of a conference rule that went into effect in December 2004.

Andy Katz wondered if any other leagues have similar penalties and found only one -- the Big Ten imposes a fine of $10,000, but only after the third offense.

I have written about the dangers of students rushing the court on many occasions (column, post, post, post). And last fall, a student in Minnesota was killed by a falling goalpost when students stormed the field after a football game (10/27/05). How many serious injuries or deaths should it take for colleges to do what pro teams have done for decades -- keep fans off the field/court? Let's hope the other conferences follow the lead of the SEC before more injuries are caused by this preventable practice.

UPDATE: Skip at The Sports Economist has more on the economics of crowd control.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006
 
Federal Judge: Anti-Scalping Law Unconstitutional

Not everyone who shelled out $300+ for a ticket to the Super Bowl in Detroit is thrilled to be seeing the Seahawks and the Steelers. But those with unwanted tickets can breathe (a little) easier after a court ruling last week. A federal judge held that a Detroit City Ordinance that prohibited the sale of sports or entertainment tickets at any price in public places (basically, an anti-scalping law) violated the First Amendment's protection of commercial speech. (Ashenfelter, "Taking a loss? You can sell that extra ticket," Det. Free Press, 01/20/06; Shepardson, "Federal judge axes Detroit's ban on scalping," Det. News, 01/19/06).

The court ruled -- under the Central Hudson test -- that the ordinance restricted lawful activity (the sale of a good at or below face value) and that the asserted government interests (regulating traffic and congestion; ensuring security of patrons) were not substantial and not furthered by the law. The court distinguished the sale of tickets at or below face value from re-sale above face value, which is illegal under Michigan law. So, you can get your money back, but if you want a profit, better to try eBay. You can read the court's opinion here.

For one take on scalping laws, see "The Follies of Anti-Scalping Laws" by Happel and Jennings. For an economic perspective, see "Another Look at Anti-Scalping Laws: Theory and Evidence" by Depken.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006
 
CUSA Refs Choke after Penders Passes Out

Conference USA's assistant commissioner Chris Woolard issued a statement on Monday, January 23, 2006 admitting that the officiating crew handling the Houston-UAB men's basketball game on Saturday, January 21, 2006 "exercised poor judgment" by refusing to rescind a technical foul assessed to Cougars coach Tom Penders after Penders was rushed from the floor on a stretcher after collapsing on the UH sideline.

Penders fell face first onto the court after watching the Coogs' leading scorer, Oliver Lafayette, get whistled for a foul as UAB's Wen Mukubu drove to the basket late in the first half. Apparently believing that Penders was reacting to his disbelief with the foul call, an official issued a technical foul on Penders. Penders, who has a defibrillator in his chest as the result of a congenital heart defect, collapsed as a result of that heart condition and a bout with dehydration, Houston officials told the USA Today. However, even after Penders was wheeled out off of the court by medical personnel, the officials refused to rescind the technical foul assessed to him, apparently alleging either that he should have more appropriately collapsed away from the field of play or that they were not impressed by the lengths to which Penders was taking his theatrical play. Penders did return to coach the second half of the game without further incident, but the Cougars lost the game by three points (UAB made both technical free throws).

C-USA's statement alleges that "appropriate action will be taken" against the officiating crew in question, but no details were released. According to Michael Murphy of the Houston Chronicle, this bone-headed decision was not the only role that the zebras had in the outcome of the game. The officiating crew of Harrell Allen, Frankie Bordeaux and John Hampton called 45 fouls on the two teams, who shot a combined 59 free throws. Admittedly, I have seen only highlights of this game so I cannot comment on the effect that the incessant whistle-blowing and the Penders incident had on the flow of the game and its eventual final outcome, but at some point, should officials who are apparently this incompetent be required to face public questioning about their performance, just as Penders and his players are required to do after they have a terrible game?

Monday, January 23, 2006
 
Cold Shoulder

Things are getting ugly in Houston between the greatest player in Astros history, 1B Jeff Bagwell, and team owner Drayton McLane. Houston Chronicle columnist Richard Justice summed up the current situation in a column in Sunday's Chronicle, describing the looming stalemate between player and management regarding Bagwell's future as a player for the Astros.

January 31, 2006 is the deadline for the Astros to file a disability claim on an insurance policy that the Astros took out on Bagwell at the time that he signed a five-year, $85 million contract after the 2000 season. Bagwell put up incredible offensive numbers throughout most of the 1990's, despite spending much of the decade hitting in the cavernous Astrodome. Of the first ten seasons that Bagwell spent in the major leagues, he made over $6.5 million only twice, despite making four NL All-Star teams, being named the NL Rookie of the Year in 1991, winning the NL MVP award in the strike-shortened 1994 season and leading his team to the postseason in 1997, 1998 and 1999. From a business perspective, he and Craig Biggio were the faces of a franchise beloved enough by its fans to support the construction of then-Enron Field (now Minute Maid Park). After the 2000 season, Bagwell was finally awarded with a substantial but heavily backloaded contract - money that he unquestionably had earned while being underpaid for several seasons as compared to other MLB first baemen during those years.

