Friday, February 05, 2016
More intentional fouls
Following on my earlier post, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver now says he will have the league's Competition Committee explore ways to restrict the practice, explicitly recognizing it as an aesthetic concern. But any rule has to consider all responses and downstream consequences. For example, the first corrective was that off-the-ball fouls in the last two minutes of the game result in the fouled team shooting one free throw and keeping the ball; coaches have responded by having players jump on the bad shooter's back on a free throw attempt, which is considered a loose ball and not subject to that rule. Proposals have included limiting the number of times a team can do it, given the shooting team the option of getting the ball out of bounds (my preference), or giving the fouled team an extra free throw, to be taken by any player (a version of something suggested by a commenter to my earlier post).
Something to watch this off-season, especially to the extent the making of sports rules can tell us something about the making of laws.
Friday, January 29, 2016
Intentional fouls and limiting rules
The NBA practice of intentionally fouling a poor free-throw shooter away from the ball (and the entire play) is spreading. Last week, the Houston Rockets began the second half by having the same player foul an opponent's poor shooter five time in eight seconds. Last night, two different teams fouled someone before he could throw the ball inbounds. This season, 27 players have been subject to the "Hack-a-_____." In October, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that, although the league has been studying the issue, it was not considering rule changes to stop the practice.
Critics of the Infield Fly Rule often point use this situation to argue against the IFR, insisting that the situations are the same and, if basketball does not require a special rule, neither should baseball. But the argument does not work because the situations are not the same. Like the infield fly, "Hack-a-____" involve teams intentionally acting contrary to their ordinary athletic interests (defenders ordinarily do not want to foul, especially a player who is uninvolved in a play and no threat to score); it gives one team an advantage over the other (statistics of points-per-possession show that a good offensive team is substantially worse off having its worst FT shooter shoot over and over than running its regular offense); and the advantage is great enough that teams have the perverse incentive to keep doing it (hence the reason the strategy is spreading). But "Hack-a-____" lacks the necessary substantial imbalance in control over the play--the fouled team can counter the strategy by making their damn free throws, or at least more of them to render the strategy no longer worthwhile. Limiting rules do not exist to save teams and players from themselves or their own shortcomings.
Instead, any rule to stop this practice would be for aesthetic purposes, not cost-benefit balance. The game becomes ridiculous and boring to watch (watching a parade of free throws is bad; watching a parade of missed free throws is worse). Eventually fans might get sick of what they are watching. To be sure, some aesthetic concerns underlie the IFR; we would rather see players catch easily playable balls than not catch them. But the IFR situation also involves an extreme cost-benefit imbalance. Aesthetics provide the sole basis for eliminating intentional fouls.
An interesting question is what any limiting rule might look like for the NBA. My proposal would be to give the offense a choice following an off-the-ball intentional foul--shoot the free throws or get the ball out of bounds. All fouling would give the defense is a chance to steal the ball on the inbounds play, although steals or turnovers on such plays are relatively rare, while incurring the cost of running up their foul totals. This change should eliminate the perverse incentive; there is no incentive for the defense to intentionally foul when the benefit is a small chance of getting a turnover on the inbounds play, but little or no chance that the offense will choose to have the bad shooter go to the line.
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
The Third Team at the Super Bowl
On Sunday night, my beloved Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers punched their tickets for Super Bowl 50. Both teams should be proud. The Broncos have spent months working together to gel as a team to reach this moment, and the Panthers no less. But the outcome of the game may ultimately rest on the teamwork of another group in the field, a group that will have barely worked together at all. I’m talking, of course, about the officiating crew.
National Football League officiating crews generally remain together through the regular season: the same officials work together (at different venues) each week. Once the playoffs start, however, the highest graded officials at each position are chosen to continue working games, and they are reshuffled into new “All-Star-style” crews. The crew assigned to the Super Bowl (headed this year by referee Clete Blakeman) gets one divisional round game as a warm-up, but that’s it. The officials who take the field on February 7 are among the very best individually at their positions, but their performance as a group is a much greater unknown.
Does it matter? Cognitive psychology says yes, and the lessons carry broadly into many realms of law.
We often ask groups of people to make decisions based on distributed information. This means simply that each member of the group has some information that may be pertinent to the decision, but no single person has all the information. Each group member must share his or her information so that group as a whole can make informed decisions. Trained professionals often deal with the phenomenon of distributed information by coordinating their information acquisition and sharing in precise ways. For example, a surgical team assigns certain team members to monitor specific aspects of the patient’s condition during the procedure, and adopts protocols for communicating that information to the entire team. Similarly, a cockpit crew can safely land an airplane by assigning each crew member to monitor specific information (speed, altitude, weather conditions, control tower transmissions, etc.), and by sharing that information through coordinated discussion, even though no single member of the crew is aware of all the relevant information at any given time.
In the legal world, decisions based on a distribution of information are also a regular occurrence. Jurors pick up different details and nuances of evidence and witness testimony, and must reassemble it though memory and communication upon returning to the jury room. Appellate panels, administrative boards, and rulemaking bodies work in similar ways, although they have better access after the fact to artifacts like briefs and transcripts. The precise order and timing of how information is communicated may not be as important in a jury room as in an operating room, but the general idea is the same. The quality and efficiency of group decisions depends in large part on the group’s ability to identify, share, and process the information they collectively possess.
The ability to share and process information is affected by the interpersonal dynamics of the group in question. For example, group members who work together regularly are more likely to develop shared mental models of the group’s purpose and customs. Shared mental models create a shared baseline of understanding, which allows the group to sift through information more efficiently, and which encourages group members to share the information that they know the group will deem important for the decision-making task. Shared mental models can therefore promote decision-making consistency. If all officials on the Super Bowl crew adopt the “let ‘em play” mentality when it comes to pass defense (or conversely, universally adopt the “everything is pass interference” mentality), some of the calls may be incorrect, but at least they would be consistent within the game. If one official on the crew has a much more stringent view of what constitutes pass interference than another official, however, the structure of penalties within the game can seem erratic or biased, or it may take longer for the crew to agree on the correct call.
But if familiarity within the group is so helpful, why not just use the best overall officiating crew from the season? The NFL actually tried this for a couple of Super Bowls in the mid-2000s, but reverted to the “All-Star” crew approach in 2006. The problem here is that group familiarity breeds its own cognitive challenges. Shared mental models may cause group members to disregard (or fail to share) external information that is outside the scope of the shared mental model. So an officiating crew that tends not to call pass interference stringently in its first few games of the season may develop a collective (if unspoken) understanding not to call pass interference except in egregious instances. That may lead to some true instances of pass interference not being called in the playoffs, when it matters most.
The NFL’s playoff officiating policy seems to be an effort to balance the costs and benefits of distributed cognition in familiar groups. To assure consistency in calling penalties, playoff officials must have sufficiently similar mental models of the game (the pace, the type of calls that are appropriate, etc.). But to assure accuracy in calling penalties, officials must be willing to share amongst themselves everything they see, even if it conflicts with what others may have seen (or not seen).
Clete Blakeman and his new team will be put to the test in two weeks. (Hopefully he can learn how to flip a coin by then.) Here’s hoping they achieve both accuracy and precision in their calls. But if the cognitive task proves too much, here’s hoping they err in favor of the men with horses on their helmets.
Thursday, December 31, 2015
Should the NFL Hall of Fame Selection Criteria Include a Character Clause?
The NFL, as in other major league sports, has faced its share of scandals. The Baseball Hall of Fame includes Rule 5, the character clause, in its eligibility for enshrinement. The direction requires that "[v]oting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played." A discussion can be found here. Here is a dissent to the requirement.
The NFL selection process for the Hall of Fame focuses solely on a players contribution on the field. The NFL Commissioner has previously expressed an opinion that some form of an ethics consideration should be included. As the League has faced some notable problems with off the field behavior, it should include such a clause to reinforce to the participants and the public that violations of its rules and the law are not tolerated.
Monday, December 28, 2015
Should Tort Law be Used to Reinforce Intentional Violations of NFL Rules Aimed at the Safety of Players?
