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Tuesday, October 16, 2007
 
Recap of Day Two of "Reversing Field" Symposium

Sports Law Blog correspondent Will Li attended the outstanding "Reversing Field: Examining Commercialization, Labor and Race in 21st Century Sports Law," a symposium organized and hosted by West Virginia University College of Law on Thursday Oct. 3 and Friday Oct. 4. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking at the symposium on Thursday Oct. 3, and Will checks in with a great recap of what took place on Friday, October4:

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On Friday, October 4, I had the privilege to attend the second day of Reversing Field, a sports law symposium held at the West Virginia University College of Law covering a variety of issues on race and labor. Some highlights from the each panel:

At 9:00, the first panel of the day addressed gender issues in sports.

Moderator Joyce McConnell noted that each of the panelists would share "progresses and disappointments," a very apt statement, as the theme would continue throughout the day; advances in race and gender in sports are to be celebrated, but at the same time, there is much work yet to be done.

Prof. Barbara Osborne exploded the widely disseminated myth that Title IX is a "gender quota system that hurts men's sports," and noted several problems with the state of Title IX.

Prof. Deborah Brake introduced a point of progress in Title IX in the recent letter the Office of Civil Rights sent to all federally funded schools in June. The letter emphasizes the protection to be extended to pregnant NCAA athletes and was prompted by an ESPN "Outside the Lines" program. The swift reaction in the public and by the OCR to address the issue is, according to Prof. Brake, testament to the "broad success of Title IX in broadening the general status of female athletes."

The second panel brought scientific insights and a challenge. On the topic of drug testing in professional sports, there are few with more expertise than Dr. Julian Bailes. Dr. Bailes shared a brief history of performance enhancing steroids and went on to discuss his recent neurological studies on the brain tissue of deceased athletes, including football players Andre Waters, Mike Webster and Terry Long, and professional wrestler Chris Benoit. In addition, Dr. Bailes emphasized the dangers of online and OTC supplements.

Wm. David Cornwell Sr. energized the room by challenging the premise for athlete drug testing. Several of his questions spoke directly to the controversies involving the rights of professional athletes, public perception of athletes and the lax scientific standards in drug testing.

If consumers are not speaking with their wallets, why should we regulate? Why should athletes be subject to such scrutiny? According to Cornwell, "the only rationale that supports [the status quo] is that we're not dealing with men and women, but athletes."

Professor William Gould gave the keynote speech, speaking about the labor, baseball, and baseball's increasing international presence. He spoke passionately about the need to foster international competition, instead of "looking inward as we have in so many cases this century." Rather than make it look like we are plundering foreign resources with player mobility and free agency an ever increasing issue, from places like the Dominican Republic and Japan, we need to show respect and dignity for the countries involved. The WBC, while there were growing pains, was a step in the right direction.

The session on Economic Weapons saw several distinguished panelists address the issue of labor dispute and mediation.

Dennis Walsh gave a detailed background and behind the scenes look on the 1994/1995 MLB strike and the weapons employed by both sides throughout the process.

Professor Daniel Silverman went on to note that there is something unique about sports cases, from the curious reactions they can sometimes elicit from the judiciary (for example, in a case before a judge in Pittsburgh in which there was talk of picketing a Steelers game, the judge noted that he had tickets to that game, prompting both sides to look towards a more speedy settlement).

Agent Joe Rosen took a look at the power of the drafted player in Major League Baseball. As a publicized event, the MLB draft is just starting to gain attention, unlike the much heralded NFL and NBA drafts, and there are several unique features to MLB draftee contracts. Drafted players are really only negotiating for a signing bonus and, if college is a possibility, whether the team will be paying for their schooling. Therefore, it is up to the agent to negotiate the signing bonus of the player. The slotting system in the MLB has seen several developments in the last year, including MLB recommending a 10% decrease in bonuses to the teams, an August 15th signing deadline, after which teams would receive a compensatory pick for the next draft, and as a consequence of the signing deadline, the elimination of the "draft and follow" rule.

Despite these developments, which would seem to put more power in the hands of the negotiating teams and General Managers, signing bonuses rose this year to a record high. There were record bonuses handed out for their slots in the 4th, 5th and 6th rounds. The Nationals went as far as to give one of their picks, hyped Newton Mass prospect Jack McGeary, significantly higher than slot money in the 6th round (1.8 million dollars) in addition to paying for his education at Stanford, and allowing him to play for the Nationals during the summer. Yankees first rounder Andrew Brackman signed a major league deal worth 4.5 million, including a 3.8 million signing bonus. The deal could be worth over 13 million over its lifetime with various escalator clauses. In other words, with the influx of funds in baseball from MLBAM and record attendance, owners are evidently willing to pay more than ever before, despite what appear to be attempts by the league to curb the contracts being doled out.

The last panel took a look ahead, at "Purposeful Progress" and what the future might bring to the issues of sports and labor, gender and race.

Professor Andre Smith started the panel with a fascinating premise; using neo-classical economic terms to describe racial inequities. He applied his term "asymmetrical market imperfections" and rubric of free markets, perfect information, profit maximization and transaction costs to the NBA and its dress code. According to Prof. Smith, his concept shows "the context which . . . subordination can be described economically," and he notes that "the denigration of the free market does not seem to bother those who follow sports."

Professor Anne Lofaso gave an autobiographical presentation, noting the choices that were not available to her as a female athlete growing up and the pressures that were put on her to choose a gender neutral sport (in her case, diving). While speaking of her childhood, she reminisced about the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics, and analogized the government's "public relations show" that denied hundreds of athletes a chance to compete at amateur athletics' highest level to today's steroid outcry and the athletes that are caught in the furor.

The symposium gave panelists and attendants a chance to confront racial and gender issues in sports head on, and Professor andre douglas pond cummings highlighted this important fact. He noted several significant power imbalances that remain to be confronted. For example, there continues to be a denigration of American Indian images in all levels of sports. Regarding the power imbalance that exists for African Americans, while progress has been made in the NFL with the Rooney Rule, the NCAA has yet to enact a similar measure.

Finally, Professor Sherri Burr gave a view of athletes and professional sports from an entertainment aspect. The questions she asked included why we watch professional sports, what price athletes pay for their fame, and whether athletes have a responsibility to the public that scrutinizes them.

All told, the panels were well organized, thought-provoking and incredibly educational. The day's panels covered a wealth of issues concerning sports, race, gender and labor and I was glad to be present for the discourse.

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Thanks again to Will for this excellent recap of the events.





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