Bagwell was always known for his intense weight training regimen, and between 1996 and 2004 he played in all but 31 of his team's 1,296 regular season games. Off the field, Bagwell was held out by his teammates and his competitors as the consummate professional and clubhouse leader, quietly setting an example and serving as a role model for the young players surrounding him. Sadly, Bagwell's health took a devastating turn in 2005, when a bothersome degenerative shoulder condition sidelined him for all but 39 games, with most of those being to limited to pinch-hit appearances down the stretch of the season due to the fact that his shoulder condition prevented him from being able to throw a ball.

Now Bagwell's inability to throw, which also plagued him for a couple of seasons prior to 2005, and the $17 million guaranteed to him for the 2006 season have rendered him a target in the eyes of memory-deprived Houston fans as well as management. Astros representatives claim that if Bagwell cannot throw, then he is "disabled" pursuant to the terms of his contract with the team, and the Astros are entitled to receive $15.6 million in insurance proceeds. Bagwell believes that he can play and should be given every opportunity to prove so in spring training, which is still more than six weeks away. In a USA Today report, Bagwell is quoted as saying, "Nothing is going to keep me from attempting to play baseball next season. Nothing." It appears, according to Justice's report, that the Astros are prepared to forcibly shelve arguably the greatest player in team history against his wishes, a move that would potentially save the team $15.6 million but that may lead to an ugly courtroom fight and irreparable damage in the eyes of Astros players and fans.

This situation inspires many legal and ethical questions, including several that are specific to major league baseball, where contracts are guaranteed, unlike the NFL where teams have the ability to shed players (and their accompanying salaries) in the event that they encounter health problems that prevent them from performing up the team's desired standards. It also sends a message to professional athletes that putting off a big payday at the present with hopes of a bigger one down the road may come with its own unique share of consequences. If one was to compare the average performance and salary of Bagwell over the course of his entire career to those performances and salaries of others in similar roles, the results would likely indicate that Bagwell's performance was above-average and his salary was reasonable and deserved. However, the fact that a large chunk of that money is being paid to him at a point where he is no longer able to perform up to the levels that he did during the prime of his career has resulted in a heart-wrenching fight that seems likely to leave a permanent stain on a Hall of Fame career. As with the A-Rod sweepstakes several years ago, the players' union's stranglehold also prevents any individual player from opting to decrease the amount due to him under his contract, regardless of his own wishes and cirucmstances. While there are few situations in which multi-millionaire athletes like Bagwell deserve our heartfelt pity, unfortunate situations like this one certainly prove that the collective greed and ego of the players and owners leave little room for compromise and great opportunity for heartbreak.

 
Kobe Bryant Scores 81 Points in Game Against Raptors

Now seems as good a time as ever to invite you to read my law review article "Illegal Defense: The Irrational Economics of Banning High School Players from the NBA Draft."

Seriously, that was quite a performance by Kobe last night. 81 points, on 28-46 shooting, is probably the most points we'll see scored in a very, very long time. In fact, it is the second-highest one-game total in NBA history, behind Wilt Chamberlain's 100 in 1962. Just think: Michael Jordan, George Gervin, Larry Bird, Dominque Wilkins, David Thompson, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Clyde Drexler, Reggie Miller--none of them accomplished Kobe's feat last night.

And, like his three championship rings, Kobe thrived last night despite not having ever played one minute of college basketball. Somehow, someway, he persevered.

And isn't it amazing that, by most accounts, five of the top 10 players in the NBA skipped college (Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Kevin Garnett, Amare Stoudemire, and Tracy McGrady)--and guys like Jermaine O'Neal, Al Harrington, Eddy Curry, and Rashard Lewis aren't too shabby either--and yet only 8 percent of the 450 or so NBA players skipped college? And then you think about the success of guys like Al Jefferson, Dwight Howard, J.R. Smith, Josh Smith, Shaun Livingston, Sebastian Telfair and (certainly based on the last month) Kendrick Perkins, and you begin to wonder why the NBA, if it had its way, would have prevented all of them from entering the NBA until after they played abroad for a year or, more likely, for a college or university that would have generated a lot of money from them?

Oh, wait, maybe that last point has something to do with the new NBA age limit. Hmm.

Saturday, January 21, 2006
 
Breaking an Unwritten Rule? Coaches Who Talk about Their Players' Intelligence

Reading the Boston Herald this morning, a quote from Boston Celtics' coach Doc Rivers stuck out. (Steve Bulpett, "Blount and Banks Pine for Action," Boston Herald, Jan. 21, 2006). It concerns his decision to elevate rookie point guard Orien Greene to the back-up point guard position, while demoting veteran point guard Marcus Banks (pictured to the left with Rivers) to third-string status:
“Orien is definitely the backup point,” said Rivers. “There’s no doubt about that. Orien’s more solid, smarter, stronger, bigger. He gives me some size at that position. He just does a lot of little things that I like.”
"Smarter"? Sure, he is likely referring to Banks' "basketball smarts," or lack there-of, but it's not certain and his lack of specificity may be meaningful or at least damning. To publicly chastise a player's intelligence strikes me as a little inappropriate. Sure, we do it all the time with certain athletes (e.g., Manny Ramirez), just as we poke fun of politicians (e.g., think of your favorite joke about President Bush and I bet it pertains to his perceived intelligence) as well as celebrities (especially when they start opining about matters beyond their knowledge--e.g., Jane Fonda endorsing North Vietnamese treatment of American prisoners of war).