The NFL has been promulgating rules to make the game safer for players. Of particular focus is the reduction of head injuries leading to concussions and long term brain damage. Odell Beckham, Jr., the star wide receiver for the New York Giants, had his 1-game suspension by the League upheld on appeal.
Beckham and Carolina Panthers corner back Josh Norman were involved in aggressive dust ups during the teams' meeting a week ago. The provocation was so bad it resulted in multiple personal foul penalties and fines. Only Beckham received a suspension from the NFL. One of the reasons for the harsher penalty was a helmet to helmet collision with Josh Norman on a running play. It was also the second infraction from Beckham. He was previously fined for his in-game conduct from the Giants' matchup with the Buffalo Bills earlier in the season.
This brings us to the seminal case of Hackbart v. Cincinnati Bengals (a staple of Torts textbooks). The case involved a hit on Broncos' corner back Dale Hackbart by a Bengals wide receiver, which did not result in a rules infraction or foul on the play. The non call was the result of the officials not seeing it. The hit was also found to be intentional. The Court of Appeals overruled the trial court's ruling that violence was inherent in the game of football, and, thus, Hackbart could not recover.
The intention is not create an off field litigation industry aimed at professional football complete with lawyer advertisements. Rather, in egregious cases (of which I am not commenting on the Beckham case one way or the other), tort law may serve as a basis to reinforce the rules. Generally, a player should be disciplined by the NFL after receiving due process (please see my earlier post, "What the NFL Can Learn from Administrative Law").
Friday, December 18, 2015
Klein and NFL Officiating
I no longer watch football, particularly the NFL; the league is just too corrupt and the sport just too gladiatorial for my taste. But I cannot avoid news stories related to the league. I was interested in the league's announcement this week that, in the wake of increasing criticism of the game officiating this season (that may or may not be justified), game officials would be in contact the league vice president of officiating during games about replay and other "administrative" matters. This has sparked concerns among many, including the former VP of officiating, about the lack of accountability and increase in uncertainty from having a league official whispering into the ref's earpiece. One former official worried that we could not know whether a changed call was because the game officials got together or because "someone in New York doesn't like the call." As another former official said, "what it looks like is that the league office is making decisions on who possibly wins or loses the game."
The last concern sounds in the sports-officiating equivalent of United States v. Klein (which returns to SCOTUS later this term with a case challenging a law that may actually be unconstitutional for the first time since 1872): Just as Congress cannot dictate specific decisions or outcomes in specific cases, the NFL should not be telling officials what calls to make or how to apply the rulebook on specific plays in a specific game.
Monday, December 14, 2015
What the NFL Can Learn from Administrative Law
Problems with off field behavior have long plagued the National Football League (NFL). A study of player arrests since 2000 shows 713 reported incidents where players had run ins with the law as reported by the media. As these incidents have become more high profile, the NFL Commissioner's power over player misconduct has come under scrutiny. The case involving Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was upheld by an arbitrator. However, other cases involving Greg Hardy, Tom Brady, and Ray Rice were overturned or penalties reduced in Federal court or by an arbitrator. While prior to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the Bountygate sanctions (as applied to the players, not the coaches) were overturned.
Recently, in Hewitt v. Kerr, the Missouri Supreme Court questioned the impartiality of an arbitration process where the Commissioner directly appoints the arbitrators. The Court stated:
"Our recognition of the potential for very real bias is not intended to impugn the integrity of the Commissioner or his appointee. However, the very nature of bias is often subtle and unseen to the person or persons holding such bias. For that reason, it is imperative that an arbitration proceeding be overseen by an arbitrator selected in an objectively impartial and unbiased manner."Further discussion on Hewitt v. Kerr can be found here.
The issue here is how can the provisions of the CBA with respect to player misconduct be revised in a way that strengthens the Commissioner's decisions. The answer can be found in governmental administrative appeals.
First, the NFL Commissioner has had general authority over player conduct since 1968. The relevant part of Article 46 of the CBA in effect now is as follows:
Section 1. League Discipline: . . .
(a) All disputes involving a fine or suspension imposed upon a player for conduct on the playing field . . . or involving action taken against a player by the Commissioner for conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football, will be processed exclusively as follows: the Commissioner will promptly send written notice of his action to the player, with a copy to the NFLPA. Within three (3) business days following such written notification, the player affected thereby, or the NFLPA with the player’s approval, may appeal in writing to the Commissioner.
* * *
Section 2. Hearings:
(a) Hearing Officers. For appeals under Section 1(a) above, the Commisioner shall . . . appoint one or more designees to serve as hearing officers. . . . [T]he Com- missioner may serve as hearing officer in any appeal under Section 1(a) of this Article at his discretion.
Article 46 vests discretion with the Commissioner who may hand down the sanction before a hearing. If the decision is appealed, the Commissioner has the discretion to appoint himself as the hearing officer. The initial decision is being made at the top subject to appeal. Generally, in the government context (local, state, or federal), the initial decision is made at a lower level, and then appealed to a hearing officer. Further appeal may be made to the head of the agency, which is then accompanied by an administrative record. In the Federal context, ultimate appeal of a Final Agency Order is to the Court of Appeals.
In the case of the NFL, the Commissioner, while the head of the NFL, is making an initial decision to be appealed. This may lead to scrutiny of the Commissioner's initial order. The NFL could amend the CBA to allow a player to elect a hearing at the initial stage of the discipline process. The appeal would then proceed to the Commissioner who would decide it based on the record established at the hearing. This would provide greater due process and strengthen the Commissioner's role by being the final arbiter.
To address the bias question posed by the Missouri Supreme Court, arbitrators should not be appointed by the Commissioner. Rather, they should be permanent employees of the NFL for that sole purpose. The hiring of hearing officers should be made jointly by the NFL and the NFL Players Association. Removal could be limited to cause.
These changes will only strengthen the Commissioner's authority as he will be reviewing the appeal. His authority will not be subject to the perception that it is waning every time he is overturned. A change in the selection of hearing officers will provide a sense of impartiality.
Pete Rose remains banned from Major League Baseball
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced today that it would not reinstate Pete Rose, concluding that Rose had not presented credible evidence that, if reinstated, he would not again violate the prohibition on gambling on baseball games and on his own team. Manfred emphasized both that Rose continues to bet on baseball and that he has not fully owned up to the full scope of the gambling activities that lead to the ban in the first place (for example, he continues to deny betting on Reds games as a player in 1985-86, despite records indicating that he did, and he continues to insist that he did not selectively bet on the Reds, which is contradicted by documentary evidence). There also is an interesting discussion of how the commissioner should reconcile the mandatory lifetime ban imposed for gambling under Rule 21 with the broad discretion vested in the commissioner under Rule 15 to reinstate a suspended player; Manfred's solution was to say that reinstatement was warranted under Rule 15 only with "objective evidence" that there was no risk of a repeat violation of Rule 21.
Manfred also took a short detour to emphasize that he was not making any determination about Rose's eligibility for the Hall of Fame and that any debate over his eligibility or qualifications "must take place in a different forum" and turn on different questions and policy considerations. This is only partially right, of course. Rose is not in the Hall almost almost entirely because of Rule 3E of the Baseball Writers Association of America Election Rules, which provides that "Any player on Baseball's ineligible list shall not be an eligible candidate;" that rule was passed in 1991 (two years after Rose accepted his lifetime ban) specifically to eliminate any chance that Rose (and, to a lesser extent, Joe Jackson) would slip into the Hall. So while Manfred was not deciding whether Rose is eligible, his decision here basically dictates the outcome of the Hall vote.*
* Hall criteria include integrity and sportsmanship, so there is a chance that sportswriters might decline to vote Rose in because of his gambling misconduct, even if he were not on the ineligible list, just as they have kept out suspected PED users (Clemens, Bonds, etc.) who remain on the eligible list and thus eligible for the Hall.
Apparently, crowdfunding can rely on the adage, "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach." A Baltimore crab house has offered Orioles star Chris Davis free crab cakes for his life and for the next two generations of his family for re-signing with the Orioles. It reminds me that we might have underemphasized the purely symbolic value and benefit to fanfunding. It need not be about raising significant amounts of money or outbidding competing fans, but about expressing support for the player in any way, including unique ways that reflect a connection to the particular city.
