Sports Law Blog
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Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Sports Leagues as Courts of Appeals
The NFL this week fined the Saints' Reggie Bush $ 5000 for taunting the Bears' Brian Urlacher during Bush's touchdown catch-and-run in the NFC Championship game. Bush pointed towards Urlacher (running several yards behind him) at the end of the run, then did a front somersault into the end zone.
What is interest is that Bush did not draw a taunting penalty on the play. In other words, the game officials on the field either did not see it (unlikely, because it was pretty hard to miss, especially the somersault) or did not think it was worth a flag. Given that, I wonder how appropriate it is for the NFL to assess a fine.
Compare the usual (although not absolute) practice of courts of appeals. They generally will not address issues that were not raised and considered by the trial court. And they generally will defer to certain decisions that trial judges are deemed better able to make from their on-the-ground vantage point in a case (usually involving things such as witness credibility and the like).
League-imposed fines can be seen as an additional punishment, imposed from above (on appeal, if you like) and directed towards the individual player, a supplement to the in-game punishment assessed by the game officials. Not every penalty flag warrants a player fine. But perhaps the league should stay its hand in the opposite situation. If game officials did not believe an infraction occurred at the time, the leagues should defer to that initial determination and not impose a penalty or fine after-the-fact.
Some of this gets into whether we trust game officials on the ground to get things right and whether review from above, usually with the help of video, is proper and necessary. But that gets into what I think of instant replay, which is another, much longer post.
-- Posted by Howard Wasserman @ Comments (7) -- Post a Comment 1/30/2007 06:39:00 PM --