But it seems different when a coach publicly comments about a player's intelligence. I imagine we might feel similarly if a senator publicly called John Kerry "smarter" than George Bush, or if another actor called Alec Baldwin smarter than Jane Fonda (bad example!). There seems to be an unwritten rule that they shouldn't do that--call it a "situational deference" that is accorded to persons within a particular situation (think about all those times when you've told your friends or co-workers "just don't go there" with a certain remark because you were concerned about its possible effect on others present -- that's the situation at-play).

Should coaches talk about their players' intelligence? Is there really an unwritten rule at-play?

Friday, January 20, 2006
 
Lifetime Baseball Ticket for Iran Hostages

25 years ago today, the day Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the 40th U.S. President, Iran released the 52 Americans being held hostage by student revolutionaries (a leader of which, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad--allegedly pictured above, third from left--is now Iran's president). The students were upset that the United States had admitted Iran's ailing and deposed shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, in for medical treatment (we can only imagine the kinds of people who would hurt innocent persons because others receive medical care). The hostages were diplomats and military personnel, and they were held for a harrowing 444 days, during which time they were regularly blindfolded, tied, and tortured.

When they returned to the U.S., they were greeted with parades and other welcome-back festivities. Unbeknownst to at least me and I suspect others, they also received an extraordinary gift from Major League Baseball: a lifetime pass to any major or minor league game. Les Carpenter of the Washington Post details how some of them have used their pass over the last 25 years. (Carpenter, "Safe at Home," Washington Post, 1/20/2006, at A01). Some have used it often, others never, and others have used it to help heal family problems generated by the hostage crisis.

Here is how the idea emerged:

What is the reward for suffering? Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn discussed the topic one day in the middle of the hostage crisis with Jeremiah Denton, a Navy admiral who had been held captive in Vietnam and later became a senator from Alabama, as they sat at a baseball game in Cincinnati. Sometime that afternoon, Kuhn is convinced, the idea of a lifetime baseball pass was discussed, though he can't remember the actual conversation. What he does know is that the gift is unique. "You know, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you that we gave out passes to anyone other than them," Kuhn, who retired in 1984, said recently.

Obviously, nothing can compensate for what those hostages endured, but a lifetime ticket is certainly a nice gesture. Major League Baseball has often been criticized over the years, but they did right on this one.

Having said that, I had a question after reading this piece: Not to dampen the feel-goodness of this story, but if we assume that the ticket is non-transferable, then what happens if some of the ex-hostages hate baseball and want to sell it, especially those in need of money? If the ticket doesn't require an I.D., then presumably that wouldn't be much of a problem. But does it require an I.D.? The article at one point alludes to an ex-hostage telling a ticket window "who he is," so perhaps there is some kind identification required. While many of us would find a lifetime baseball ticket of extraordinary valuable, we all know people who would never use it. One would hope they too have found value in the ticket.

One other thought: if the lifetime ticket could somehow be sold or traded, would the "lifetime" duration remain tied to the lifespan of the ex-hostage who received the ticket, or the new owner/possessor?

 
A Few Good Links

As the weekend thankfully approaches, here are few posts worth checking out:

1) Professor Gregory Bowman at Law Career Blog helps law students compare law firms. A useful and engaging commentary for those students interested in working in law firms, and particularly those who value things like quality of life and firm culture:
[H]ow are associate compensation schemes and law firm culture related? Average salaries are only the tip of the informational iceberg, and compensation schemes vary widely . . . Compensation set by committee means that there are insiders and outsiders--and try as you might, someone gets shafted. And the process becomes enormously political. The "Eat What you Kill" approach lowers the infighting factor, but it leads some partners to hoard work if they can get paid more for doing work themselves instead of handing it off. That, of course, is bad for the associates.
2) Professor Mike Dimino at Concurring Opinions compares criticism of referees with criticism of judges. Earlier this week, John Powers (are referees too old?) and Greg Skidmore (did the NFL sandbag Pete Morelli?) both analyzed referees, and Professor Dimino provides another terrific analysis:
My question is predominantly a practical one: Do restrictions on criticism of sports officials add to their respect? Does a sports league, or do individual officials, gain anything when the league prohibits a coach from saying that a particular official blew a call when replay after replay makes that fact clear to everyone? Is the speech ban prophylactic, in that the real goal is to eliminate comments relating to potential bias or limit violence? What, then, explains the leagues' apparent acceptance of on-field criticisms of officials (e.g., Marv Levy: "You over-officious jerk!")?
3) Sports Law Blog reader Kirk LeCureux has just started US Rugby Blog, a blog dedicated to starting a professional rugby league in the United States. Would such a league work? Would American consumers find rugby "too foreign"?

Bonus Link: My friend Jennifer Yen is staring in a film called Stalemates. She doesn't appear to be using her law degree, though, as she plays an assassin. Anyway, it's nice to see attorneys who have other life skills (although some say all litigators are really actors, so who knows).