Friday, December 11, 2015
Crowdfunding college sports
The New York Times tells of a Clemson fan who has launched UBooster, a site designed to allow college sports fans to pledge money to help attract high school athletes to the donors' preferred schools--in other words, exactly what Dan, Mike McCann, and I proposed. (H/T: Gregg Polsky). According to the story, fans pledge money to a particular recruit, with a note urging him (or her) to choose a particular school; no more money can be contributed once the athlete commits to a school and the money is held in trust until after the player finishes college. The money is not funneled through the university and there is no direct contact between UBooster and either the athlete or any particular school. For that reason, the founder, Dr. Rob Morgan, believes this does not violate NCAA rules and, in fact, offers a way to allow fan involvement while easing the financial burden on universities to do more to help athletes.
The former head of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions calls this "far more sophisticated than the hundred-dollar handshake," but I am not sure it is a meaningful difference in kind. Student-athletes are still receiving money because they are student-athletes and because of their athletic ability, and the lack of a direct connection among student-athlete, school, and donor does not change that; in fact, the NCAA's point is specifically to keep "strangers" from giving student-athletes money, regardless of connection to the school. Nor does the four-year delay in getting the money change much--it is still money for playing a sport, whether the benefit is received immediately or in a few years. I also do not believe the absence of an express quid pro quo (the student-athlete gets the money, regardless of where he ultimately plays) makes a difference; the NCAA regs are designed to avoid bidding wars and allowing the athlete to keep everything is not going to alleviate (or necessarily disincentivize) such bidding wars.
Mind you, I am not speaking in support of the NCAA's regs or the current model of college sports. I am only saying that, under those rules, any student-athlete who participates in this (and any school for which he plays) is in for some problems.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
At the beginning of the baseball season this year the New York Mets' second baseman, Daniel Murphy, missed the first two games of the season for the birth of his son, invoking the league's "parental leave" policy. He and his wife faced some absurd criticism from closed-minded people who suggested that his wife should have had a c-section before the season began. Murphy in many ways had the last laugh, helping the Mets reach the World Series through some torrid hitting during the playoffs; as reporter Wendy Thurm tweeted during the playoffs, "Daniel Murphy proudly took paternity leave & now look how well he's performing at work."
I can't hit a baseball very far, but I, too, am taking advantage of my employer's parental leave policy. (So I'm kind of like a major league baseball player, right!? Childhood dream fulfilled!) My wife and I welcomed the birth of our son, Harrison, last April, and this semester I am not teaching any classes so that I can enjoy flexible scheduling while caring for him. I'm still required to provide "100% work" through research and service (hence my midnight post to Prawfs), but this scheduling allows for a wonderful amount of bonding and family time during these precious first few months of his life -- especially because my wife, as an elementary school teacher, had to go back to work in August. (Insert your own comment here criticizing the paltry amount of leave most women in this country receive after giving birth. It is absurd. And unlike many other people, we were fortunate in that my wife was off during the summer right after he was born.)
At first I was not sure I was even going to invoke my school's new parental leave policy. I thought, "I love being in the classroom, and plus, I had the summer to spend with him." But a wise colleague convinced me otherwise. She pointed out that, if I were at a law firm, I would have hardly any opportunity to take much leave. In some ways, the flexible scheduling of my job as a professor is a form of compensation. And I'll never have these first months back with him. Plus, it is important to set a precedent for this new policy to create a culture that accepts and understands the importance of this time and encourages others to take advantage of it.
So my son and I have had a blast spending time together. In September we caught a ballgame in Cincinnati. Most Tuesdays find us at the library for story time. We go on long walks. I've read him a good smattering of both law review articles and Go Dog Go! (For some reason law review articles seem to put him to sleep! He much prefers books written by Mo Willems, our favorite children's book author.)
What's the point of this post? To demonstrate that it is -- or at least should be -- admirable for someone like Daniel Murphy (or me!) to take parental leave. To advocate for more law schools to offer broader parental leave policies if they do not already do so. And to suggest that more professors (including fathers) should take advantage of those policies.
To be sure, I am excited to g0 back to the classroom in January, and I'm confident that my time away has made me even more refreshed to teach. These breaks help to make us better teachers and scholars -- and allow us to live a fulfilling life where family comes first. It is also important to model to our students that it is possible to have a meaningful work-life balance, and that sometimes major events -- the birth and care of a child -- take precedence over everything else.
It's been a really great experience....mostly. What's that sound? Oh, it's time to go change a diaper!
Monday, October 12, 2015
Baseball and viewpoint discrimination?
As students are aware of my baseball allegiances, I am getting many questions and comments from students about the Cubs current position in the baseball playoffs. One student shared this story from last week--a professor at the University of Illinois moved the mid-term exam for a student because the student had obtained tickets to last week's National League Wild Card game in Pittsburgh.
Viewpoint discrimination? What about the Cardinals fans who no doubt are in the class?
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Yom Kippur, Sandy Koufax, and (the forgotten) Hank Greenberg
Something that had not clicked until my rabbi discussed it last night: This Yom Kippur marked the fiftieth anniversary of Sandy Koufax not pitching Game 1 of the World Series (it was October 6, 1965, on the English calendar). This story forms a big piece of Koufax's legend as one of the greatest pitchers of all time, the greatest Jewish player of all time, and a hero to American Jews who saw in his actions a place for their faith within American society (Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax...).
My rabbi also told the oft-repeated addendum to the story. Don Drysdale (himself a future Hall of Fame pitcher, so it is not like there was such a drop-off in WAR by Koufax not pitching) started and lasted less than three innings. The story goes that when Dodgers manager Walter Alston came to the mound to remove Drysdale from the game, Drysdale said something to the effect of "Bet you wish I was Jewish, too." But a baseball historian told me there is some doubt about when this comment actually was made and by whom. One version is the common one. Another has Drysdale saying it in the clubhouse after the game. And in a third version, it was not Drysdale who said it, but a former Dodger player who was watching from the stands. The historian was unable to get underneath the most-common version of the story.
Koufax's decision has completely overshadowed a similar decision by the previous greatest Jewish player, Hank Greenberg, who played for Detroit and Pittsburgh in the '30s and '40s (his life, and this event, is covered in a wonderful 2000 documentary). In the heat of a close pennant race in 1934, Greenberg played on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (after obtaining permission from a local rabbi, who searched the texts to find that "play" was permitted on that day), but did not play on Yom Kippur. Although no one in 2014 marked the eightieth anniversary of Greenberg, in some ways, his stand was more courageous than Koufax's. For one, Greenberg was an everyday player who would have been expected to play every game; as a pitcher, Koufax only could pitch in one of the first two games, so holding him to Game 2 was not an enormous lineup change or loss. For another, the position of American Jews in 1934 was far more precarious than in 1965. While there was still anti-Semitism, both de facto and de jure, in 1965, it was far worse thirty years earlier. This was one year after Hitler came to power. And Greenberg played in Detroit, home of Henry Ford and Father Coughlin.
Greenberg was similarly lauded for his act of conscience and seen as similarly inspirational by American Jews. Yet his stand has been lost to history. Some of it is that the World Series is a bigger deal than a pennant race. Some of it is that Koufax is closer to being the greatest pitcher of all time than Greenberg is to being the greaterst first-baseman of all time, so all of his actions are magnified. Some may be recency bias.
In any event, with all the additional post-season rounds and games, no Jewish player will ever again have to skip a World Series game for Yom Kippur. It is more likely he would miss a World Series game for Thanksgivukkah 79811.
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Infield Fly Double Play
On Wednesday night, the Royals turned a double play on an Infield Fly (video in link). With bases loaded and one out, a fly ball was hit near the first-base line, even with the mound; the rule was put in effect, the ball was not caught, and the runner on third made the instinctual move of running when the ball hit the ground and was tagged out at home. This is about the third or fourth time I have seen a double play on an I/F/R call in the six seasons I have been tracking.