Thursday, January 19, 2006
 
Fight Night with the. . .NBA? Torts 101

Law professors all over the U.S. have new fodder for a cool new law exam question.

So get the facts, and allow me to do something I've always wanted to do: "Evaluate plausible liabilities;" or, "Discuss all plausible tort claims."

I know I'm opening the proverbial can of worms here, and I welcome all comments (don't get into who owns United Center, etc.), but after a quick perusal of the facts, here are some cursory thoughts:

Mrs. Davis vs. Fan
Assault:
Mrs. Davis must prove (1) apprehension of (2) immediate battery. She would argue that she was facing Fan and felt reasonably threatened, and that Fan knew with substantial certainty that his acts would cause such apprehension.
Fan uses affirmative defense, saying that by attending the game, Mrs. Davis impliedly consents to being the subject of a reasonable amount of taunting; after all, professional sports venues are customarily confrontational. Thus, he'll argue, Mrs. Davis' apprehension was unreasonable.
Fan may argue self defense, if she indeed was yelling at him.
Battery: The facts speak to Fan touching Mrs. Davis' arm. Mrs. Davis must prove (1) harmful or offensive contact (2) with her person.
Fan could defend himself by saying Mrs. Davis is being "super-sensitive," and he had no reason to know of her sensitivity to a simple touch. He could also assert the same defenses as he did for assault.

Mrs. (and Mr.) Davis vs. United Center
Negligence:
Davises argue that Owners owe a duty to relatives of visiting players, that the duty was breached by lack of security or bad seating arrangements. But for bad security, Mrs. Davis would not have been subjected to the ensuing harrassment, assault, battery.
Davises could argue negligence in unreasonably selling beer.

Fan vs. United Center
Negligence:
Citing recent developments
, Fan would argue that United Center security breached their duty to the fans by not providing enough security to keep players out of the stands.
Memo to NBA players: DON'T GO INTO THE STANDS. EVER.

Fan v. Mr. Davis
Assault:
Fan argues that once Mr. Davis (6'9'' 265) walked toward him, Fan was reasonable in feeling apprehension of immediate battery. Mr. Davis could assert the affirmative defense of defense of others, arguing that even if he was mistaken as to Mrs. Davis' endangerment, he reasonably believed she was in danger.
False imprisonment: Fan argues that Mr. Davis' threatening present was a sufficient enough act of restraint to keep Fan in a bounded area.

Fan vs. Knicks: Theory of respondeat superior.

There are a myriad other liabilities, issues, defenses and theories, including Me vs. NBA for intentional infliction of emotional distress. But, have at it, have fun at it.

 
From Poms to Pain

As cheerleading squads have moved from a focus on simple support for the team that they are representing into teams separate from the sport that they are cheering on, the moves and routines utilized by cheerleaders have become less stationary pom-pom to difficult and dangerous gymnastic-type moves. As a result, injuries to cheerleaders have greatly increased. Two recent studies in Pediatrics highlight these dangers.

The first study, published in April 2005, found that the high-impact physical activity found in cheerleading and gymnastics led to independently greater odds of stress fractures among girls than basketball or soccer. “It is biologically plausible that these activities are most strongly associated with stress fractures, because the load applied to bone can equal 2 to 5 times body weight for jogging or running and up to 12 times body weight for jumping and landing, which are repetitive maneuvers in cheerleading and gymnastics.”

A second study, published earlier this month found that 208,800 children from the ages of five to eighteen were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for cheerleading-related injuries from 1990-2002. During this period, there was a 110% increase in these injuries from 1990 to 2002. As this study only involved reporting in emergency rooms, this number is surely greater, not taking into account treatment by trainers, specialists, or family physicians.

As a solution, the study suggests that a uniform set of rules be implemented and enforced nationally. Further, the doctors recommend the formation of a national database to document cheerleading-related injuries to further development injury prevention. Finally, the study calls for mandatory safety training and certification for cheerleading coaches.

The problem is that some state athletic associations do not consider cheerleading to be a sport that the respective associations would govern. As such, schools lack proper equipment, facilities, and training. “Some cheerleaders practice in hallways and practice on hard surfaces instead of mats, so when they fall of a pyramid or from the air and they land on hard surfaces, the chances for injury are drastically increased.”

While parents often sign-off on waivers for their students to participate in athletics with the understanding of possible injuries related to the sport and courts making favorable decisions to schools, teams, and coaches, when dangerous conditions are created and the proper safety measures are not taken by schools and teams, liability may arise.

Why would athletic associations not rush to define cheerleading as a sport to bring proper safety and training before lawsuits begin piling up?

Hat tip: Anna Johnson (Chicago Tribune)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006
 
UPDATE: Angels v. Anaheim Trial Begins

Last week, the trial began in the case between the Angels baseball team and the city of Anaheim. The issue -- whether the Angels' name change to the absurd "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" violated the provision in their lease which required the team name to "include the name Anaheim therein." The team argues that its new name satisfies the clause; the city argues that sports teams are known by the geographic title before the nickname -- in this case, Los Angeles. Coverage of the Angels this past year should support the team's interpretation -- the Angels were routinely referred to as "Los Angeles," "LA", or "LAA," rather than "Anaheim" or "ANA."

In its opening arguments, the city claimed that the Anaheim clause was the "bait" dangled in front of the city so that it would agree to spend $20 million to renovate the stadium. "The city council would never have approved of this deal with the possibility the team would be called the Los Angeles Angels, or that Anaheim would be liquidated from the name of the team," the lead attorney stated in his opening argument, while fans wearing "We Are Not L.A." t-shirts looked on from the gallery.

Now, it will be left to the Orange County jury both to interpret the lease provision and decide what both sides intended when entering into the contract. The trial is expected to last four weeks. (Shaikin, "Opening Shots Fired in Angels, Anaheim Trial," LA Times, 01/13/2006; Parsons, "Can Angels Name Spat Have a Winner?" LA Times, 01/15/2006; Flaccus, "Angels' Name Change Trial Begins," Forbes (AP), 01/13/2006).

Related Posts:
Why Not the O.C. Angels? (1/3/05)
Judge Allows Angels to Change Name (1/22/05)
California Assembly: Angels Engaged in False Advertising (5/17/05)

 
Non-Legal but Philosophical Baseball Thoughts

I ventured into the realm of football with my last post, and did so with a very "baseball" state of mind--I complained about refs. I suppose baseball would be my expertise (must you pay for my stats?), so here are some random thoughts.

1) Many baseball insiders--coaches, managers, general managers, scouts--in baseball believe that the pendulum of player grading has swung too far in the direction of sabermetrics; or at least, that too big a deal is made of it. Subscribers to the dynamics of dialectics (and baseball purists) would argue that the pendulum will swing back somewhere to the synthesis of balance between strict adherence to sabermetrics (thesis) and reasonable use of scouting the intangibles (antithesis).

I do not doubt sabermetrics' usefulness for economically valuing players for the purposes of arbitration or free agency. However, inter alia, there is debate as to its limited effectiveness in predicting minor league prospects' success, as well as the normative question of HOW it should be used. Mike Scioscia, Manager of "The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Orange County within Southern California" prioritizes the statistic that gauges how often a player goes from first to third. Since his team won the A.L. West in 2005 (and won the 2002 World Series), is he a better sabermetrician than Billy Beane? Does Scioscia even believe in the value of sabermetrics?

2) Front office dynamics. Professor McCann recently noted the new, young brand of General Managers in MLB. Besides a grasp for player development and the overused, talked-to-death sabermetrics, these General Managers must also fully understand the MLBPA, including issues such as the Rule V Draft (of which I was a draftee in 2002, and found out from the Cubs after my Crim Law final), player options, arbitration, free agency, the amateur draft and how they affect each other.

Generally, the dynamic at the top of baseball organizations is set up thus: if the General Manager is a veteran "baseball guy" whose expertise is scouting talent, then he'll be complemented with a Special Assistant who is the procedural expert; if the General Manager is the procedural expert, then the Special Assistant is the veteran talent scout.

3) If I owned a team (I'm saving up), Kim Ng would be my General Manager. She has a first rate mind (Univ. of Chicago Law) and experience, so I do think she knows the game. Additionally (and much less importantly), the enlightened media would be over the top with this story and predictably favorable.

4) Professor McCann's post, here, is my favorite. I've made this same argument for years, albeit much less eloquently, and with a beer instead of coffee mug in front of me. A-Rod and other professional athletes don't get a "take 2."

Comments are welcome.

 
The Former Athlete as Counselor


Back on January 9th, Mike McCann posted a story on ex-athlete politicians (A Juke Move on Voters? Sports Acclaim and Becoming a Lawmaker). One of the questions that arose was why ex-athletes seemed to have such great success in the political arena. Some of the comments indicated that excellence and leadership skills in a particular sport could translate to the political arena, while others acknowledged that American politics often devolves into a popularity contest with celebrity being the more powerful force wielded by former athletes seeking political office.

As indicated in the post and subsequent comments, many former athletes, including minorities, run as Republicans. While this may be the result of a desire to self-preserve wealth accumulated through athletic achievement by aligning with a party that has more favorable fiscal policies towards the wealthy than Democrats, what about athletes that have fallen on troubled times and lost wealth and/or future earning potential?

One route has been community activism and involvement. One of the best examples is Marvin "Bad News" Barnes, former Providence College and ABA star. After being a two-time All-State selection at Providence's Central High School for undefeated state title teams in 1968 and 1969, he starred at Providence College, where he was twice named an All-American, leading PC to the Final Four in 1973.

Although selected as the No. 2 pick behind Bill Walton in the first round of the 1974 NBA draft, he signed a $2.2 million contract with the ABA Spirits of St. Louis. Though "Bad News" was named Rookie of the Year in 1975 (over Moses Malone) and was later chosen one of the ABA's greatest 30 players. He bounced around with four teams in the NBA from 1976-80, ending his career being cut by the Clippers after just 20 games. This is an excerpt from his days as a Boston Celtic:

"I remember this one game, I was sitting at the end of the bench," he recalled. "I had a towel over my head and I was snorting coke and my nose was bleeding. Don Chaney and Nate Archibald moved all the way up to the front and I had four or five seats between me and the next player. I was snorting coke and it was tearing my membranes up. Snorting it and blowing my nose. It was like my brains were coming out in the towel and I couldn't stop snorting it anyway. It was terrible, man. I was addicted."