Although the non-catch here was unintentional (the pitcher and first baseman had a miscommunication), a play such as this shows why the I/F/R does not entirely eliminate the perverse incentive for infielders to intentionally not catch the ball. There is always a chance an infielder could con the runner into taking off when the ball hits the ground and the runner's instinct takes over. And because not catching the ball is costless to the defense (since the batter is out anyway), it could be worth a shot. But this possibility does not undermine the I/F/R. The rule exists because base runners would be helpless if forced to run on a non-catch; it does not exist to save the runners from the consequences of running without thinking. And, of course, had the catcher forgotten to tag the runner (i.e., had the catcher been the one to have the brain cramp), the runner would have scored. In any event, I have only seen two instances of intentional non-catches in six seasons, so clearly the likelihood of success is not high enough to convince infielders to try this on a regular basis.
Monday, August 17, 2015
NLRB declines jurisdiction in Northwestern football case
The National Labor Relations Board finally ruled on the efforts of Northwestern football players to unionize, declining to exercise jurisdiction without deciding whether college athletes are statutory employees. The Board determined that "it would not promote stability in labor relations" for it to get involved. It emphasized the unique circumstances of the case and the problem of ruling on union efforts by players in one sport at one school. Professional athlete-unions were sport- or league-wide, not team-wide. FBS schools, including all other Big Ten schools, are public and thus not subject to Board jurisdiction, meaning Northwestern (and 16 other FBS schools) might be able to unionize but not any of its competitors. This also would undermine the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference, which member schools formed to create the uniformity and level playing field that a Northwestern-only union would undermine.
At Workplace Prof, Jeff Hirsch briefly discusses the opinion, arguing that the NLRB's conclusion about instability is understandable, but ignores the way that unionization might have pressured the NCAA to make needed changes. I would make that point even more specifically--unionization is the only way to ensure student-athletes have real power in creating new policies for the NCAA, as opposed to being given a voice that can be easily overridden or ignored by other interests. For example, under the proposed revised governance structure for Division I athletics, student-athletes would hold one vote on a 21-person Board of Directors and two votes on a 38-person Council (the legislative body), a body on which 60 % of the Council must be athletics directors. The NLRB identified some changes that have been made since the filing of the petition, perhaps suggesting its view that things are improving for student-athletes and even a small number of unions is unnecessary to further NLRA policies.
Matt and I have been waiting for this decision for a year-and-a-half and had planned on writing a short essay on the decision and the underlying normative issues. Given this resolution, I doubt there is much to say.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
I already have the title for a future paper--"Tie Goes to the Runner" and Other Myths of Baseball Rules. The paper will explore baseball rules that everyone believes/assumes are one way and that often are captured in a common, pithy cliche; in fact, they are entirely different, if not the precise opposite, from what everyone thinks. For example, the one from the paper title. As kids, we always yelled "tie goes to the runner" to justify having a runner be safe when the play was too close to call; in fact, the runner is out unless he affirmatively beats the throw--in other words, tie goes to the fielder (Bruce Weber's As They See 'Em has a great discussion of this).
Now I just need some content. So far, I have identified five rules that fit the bill, thanks in part to suggestions from participants in a SEALS discussion group earlier this week: 1) Tie goes to the runner; 2) Infield Fly Rule only applies to balls on the infield; 3) "One base on an overthrow"; 4) "Hand is part of the bat" (so getting hit on hand when hand on bat is a foul ball); 5) The runner cannot run out of the baseline (this rule, and the common misunderstanding of it, came up during the 2013 World Series).
Can anyone think of others? Suggestions welcome in the comments.
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
More catalyzed fans
Sports fans are certainly being catalyzed to spend money in crowdfunding efforts. But the focus of fan spending seems to be less on player recruitment and retention, the focus of our discussion, and more on one-shot efforts to handle team crises. The latest example: New England Patriots fans started a GoFundMe campaign to pay the $ 1 million fine the NFL levied against the team over the use of under-inflated balls during last year's conference championship game. In the first 22 hours, 500 people donated just over $ 7200.
Dan, Mike McCann, and I nodded toward this form of fan funding, although we recognized the obvious moral hazard problems. Still, these efforts are increasingly common, at least on a small scale.
Monday, May 11, 2015
Bill Simmons and the Duty of Loyalty
ESPN rather publicly announced that it would not be renewing its contract with Bill Simmons, editor-in-chief of its sports and entertainment site Grantland, as well as writer, author, and co-producer of the "30 for 30" sports documentary series. A lot has been written about the inside details, as well as the larger ramifications for Simmons, Grantland, and sports and entertainment media more generally. There's also some interesting IP issues -- could ESPN really appoint another host for the "B.S. Report"? But I'd like to talk about the next four months, in which Simmons is still with ESPN but is essentially a lame duck. What does employment law say about this awkward interim period?
Having been publicly cut off at the knees by his current company, Simmons will want to focus on his next gig. But the law may restrict his ability to do so. Most jurisdictions have recognized that employees owe employers a duty of loyalty. The contours of this duty are somewhat vague. At the very least, the duty would prevent Simmons from working for a competitor while he is still under contract with ESPN. But let's say he agrees to start working for, say, Fox Sports beginning the day after his ESPN contract ends. Can he tweet out his new employer? Can he use his ESPN column or podcast to mention his new gig or even promote it? Can he ask Grantland employees to join him at his new place?
The duty of loyalty has been generally recognized as prohibiting an employee from using her current employment to solicit for her future employer. Employees are also prohibited from disclosing trade secrets to their future employers. On the other hand, employees are generally allowed to "prepare" to compete by talking with other employers and agreeing to future employment. The murkiest area involves one's current fellow employees. Can Simmons solicit Grantland employees for his new venture? Some courts have found it disloyal for current employees to persuade other employees to break their contracts with the employer. It doesn't help that Simmons is editor-in-chief, as courts have held supervisory employees to a higher standard. However, courts have also focused on surprise as particularly problematic, as when a large group of employees suddenly up and leaves with no notice. ESPN has plenty of notice that Simmons is leaving and may want to take some of his hires with him. And although not officially a legal factor, the fact that Simmons is being fired (in some sense) will make his efforts to rebound more sympathetic.
Simmons's last days at ESPN could resemble the tenure of another media celebrity in the wake of a high-profile move. In 2004, Howard Stern announced his upcoming move from CBS Radio to Sirius Radio with great fanfare. He used his CBS show to make the announcement. And he proceeded to use the show to bash CBS for its efforts to censor him, and to promote his Sirius move. In 2006, CBS Radio sued Stern over his promotion efforts for his new show. CBS claimed that Stern has used his airtime at CBS to promote Sirius and had engaged in other promotional efforts off the job but while still employed. It asked for $218 million in damages -- the stock compensation Stern received from Sirius based on the huge jump in Sirius subscriptions in the wake of Stern's announcement. This request for the disgorgement of the compensation Stern received from Sirius is a traditional remedy for the violation of the duty of loyalty. The disloyal agent is expected to disgorge back to the principal any ill-gotten gains received in the course of the agency relationship. Reviewing the claims, Stephen Bainbridge concluded that Stern had likely violated the duty of loyalty with his on-the-job solicitations for Sirius. Ultimately, CBS and Stern settled the suit for an undisclosed amount.
Conan O'Brien's relationship with his employers at NBC was similarly contentious at the end. When told NBC was moving the Tonight Show to midnight, O'Brien balked, arguing that the Tonight Show could only start at 11:35 after the local news. He then spent two weeks trashing his employers on the NBC airwaves. He even had a running segment where he frittered away NBC's money on expensive cars and licensing rights. The big difference -- O'Brien was tussling with NBC over his contractual rights, and ultimately the two sides settled with Conan's departure. He had no future show o promote while still at NBC, and in fact his settlement forced him off the air and into radio silence for six months.
Simmons may be tempted to spend his last few months settling the family business -- trashing ESPN, raiding Grantland of its best writers, and setting up shop at his new home. And legally, he would have a decent case for doing all these things -- although not one without risk. What seems clear, however, is that he cannot use ESPN properties to promote his new media home while still an employee. I would expect instead that word of the new location gets out through the media, coming from everywhere but Simmons himself.
One final note -- I'm assuming that Simmons's contract does not speak specifically to these matters. He may have a non-compete that kicks in after the contract's expiration, although that seems unlikely. And if he starts trashing ESPN or the NFL commissioner, ESPN may end up suspending him again or simply firing him before his contract expires.
Tuesday, May 05, 2015
Walk-off Infield Fly Rule
Great story about a Japanese baseball game on Monday that ended with a walk-off infield fly (H/T: My FIU colleague Ediberto Roman). This is a welcome new story for my hoped-for book on the IFR.
With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth, the batter hit a pop-up right in front of home plate. The third-base umpire (although not the home plate umpire) signaled Infield Fly (you can see him in the background at the 0:57 mark). The ball fell to the ground between two players. One of them picked up the ball and stepped on home, looking to get the force out on the runner on third. But he did not tag the runner, who continued across the plate. The batter being called out on the IFR removes the force play at home; the runners can advance at their own risk and any play at a base becomes a tag play. After an argument and a conference, in which the third-base umpire presumably told the plate umpire that he had called IFR, the runner was called safe at home, and the game ended.
Plus, the audio teaches us that the term "Infield Fly" is the same in Japanese. Great stuff.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Aesthetic sports rules
Slate's Hang Up and Listen devoted its first segment to the (problem?) of a Hack-a-[Blank], thr strategy of intentionally fouling a poor free throw shooter away from the ball throughout the game. They discuss whether it works, whether it spoils the game, and what, if anything, can or should be done about it. The best solution is probably to give the offense the option of getting the ball out of bounds instead of taking the free throws (there used to be a similar rule in international basketball). By not making the bad shooter take the free throws, the incentive to keep fouling goes away.
So if this (or some other rule change) came about, should we understand it as a limiting rule grounded in cost-benefit disparity, a la the Infield Fly? As I wrote about soccer's offside rule, I don't think so. Instead, this would be a purely aesthetic rule, designed to make the game look better and be more enjoyable to watch. To be sure, there is an aesthetic component to the logic of the Infield Fly Rule; that rule disincentivizes teams from intentionally failing to catch easily playable balls, which is unappealing to watch. But the chief concern is the cost-benefit imbalance, of the defense getting two outs instead of one and the runner being unable to stop it. That is missing with Hack-a-[Blank], because the offense can overcome the strategy by making the free throws or rebounding the miss. Nevertheless, the game becomes unappealing when it involves nothing more than intentional fouls on DeAndre Jordan 25 feet from the basketball and a parade of missed free throws. So the rule change may seek to limit strategy solely in the name of the aesthetics of the sport.
Sunday, April 26, 2015
Baseball reaches historic milestone
Saturday, December 27, 2014
Gutless educational administrators and the First Amendment, part 6577 (Updated)
This is pathetic and really depressing. (Note the title is changed to reflect that the public face of the decision is not the school's AD, but the school's principal, which just makes this even more depressing).
First, we bemoan about how uninvolved and politically disinterested "kids today" are, then we systematically shut down their efforts to be involved or to take a stand.
Second, note the administration's move here--"we are too small to keep the peace 'should someone get upset and choose to act out,' so we are just going to stop people from speaking." This is a preemptive heckler's veto--In the ordinary heckler's veto, government stops the speaker when the crowd gets unruly and actually threatens violence; here, the government is stopping the speaker with no basis to know or reason to believe that anyone will get unruly, essentially by pleading poverty. Of course, government never has enough resources to protect everyone should someone decide to act out (someone will get hurt before police/security can respond). So, taken to its extreme, no one should be able to say anything that (government finds) controversial or objectionable, because government never can guarantee complete safety.
Third, while high schools are different and administrators have much greater control over expression on school grounds, this seems a step too far, particularly as to fans in the stands. Is an "I Can't Breathe" shirt really more likely to cause a disruption than an armband in the middle of Vietnam?
Fourth, given the insistence that "all political statements" be kept away from the tournament, should we assume that the national anthem will not be sung?
The tourney begins Monday. No indication that the players or potential shirt-wearing fans are running to court to even try to get an injunction.
Update: Some more details in this story. Before explaining the preemptive heckler's veto, the principal of the host school--a professional educator--indicated that she "respected the Mendocino teams 'for paying attention to what is going on in the world around them.'" Apparently, however, this professional educator does not respect them enough to not punish them for paying attention to what is going on in the world around them. Irony really is dead.
The Huff Post story also indicates that the father has been in touch with the ACLU and is hoping to hear back after the holiday. Someone in the N.D. Cal. is going to be handling an emergency TRO Monday morning.
Further Update: Per a commenter: The school district relented following negotiations with an attorney for one of the players--players and spectators will be permitted to wear the t-shirts, so long as they "do not cause any serious problems at the tournament." Of course, framing it that way walks us right back to the heckler's veto--if I object to the shirts, my motivation is to cause a disruption, which would then prompt the school district to do what I want and stop people from wearing them.
The Mendocino HS girls' team will not be able to play; since too few players accepted the no-t-shirt condition last week, the tournament invited a replacement team. This is where a § 1983 damages action would come in handy. Unfortunately, there is no way a court would find it clearly established that banning these shirts was unconstitutional, which would entail a parsing of Justice Alito's concurrence in Morse.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
But can I wear my "Fuck the Draft" jacket?
From Judge Susan E. Gash, presiding over the trial of NFL player Aaron Hernandez:
No person wearing clothing, or a button or other object attached to clothing, or carrying an object that displays any Patriots or other NFL team logo, football-related insignia, or words and/or a photograph that relate in any way to this case will be permitted entry to the Fall River Justice Center during any phase of the trial.
Does this seem excessive, especially as it applies not only to the courtroom, but within the entire building? And is it necessary to ban everything related to all of football, not just the Patriots or even just the NFL? Is it really that problematic for jurors to see any and all football-related things?
Sunday, December 07, 2014
Why it's impossible to regulate racist speech
Too often, the people doing the regulating do not (or cannot) get humor and satire. Latest case in point: the English Football Association has brought "charges" against star player Mario Balotelli (who is Italian, of Ghanaian descent) over an Instagram post of the picture "Dont' Be Racist," which talks about how multi-ethnic and non-racist Mario is by reference to all the ethnic stereotypes he embodies.
In my view, it's pretty funny. But the FA says Balotelli violated a prohibition on "abusive and/or insulting and/or improper," aggravated by "reference to ethnic origin and/or color and/or race and/or nationality and/or religion or belief." I posted the picture after the jump. Is it possible to sensibly see this as anything other than joke, reappropriating stereotypes to undermine them? Is this really abusive or insulting? Or is this simply what happens--when you try to regulate words, context inevitably gets lost.
Monday, December 01, 2014
Free speech in the NFL
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Five St. Louis Rams players walked onto the field in the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" gesture; the St. Louis Police Officers Association is demanding that the players be disciplined and that the team issue a public apology. The full statement from the association is angry and unprofessional (not to mention loaded with really stupid football puns); it quotes extensively from the organization's business manager, a fired police officer now serving in the state legislature who has been one of the few voices opposing body cameras.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is a coward and a liar. But will be really punish players for core political speech about a local and ongoing matter of public import? (Note: Yes, I know he can punish them; the question is will he and, if he does, how does he explain it away).
One last note: In the statement, the association refers to Darren Wilson (not by name) as the "now-exonerated officer." Is that an appropriate description of the process that was used?
Friday, October 24, 2014
The Eleventh Amendment is a pain
This lawsuit, filed today, alleges that the NCAA violates the Fair Labor Standards Act by not paying student-athletes (who, it alleges, are akin to work-study students). Named defendants are the NCAA and every Division I school, many of which are state schools; the suit seeks unpaid wages and an injunction requiring the schools to stop violating the FLSA (meaning that students be paid wages going forward). The problem: States cannot be sued by name under the FLSA, which is a Commerce Clause enactment on which Congress cannot abrogate sovereign immunity. And Ex Parte Young is not available for recovering the unpaid wages, so the plaintiff cannot retrench and sue the president of each state university.
Without even getting into the FLSA merits, this is a case in which the Eleventh Amendment is genuinely a barrier to relief. The plaintiffs' best move is to try to proceed with their claims against the private schools, then hope the Department of Labor will be persuaded by the arguments and will jump into the case.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
In praise of being a white belt
My oldest child is getting ready to test for a black belt in tae kwon do next week, and my other two children are only a few months behind. They started taking classes a few years ago at a school that encourages the whole family to take classes, so I joined them. I was not good. I still am not good, but it's taught me a number of valuable things about teaching that I never would have realized otherwise.