During his basketball career and afterwards, his struggles with alcohol, drugs, and violence would lead him to being homeless on the streets of San Diego at the age of 28.

After stints in rehab and jail, “Bad News” returned to Providence, eventually founding the Rebound Foundation, “dedicated to providing a strong and sensitive platform for all members of the human family to receive and respect life's blessings through motivational messages, athletic pursuits, drugs, counseling, legal aide assistance, and basketball camps. We stand for the enormous opportunities within our reach. We recognize that to realize the potential and power of our innate talents, we will need to confront challenges and overcome obstacles.”

While Barnes’ demons continue to haunt him (he was arrested for disorderly domestic conduct on December 22 for an incident with a female friend), his program appears to have made some meaningful, positive contributions to his old neighborhood.

While many counselors claim success by drawing on their own experience in overcoming struggles with problems like drugs and alcohol to help those utilizing their services, does an athlete abuser attain some higher level of credibility with those in need? In the case of Barnes and other athletes that have struggled with addiction (Lawrence Taylor, Darryl Strawberry, Kevin Stevens, etc.), isn’t there a loss of connection with a counselee due to the level of fame and wealth accumulated and wasted? It is easy to point out potential for success to an all-star athlete as motivation, but what can these ex-athletes offer to those that do not enjoy professional-level athletic talent or potential? Are actual connections being made, or is athlete adulation clouding results? Are these athletes truly effective in giving court mandated talks as conditions of their probation?

 
Update on Harlem Ambassadors' FTC Complaint Against Harlem Globetrotters

Adam Kress of the Business Journal of Phoenix has an informative piece on a recent complaint filed by the Harlem Ambassadors with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission concerning the Harlem Globetrotters' use of exclusivity windows (Kress, "Competitor Files Federal Complaint Against Globetrotters," The Business Journal of Phoenix, 1/15/2006). The piece is available on MSNBC.com and we discussed the complaint back in December.

In sum, the Globetrotters negotiate exclusivity windows with arenas and other venues, and these windows restrict other basketball entertainment troupes from performing at the same venue eight weeks prior and six weeks after their shows. The Globetrotters claim that they only play three-and-a-half months a year, so the Ambassadors still have most of the year to play in those venues, and their failure to do so should suggest the obvious. The Ambassadors--through their CEO, Dale Moss--retort that the rest of year isn't basketball season. Moreover, notes Moss, "if the rest of the year was attractive, the Globetrotters would be playing then." Consequently, the Ambassadors--led by a female player, Lade Majic (pictured above with Charles Darwin)--appear to have little or no real chance of competing with the Globetrotters.

Kress interviews several persons for the story, including me:
Michael McCann, a leading sports attorney and professor at the Mississippi College School of Law, said the complaint could very well get the FTC's attention.

"I think the FTC will look into it and be concerned with the lack of competition over the years," he said. "Other acts like circuses have windows, but there still tends to be a good amount of competition."

McCann said the FTC also may view the three-and-a-half-month exclusivity window as excessive and make a change.

"This affects the Ambassadors, but also future teams that may want to get in on the action," he said. "Exclusivity windows have probably deterred others from trying to compete."

He also interviews Ralph Marchetta of the US Airways Center in Phoenix:
Such windows of exclusivity around performances are not uncommon, said Ralph Marchetta, vice president of entertainment for US Airways Center, where the Globetrotters will play two shows Jan. 21.

"In family-type show arrangements, it's fairly common to look for windows of protection because you're marketing to the same group of people," he said. "It can certainly be problematic, but it can be avoided."

Is this an example of survival of the fittest, or is it a classic case of monopolistic behavior?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006
 
Aged Zebras

As complaints about NFL referees start to seep into the news and the NFL throws them under the bus, I want to try to get ahead of the story by addressing what to me has been an obvious problem for years--that referees are too slow; i.e., old.

The players' average age is somewhere between 25 and 29, and these men among boys are arguably the best athletes in the world playing its most violent sport. To me it is an undeniable fact that no other sport in the world combines the power, strength, speed and intended collisions that NFL athlete possess and produce. And yet, while watching games, I can't help but chuckle at the middle aged men moving in uncoordinated slow motion all over the field, trying to patrol it. If the hand is indeed quicker than the eye, then the aged NFL referees are missing alot.

These slow, aged referees should be replaced with athletes--fast enough to keep up with plays, tough enough to get in close to the play, deft enough to see the intricacies of plays and quick enough to make the right calls from the best angle of each play.

Oh but there's a catch: See 29 U.S.C.A. S623 Section (a) of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Even the Refs can read it.

But Section 4(f)(1) of the very same statute allows the NFL a way out: "It shall not be unlawful for an employer. . .to take any action otherwise prohibited under subsections (a)-(e) of this section where age is a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the particular business. . ."

In determining whether age is a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary for the normal conduct of business under this statute, the NFL would have to show that the essence of its operations requires the age qualification (maximum age). The cours look at such factors as public safety (irrelevant here), but could argue that the safety of the players and referees is at stake.