1. Embrace being a white belt. The white belt is the earliest stage of any martial art, the stage of a total beginner. A white belt may be the world's expert in some other field, maybe even in some other martial art, but in this one, and in this school, this person is a beginner. It requires a level of humility and adventure to let yourself be a beginner, especially when you've worked so hard to establish yourself as an expert with authority in a heirarchical field like ours. But there is only room for improvement from beginner-ness. When else is there nothing but up-side, an opportunity to see what you can do and improve on that?
Our students go through something like this when they start law school. I'm sure that you remember what it was like, whether you went straight to law school from undergrad, worked for awhile, or had pursued another degree. You had worked hard to accomplish things, had even felt some level of mastery, maybe, and now, you were starting over. And students seem to fall into two main categories. Some think that everyone else is more accomplished than they are. Others chafe at the failure of others to recognize their brilliance. If we remember some important things about being a beginner, we can help our students through the pain of beginner-ness to also see its virtue and embrace the possibilities--including doing the kinds of work that will make them successful lawyers.
Being a beginner is context specific but also a universal experience. Everyone (except maybe Cass Sunstein, or Chuck Norris) is always right now a beginner at something. And a person can be a beginner at one thing while being a master of another. There is no impact on a person's intelligence or worth to accept being a beginner at something. And just because other people are better at this thing doesn't detract from the things you are an expert in. In beginner-ness is there is no shame, and only potential.
2. Practice makes you better, and practice involves failure.As a beginner, your job is to try something you never have before or do something in a new way. You will fail in some way. But you will learn from the way that you failed and will try something different the next time. And that time, you will fail in a new way. And the process will continue.
Performance of some skill can really only be learned this way, through demonstration, attempts, failures, analysis of the failures, and new attempts. Learning how to be a lawyer is learning to perform a set of skills. Because many people come to law school thinking that they will be only gaining knowledge, i.e. memorizing rules, they aren't prepared for this reality. They don't always realize that they are learning how to perform or how to show they are engaging in the right process. And we are not always clear that the process is what we are teaching them.
3. Perseverence. Being successful means continuing to try and learning from those failures. It sucks to fail in new and exotic ways. But working through that is necessary not just to succeed in law school but to succeed in practice, too. As we are frequently reminded Grit Trumps Talent and IQ when it comes to success.
4. Perspective. In school and in practice, unlike tae kwon do, people aren't always trying to kick you in the head, at least not literally. But even when they are, you've got your equipment and learned how to evade and block those kicks. In addition, you can learn to live with a little bit of anxiety, learn to accept that for what it is and not let it paralyze you. Finally, I have lots of bruises from all of those kicks, bruises that I cover up with long sleeves and pants, so people can't see them. This helps me remember that everybody has bruises that don't show. Some of them are literal, and some are emotional. I have to be careful to recognize the potential of these bruises in my interactions with students, dealing with difficult topics in the law or aspects of their performance in school.
5. It is awesome to kick stuff and break things when you read, talk, and think for a living. Need I say more?
Monday, October 13, 2014
10 Lists I Read on the Internet That Made Me Feel Stupid
Maybe I'm just still pondering College Magazine's list of "22 Reasons Why Going to Law School is the Best Decision You'll Ever Make", which, unlike anything I've written, got picked up by Huff Post. All in good fun, sure, though perhaps over-selling the case and understating the seriousness of law school as a financial proposition.
But I must not be the only person to notice that the internet seems to have been taken over by lists. There they are at the bottom and sides of the screen on my tablet, just begging to be clicked on as I strain to get up that one last hill on the stationary bike. Yes, I know, it's all about ads, and getting to put a different ad up after each click on the list. Still...
It's as if the internets think people can only think in lists. I'm all for, say, numbered blog posts, to help make it easier for commenters to point out which aspect of my argument they found the most stupid. But among the problems with these lists is that their authors seem to gravitate towards the number 10, or 12 (unlike our industry's latest booster), but sometimes getting past eight requires adding a few entries that probably didn't belong.
I'll join the fun, though. Here's a list of recent lists I find silly:
I desire only to smell it, drink it, and dream of it.
I prefer to think of myself as a being of only thought and light.
Don't care what coast animates what character. Still cry every time Mufasa dies.
Seriously, Buffalo has an NFL team? Huh.
It's so obviously the best place to live in America we didn't even try for 10 reasons.
Holy Mother Goddess, pagans can go on and on and on...
Odd that "hurts" and "pain" aren't more prominent, or at least "Riggs, I'm getting too old for this ..."
No Tweets about conferences? That's like the most exciting thing we do, dude.
Back in my day, we used to call this a "mix tape".
Guessing Joe Slater knew most of them.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
Too old to root?
My wife grew up in Baltimore, so our family is rooting for the Orioles in the ongoing American League Championship Series--as I told a student, I now am an Orioles Fan-in-Law. And it is utterly exhausting to care this much about a team and to so badly want it to win.
So my question: Does there come a point when we are old to root passionately for a team? Mind you, I am not talkng about caring about sports--I regularly watch (and obviously write about) baseball and other sports and it always will remain a pleasure.* I am talking about living and dying with a particular team, the way I did as a kid or even a younger adult. I was catatonic for days after the Cubs blew the 2003 NLCS and my wife understood. But 11 years later, in a series that it does not even really involve "my team," I cannot work up the energy to be sad or worried about losing. And it even is hard for me to watch, because it feels like too much work to care.
* Although the NFL and I are on a break right now, my response to domestic violence and the gladiatorial nature of the game.
Worse: Maybe the dirty secret is that I am glad and take relief that the Cubs (and, to a lesser extent, Northwestern, my college rooting interest) regularly stink, because it saves me the pain of disappointment when they (inevitably) lose.
Now get off my lawn.
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
More fan crowd-funding
Fans of Ole Miss stormed the field following the team's win over Alabama (sorry, Paul) last weekend; the acts cost the school about $ 75,000--a $50,000 fine by the conference and about $ 25,000 to replace the goalposts and other damage to the field. Fans crowd-funded the total amount and more in a matter of hours. In our Catalyzing Fans paper, we considered fans raising money to pay an athlete's fine.
This is an interesting move, although with two important distinctions. First, the fines/costs were the result of the fans' own conduct, so it makes sense for them to pay it. It does not raise the moral hazard problem of fans essentially indemnifying player misconduct; here, they were paying for their own misconduct. Second, the school was involved--fans contacted the athletic department about contributing and the school set-up a special site. But since Ole Miss (as opposed to the Cleveland Cavaliers) is a not-for-profit entity, the direct giving makes sense.
Tuesday, October 07, 2014
The politics of sports
Here is (somewhat lengthy) video of a Ferguson protest outside Busch Stadium in St. Lousi before last night's National League Division Series game between the Cardinals and Dodgers. One fan wears a Cardinals jersey with "I am Darren Wilson" on the back; many fans engage the protesters with some not-unexpected-but-unfortunate racist vitriol.
But this highlights my long-held point that sports and politics are inextricably mixed. The protesters picked an ideal forum: Millions of people watching, thousands of people milling about, and an event that touched on civic pride and heart--all to protest conditions and issues that call some of that pride into question, prompting some reactions that illustrate precisely why that pride should be questioned.
Thursday, October 02, 2014
The drawbacks of heightened expectations
The NFL has been raked over the coals recently for its (mis)handling several incidents of domestic violence by players. In some ways, this seems unfair, in that we seem to be asking the NFL to do more and do better with domestic violence than anyone else. Domestic abuse is a society-wide problem and no other institution--not the judiciary, not universities, not law enforcement--has not shown much more skill in understanding or handling the problem. In any event, why should professional sports leagues play any role (much less a special one) on the subject. It is not clear that there is a higher rate of domestic violence among professional athletes (it may depend on what the comparison is). And one could argue that teams and leagues should not care about players' off-field conduct, just as most employers don't care about what their employees do outside of work.
At another level, though, I wonder if it is fair to hold sports to a higher standard because of their history--a history that sports, leagues, and teams readily promote. Baseball regularly touts that it was ahead of society on integration--Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers six years before Brown and two months before President Truman desegregated the military. The NBA has financially propped up the WNBA for almost twenty years, allowing for the longest-running professional teams-sports league. Creating athletic opportunities for women and girls is Title IX's most-visible achievement and what makes possible genuinely popular women's sporting events--University of Connecticut basketball, the US Women's National Soccer Team, etc.). NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has made noise about the NFL being a moral leader; this is laughable (especially with Goodell as its head), but we should be able to take him at his word as to his intent, which means he bears the burden of figuring it out ahead of the curve.
So if sports and leagues have taken the lead in the past on some social issues and if they get much PR mileage out of that past, is it unreasonable to expect them to take the lead on this issue, when they clearly want to be involved? And if they fail so spectacularly, is it unreasonable to criticize them for that failure?
Monday, September 22, 2014
Stone on sex discrimination and professional sports
The internet has most recently been ablaze with news of a lawsuit filed against the New York Mets by an ex-employee who claims that she was chastised and then fired due to her status as an unmarried pregnant woman. On the heels of other notorious stories of discrimination to come out of the sports world this past year, like Donald Sterling’s racist comments, Richie Incognito’s racially tinged bullying of a teammate, and the Atlanta Hawks’ general manager Danny Ferry taking an indefinite leave of absence after coming under fire for his racially-stereotyped comments about a player, this latest story has many clamoring for justice—whatever that will mean in this scenario.
Recently, my colleague, Howard Wasserman, blogged about various incidents of discrimination in the sports world, taking note of their wildly varying upshots and reactions generated. He asked whether we could “find anything resembling consistent and appropriate responses to possibly improper or unlawful employment practices,” and posited that factors that might be in play could include, among others, whether formal, legal action had been initiated, whether it is sexism or racism that is alleged, and whether video or audio recordings of the discriminatory sentiments exist. These observations are astute. I would add that the role of shame in these incidents has become central. Some years ago, I blogged about the role of shame in accomplishing the eradication of discrimination in a way that even the law could not, but I pointed out that the shame has to be public, even viral, in order to move most employers to act. From what we have seen in the sports world as of late, the ability of those involved or even of those who know about the discriminatory sentiments expressed by sports players, managers, and executives to stir up outrage on the part of the public appears to be central to whether or not those in a position to discipline or dismiss these individuals will act.Title VII prohibits racial, sex-based, and other discrimination in the workplace. It is clear that while the statute’s goal is to eradicate the erosion of individuals’ terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of discrimination, it is not supposed to function as a general civility code, requiring anyone to change the way they think, feel, or express themselves when that expression is not anchored to workplace-based harassment or deprivation. In other words, as the Supreme Court has put it, “discrimination in the air,” unmoored from some adverse action or campaign of workplace harassment, is not actionable; it is only when discrimination is “brought to the ground and visited upon an employee,” that it becomes something for which we permit legal recovery.
It is interesting, then, that there has been such pressure on sports teams and leagues to undertake voluntarily to do what the law does not require them to do—to distance themselves from those who espouse racist, sexist, or other offensive views. To be sure, if the Mets executive who alleges that she was taunted and fired for being an unwed mom-to-be persuades a trier that these things did, indeed, happen, she will prevail in court. But what about the rest of the outrage? The offenses unaccompanied by legal harm? What if the executive had not been fired and her teasing had not risen to the rather high threshold of intolerability and consistency needed to render it actionable harassment as opposed to mere, permissible incivility? The public needs to understand that the law does not necessarily comport with public sentiment on these issues. “Discrimination in the air” is not actionable.
Moreover, the public needs to appreciate the fact that while high-profile shaming and pressure on professional sports organizations may effectuate the kind of personnel and cultural changes that the law cannot, discrimination—both in the air and grounded upon employees—is rife in all kinds of workplaces. There are no high profile campaigns of shame at a typical truckstop diner or even in a big box store chain. But the same sense of “humor” that allegedly compelled the Mets higher-up to continually joke about the morality of single motherhood or fuels racially stereotyped depictions, contempt, or observations in the upper echelons of the NBA or Major League Baseball also pervades everyday workplaces. And often, employees are either not believed when they report it, or even if they are, it does not matter because the hostility or microaggressions, as they have been termed, are not anchored to an adverse action or part and parcel of actionable harassment. The difference is that in these lower-profile cases, no one cares. The highers-up who harbor these views are often high up enough on the ladder to be valued and thus retained, unscathed, by employers, but anonymous and uncared-about enough to elude public shaming or outcry. The law’s gaps and holes allow us to be selective about how and when we, as a society, can demand justice in the form of the censure or termination of those who express discriminatory, stereotyped, or just plain hateful beliefs, and that selectivity breeds inconsistency and randomness even more dramatic across workplaces than that decried by Professor Wasserman in his sports blog.
Is it time for the law to come into line with the wishes and expectations of society as evinced by the decrying of “discrimination in the air” that we have seen in the media in response to what is going on in professional sports? Or is it the case that if all of those who demand the firing of high profile racists or sexists wouldn't really want the law to require what they are demanding if they thought it through? It is wholly inconsistent for us to say that we demand the ouster of a team coach or manager on the basis of his sentiments unmoored from action, but that we wish for less glamorous, less known, but perhaps as well compensated bosses in the private sector to retain an absolute right to their private dealings and expressions, with no job consequences?
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Fan speech, once again
The ejection of a fan from the park (at the insistence of the umpire) from Atlanta's Turner Field, apparently for profanely heckling an opposing player (the link contains video), could raise some First Amendment problems. The park is apparently owned by the Atlanta Fulton County Recreational Authority, a public entity, and leased to the Braves (no doubt on very favorable terms). Just like in the one case to directly address free speech at a publicly owned ballpark, involving old Yankee Stadium, which was owned by New York City and leased to the team. And as I have written previously, if "Fuck the Draft" is ok in a courthouse, then "You fucking suck" is ok at a publicly owned or operated ballpark. And it does not matter whether the order to remove the fan came from team officials or the umpire.
I hope a lawsuit is coming.
Monday, September 15, 2014
Spot the differences, if you possibly can
Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry used racist stereotypes in evaluating and describing player Luol Deng. The comments were unquestionably tasteless and offensive; they might form the basis for an employment-discrimination action, although Deng did not suffer any harm (he signed with another team and there is no indication he was dying to sign with the Hawks) and courts are often quick to dismiss remarks like these as "stray comments" (as my colleague Kerri Stone has written) The remarks were audio-recorded and written in a report. Ferry has been placed on indefinite leave of absence, basically meaning he's on his way to being fired (likely as part of an ownership change). The team published a public apology to its fans, basically confessing to multiple incidents of racist comments and actions by the team "over a period of years" and its failure to stop or punish them. The league is holding off on punishment, probably because the team took the matter off its hands.
Isiah Thomas engaged in a pattern of sex- and gender-based harassment of a Knicks executive named Anucha Browne Sanders, for which he was found personally liable by a jury; the case settled, following a jury verdict awarding more than $ 10 million in punitive damages. Thomas never lost his job and suffered no team- or league-imposed penalties. The league expressly said it does not get involved with "civil matters," not even civil matters directly affecting the team. The Knicks never publicly apologized for anything or even acknowledged having been found liable.
A former executive with the New York Mets has sued the team and the COO (the principal owner's son) for harassing and then firing her over becoming pregnant and having a child without being married and complaining about the harassment. So far, silence from MLB. The Mets blandly insist that they have policies against harassment and discrimination (which obviously means nothing if those policies are ignored by the owner's son, general counsel, and other team officials, as the complaint alleges).
So can we find anything resembling consistent and appropriate responses to possibly improper or unlawful employment practices? One answer is that mere accusations are insufficient and teams must wait for the civil litigation process to play out. But then neither the non-action by the Knicks against Thomas nor the action by the Hawks against Ferry makes sense. Worse, accepting the facts alleged in each case as true, the Hawks case is probably the least likely of the three to produce legal liability, yet that is the only one in which the team responded. A more cynical answer is teams/leagues will jump to act when it comes to race discrimination involving players, but do not care about sex-based discrimination against non-players. An intermediate explanation is Ferry was captured on audio and the Mets COO wasn't, which just brings us back to the problem that audio and video are overtaking our ability to judge evidence and proof. But that, in turn, says some troubling things about our ability or willingness to rely on judicial processes, not just recordings, to resolve disputes and determine legal rights and wrongs.