Watch the Championship games this weekend more closely. The refs cannot keep up with plays. If millions of dollars weren't at stake, it'd be comedic. Future referees should not be any less knowledgeable about the rules, but they should be able to more effectively keep up with the speed of the players.

For those with interest in labor law, I welcome any and all comments.

 
Is that the NFL's Knife Sticking Out of the Zebra's Back?

The NFL made a public declaration yesterday that referee Pete Morelli made an error in Sunday's Steelers-Colts game when he reversed the call giving Troy Polamalu an interception, ruling that the safety did not control the ball before his own knee knocked it loose. (ESPN/AP story). It was certainly a close call on the field, and one that will have future ramifications for the definition of a "football move." Some people thought Morelli got it right; many others felt he erred. The NFL has now sided with the latter.

But should the NFL have publicly criticized its own official? As a long-time baseball umpire, I take great offense when league executives openly do not support the on-field judgment calls of game officials. Officials are human, and humans make errors (even with instant replay). This is part of any game that is played. Certainly, this officiating crew (and all officiating crews) should be critiqued, and their mistakes analyzed, by league officials, but these meetings should take place behind closed doors.

The only possible exception is when a call directly impacts the outcome of a game. The one example I can think of is the last time the NFL outed its officials -- the botched pass interference call in the Giants/49ers play-off game a few years back. But, thanks to bad play-calling and a missed field goal, the Polamalu non-interception did not change this game's outcome.

It seems to me that the NFL is using Morelli as a whipping boy for a weekend of bad officiating. The zebras were heavily criticized for a pass interference call against the Patriots, a non-call on pass interference against the Colts and a number of other miscues throughout the play-offs. NFL officials should be much better than this, especially in the play-offs. But the reprimand should come in private. By sacrificing an experienced official to protect its own image, the NFL made an error in judgment far worse than any made during this weekend's games.

Monday, January 16, 2006
 
New Way to Post Comments

As the blog has grown, we have found it necessary to have more control on the content posted in our Comments section. It also appears that HaloScan deletes the older comments after a certain amount of time. Thus, we have updated the blog to use a new Comments feature.

To post a comment, please click on the "Post a Comment" link after each post. We have left the "Old Comments" link up, so that readers can view the existing comments, but these will be taken down after a few weeks. Please do not post there. If you experience any problems with the new Comments section, please email us.

You can read all of the comments for a post by clicking on the "Comments" link and scrolling down past the original post. We will moderate the Comments section and reserve the right to delete any posting that is, in our judgment, outside the scope of this blog (i.e., an advertisement) or a violation of good taste.

As always, thank you for reading and for sharing your insightful thoughts on our posts.

 
Could Gaming Help Chicago Become an “Olympic” Kind of Town


One thing came to mind after da Bears loss to the Panthers last night outside of whether Ron Rivera (Bears Defensive Coordinator) still has a shot to take over in St. Louis: what are the chances of Chicago getting the summer Olympics in 2016?

While the U.S. Olympic Committee has yet to make any decisions on whether an American city will even be nominated to host the 2016 Games, Jim Scherr, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, stated in a press conference in Chicago that “[Chicago would] not only be an excellent host for an Olympic Games, but would have an opportunity to be a successful bidder if it chose to bide and if we chose to run.”

The biggest impediment to the Windy City’s bid: not having an appropriate venue for Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Hosting the Olympics requires a venue that would seat at least 80,000 people (the recently renovated Soldier Field only holds 61,500). While the Mayor’s exploratory committee would seek out both financial and physical aid in hosting the Summer Games from other cities, states and universities, the “gem” of the ceremonies would most certainly be in Chicago.

The idea has been circulated of possibly bringing in a second NFL franchise to Chicago that would play in a venue constructed for said team’s home games as well as for use in the hosting of the 2016 Games. While the idea of Chicago supporting a second NFL team seems daunting, there is precedent (the Cardinals played in Chicago and the greater metropolitan area until 1960). With the difficulties that bringing in a new NFL franchise presents, is there an easier solution? Maybe City Hall should look East

Mellon Arena, home to the Pittsburgh Penguins, is run down as is the surrounding neighborhood, which apparently has great accessibility to downtown Pittsburgh. Mario Lemieux and the rest of the ownership group had threatened to leave the area, but recently announced partnering up with Isle of Capri casinos. If Isle of Capri, which owns 15 casinos throughout the US, Europe, and the Bahamas, secures the state license to operate a Pittsburgh casino, it would build the casino in the lower Hill District, with a new facility for the Penguins in the same complex. Along with this is a plan for redevelopment of the area. Of note, Mario's crew has made it clear that there is a "risk" that the Penguins will leave town if their new friends don't get the slot machine license.

Some interesting questions arise out of the Pittsburgh case. Should there be a certain distance from gaming corporations and professional sports teams in terms of funding? How appropriate is it for a professional ownership group to strong-arm the state gaming board by threatening a team leaving town if a gaming license is not given?

If the Penguins deal goes through, could this not be a model for Chicago? It is no secret that Mayor Daley wants a casino in Chicago, so why not combine the ambitions for gaming with The Games? Such a venture would not only provide Chicago with a venue necessary for host city consideration, but a venue to host events like the Super Bowl and the Final Four.

 
"Cricket. . .More fun than Nuclear War!"

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since 1947 over the Kashmir Region, a region of particular scenic beauty. Their bilateral conflict is presently a global issue because they both have nuclear weapons--I know, yikes, right?

The two countries initiated peace talks in 2004, however, and tensions have eased. This week, the respective foreign secretaries are set to begin yet another round of talks. As important as these talks will be, the citizens of India and Pakistan will be focused elsewhere for confrontation--on the pitch whereon the cricket series between the two countries will be taking place.

At the risk of sounding like an overly naive peacenik, I just can't help but think that this series of cricket tests might just contribute to Indian-Pakisani peace. As sports fans, let's hope for a spirited and competitive series, where the citizens of both countries come away with pride for their athletes and respect for the opponents and the countries they represent.

 
Different Strokes for Different Folks? The Disparate Treatment of Young Actors and Young Pro Athletes

We often hear, with great derision and perhaps jealously, that young athletes shouldn't be paid so much money. For whatever reason(s), there appears to be a widespread intuition that athletes, and particularly young athletes, simply don't "deserve" their earnings (even though we are the ones responsible for their high salaries, but that's another story). We also sometimes hear admonitions that young athletes shouldn't skip college to sign million-dollar contracts, or that they are somehow ill-prepared for life as pro athletes (but not, interestingly enough, ill-prepared for life as soldiers risking their lives in Iraq, or life as McDonald's employees making the minimum wage).

"Why don't they want to stay in school and get an education?" "Why don't they want to mature under the learned hands of coaches like Joe Paterno and Fisher Berry?" "Why can't they just pay their dues and make a lot of money for colleges and universities like, you know, other athletes before them?" "What is wrong with them?"

Well, Forbes Magzine has complied a list of some of the world's best-paid young celebrities. Here are the names from the list with age/profession/2005 earnings:

Amanda Bynes
19-years old, actress, $1.5 million -- pictured above with Kevin Garnett

Hillary Duff
18-years old, actress/musician, $15 million -- I guess people didn't read those reviews for Cheaper By the Dozen 2 and Agent Cody Banks

Paris Hilton
24-years old, "personality," $6.5 million

Lebron James
20-years old, NBA player, $22.9 million -- doesn't seem overpaid compared to others on this list

Adriana Lima
24-years old, model, $4.5 million

Lindsay Lohan
19-years old, actress/musician, $11 million -- I don't think her recent interview in Vanity Fair will help her earnings in 2006

Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen
19-years old, actresses/NYU sophomores, $21 million -- pretty good part-time work for being full-time college students (although, to be fair, Mary-Kate did drop out of NYU in October 2005)

Frankie Muniz
20-years old, actor, $8 million -- his latest film, Agent Cody Banks II, generated this review from the New York Post's Lou Lumenick: "As family entertainment, it constitutes child abuse."

Ashlee Simpson
21-years old, singer/sister, $5.3 million -- all the pieces, pieces, pieces of her good fortune

Maria Sharapova
18-years old, tennis player, $18.2 million -- lucky her name isn't "Lebron James" or people might begin to worry about her earnings at such a young and impressionable age

Serena Williams
24-years old, tennis player, $12.7 million

Isn't it interesting that we seldom hear complaints about young actors and actresses earning millions for their work, even their lousy work, while young athletes--and especially young African-American male athletes--often draw the ire of society? What makes these two groups so different? Why is one presumed overpaid, while the other enjoys some peculiar benefit of the doubt, even when their work stinks?

Friday, January 13, 2006
 
Old Age and NFL Coaching

A week after taking over as the Buffalo Bills' general manager, 80-year-old Marv Levy has emerged as a possible replacement for Mike Mularkey, who resigned earlier this week as the Bills' head coach. Levy, a Hall of Fame coach for the Bills back in the 80s and 90s, would become the oldest coach in NFL history. That distinction currently belongs to . . . Marv Levy, who was 72-years-old when he last coached the Bills in 1997 (George Halas was also 72 when he coached the Chicago Bears in 1967).

Is an 80-year-old Levy "too old" to be an NFL head coach?

By mere virtue of his age, absolutely not. A blanket categorization of "80-year-old persons" would reflect stereotypical thinking and naiveté. There are productive and energetic 80-year-olds just as there are incapable and lazy 40-year olds. In part for that reason, age discrimination laws would likely prevent the NFL (or any pro sports league) from imposing an "age ceiling" on coaches. Though Levy serving as both GM and Head Coach would be challenging and perhaps regrettable, that may be true regardless of his age. Moreover, whether Levy is the right person for the job is a decision that Bills' owner Ralph Wilson should make and not the NFL through imposition of an arbitrary age ceiling.

It is interesting, though, that we have age restrictions on entry as a player, yet coaches and staff can presumably be of any age. Granted, player age restrictions more precisely reflect "age floors," but the same underlying premise remains: leagues would rather use age proxies than to allow players and teams to make their own decisions, presumably because leagues would rather engage in stereotypical thinking than analytical thinking.