Monday, June 30, 2014
Catalyzing Miami Heat fans
LeBron James has opted out of the final year of his contract with the Miami Heat and become a free agent (although he is generally expected to re-sign with the Heat for less money, allowing the team to sign better surrounding players). Just to be sure, the hosts of a show at a Miami sports radio station have announced LeBron-a-Thon, expressing support for James by raising money for Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County. One of the hosts kicked things off with a $ 1000 donation.
This is an example of what we describe in the paper as a charitable FAC. James is a big supporter of Boys & Girls Club--"The Decision," the ESPN media circus in which James announced his intention to sign with the Heat in 2010, was designed to raise money for that organization. This also shows how easy it is to set something up, although we obviously will have to wait to see if it succeeds in 1) raising significant amounts of money or 2) helping keep James in Miami (causation will be impossible to show, of course). This is slightly different than what we discuss, as there is no trigger--money is donated to the charity regardless of what James does. But this highlights the purely expressive nature of such FAC contributions--fans are saying, in essence, "we appreciate you and so want you as part of our team that we will contribute to a worthy cause that is dear to you." Moreover, the monetary benefit to this reputable charity from fan donations likely represents a net public good, as charity presumptively does, regardless of what James chooses to do.
Now we wait to see what teams beside the Heat emerge as suitors for James and whether fans of those teams launch a similar campaign.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
Brishen Rogers has a great, long post at CoOp considering why soccer (or futbol, if you like) never caught on in the United States. He somewhat piggybacks on David Post's VC post from last week.I was always actively antipathetic towards soccer, partly because I did not understand how the overall game worked (beyond "kick the ball in the goal" and "stop using your hands"). I started watching more in recent years, when my daughter took up the game for a few years, and I have to admit to feeling pretty down on Sunday night. I also knew we were not going to beat Germany (although that may be the pessimism that comes with being a Cubs and Northwestern fan).
I like a lot about what Rogers and Post propose; I'll add a few additional points in the gaps.
First, I want to defend the "too little scoring" explanation for soccer's relative unpopularity. The counter to that (which Rogers offers) has always been "look at baseball," which can be just as low-scoring as soccer (especially now that fewer players are juicing). But we need to tweak the comparison by recognizing the differences between soccer and baseball. Even the lowest-scoring baseball game involves a series of one-on-one encounters between pitcher and batter, each of which has a "winner" (batter gets on base or batter is out) and each of which marks a step towards the ultimate result and the ultimate victor in the game; the winner of the game is based on the sum total of those individual encounters. More importantly, baseball is untimed--the point of the game is to score the greatest number of runs within the 27 outs each side is given. So each team has two simultaneous goals--to both score some runs and to get the needed 27 outs in order to win. So we should not say "well, baseball and soccer both have a lot of 2-1 games," because that 2-1 baseball game also had the 27 outs the team needed to win the game resulting from those individual encounters. Relatedly, do not ignore the effect of ties. In baseball, the aggregate of those individual encounters--and getting both runs and outs--is guaranteed to get us to a victor.
If we want to test the "not enough scoring" explanation, the proper comparison is other timed sports, sports in which the only goal is score more points than the other team within a given period of time. And the two major timed U.S. sports--football and basketball-- both involve a lot of scoring.
Second, Post argues that there is "wa-a-a-y too much failure" in soccer and Americans do not like failure. (He adds that the hardest skill in sport is not hitting a baseball, but kicking a soccer ball into the net in a game). Comparisons aside, there still is an awful lot of failure in baseball--the offense fails in more than 75 % of those individual encounters and the greatest individual hitter fails 65 % of the time. Of course, if we focus on the individual encounters in baseball and getting outs as a team's contemporaneous goal, that sense of failure goes away, because we can say the pitcher/defense succeeds in 75 % of those individual encounters.
Third, Americans and American sports media gravitate to individual star players and those stars are more obvious in the big American sports than in soccer because it is easier to see the "star" plays they make. We see LeBron James making shots, we see Peyton Manning throwing touchdown passes, we see Mike Trout hitting home runs or Stephen Strasburg striking people out. And, particularly in basketball, one player makes the difference--in the NBA, the team with the best player in a series generally wins the series. Because we see Lionel Messi score less frequently, we have less of a sense of him as a star making "star plays" (at least plays that produce success). And one star player is less able to dictate soccer outcomes--after all, Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo is regarded as the best player in the world and his team did not get out of the "Group of Death."
Fourth, I agree with Post about the randomness and caprice involved in soccer. Football, and to a lesser extent basekball, involves precise plays and much less of the free-wheeling running that soccer seems to entail. While all sports involve a bit of luck at the margins, soccer seems to rely on more of it.
Finally, Rogers makes some good cultural and sociological arguments for why America went in the direction of football and basketball rather than soccer. I would add one pont. MLS and professional soccer in this country is said to not be successful because it is not as big as the NBA, NFL, and MLB. But part of the problem has been the insistence on measuring MLS success (monetary and attendance) compared with the sucess of today's other leagues, as opposed to how those leagues looked when they were ten years old. The NFL was founded in the 1920s (and no one one really cared about it until the 1950s), the NBA in the 1940s; it is ridiculous to measure a nascent soccer league against those mature leagues. In 1925, the early days of modern Major League Baseball, no team had more than 1 million in attendance; in 1955, the midpoint of baseball's so-called Golden Age, only eight teams had more than 1 million in attendance and only one had more than 2 million; in 2013, every team had more than 1 million and eight teams had more than 3 million. So the question should not be if soccer is earning the same attendance or money as the other three leagues; it should be how it is doing for a new sports league. And by most measures, the answer to that question seems to be "quite well."
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
The end of umpires?
That is the proposal from John McEnroe to make tennis more interesting--have the players call their own lines, as a way to introduce greater intensity into the game. Players would be given challenges and McEnroe argues that the threat of fan anger would keep players in line. It has been said that back in the day, if the umpire clearly missed a call, the player who benefitted from the blown call would tank the next point as an equalizer (I am not sure if that is true). On surfaces where the ball leaves a mark (notably clay), a player will often point to the spot of the ball to show the opponent before an argument begins.
Continuing my previous suggestion that sports rule as enforced by umpires are analogous to rules of procedure--the framework rules regulating the process in which the players control the outcome through performance of skills: This is the sports equivalent of arbitration; the parties have privatized the dispute-resolution process into something they create and control themselves, perhaps less formally, rather than using formalized "outside" processes and arbiters that they work with but exert less control over. Maybe that means McEnroe's proposal will work about as well as arbitration.
On a different note on McEnroe's suggestion: This video is pretty funny. Latvian Ernests Gulbis is asked about McEnroe's proposal to get rid of umpires; Gulbis misunderstands and thinks the reporter asked about getting rid of vampires and begins to discuss the benefit of getting ride of vampires (in the metaphorical sense of hangers-on).
Saturday, June 14, 2014
The Economics of the Offside Rule
The recently begun World Cup allows us to think about soccer (or football, for those of you reading outside the United States) as a source of laws and rules, as opposed to our usual focus on baseball. Well, for all the complaints about the technicality and incomprehensibility of the Infield Fly Rule, it has absolutely nothing on Offside (Law 11 of Football's 17 Laws). I could not explain the rule in the space of this post, although I think I now sort-of understand it thanks to the videos embedded after the jump.
Offside (note the singular: people get persnickety if you add an 's' at the end) is soccer's counterpart to the infield fly rule as being what marks you as someone who really knows and understands the game--you know baseball if you can explain the infield fly, you know soccer if you can explain Offside. But is Offside a limiting rule as I have defined that term--is it soccer's logical and policy counterpart to the infield fly? I am not sure.
Offside is an anti-"cherry-picking" rule, preventing teams from having one or more players hang around the goal and doing nothing but kicking long balls up the field pitch. It also prevents the defense from having to keep multiple defenders back by the goal to guard the cherry-picker. The result is to push the action up the field and keep more players involved on both ends. The underlying logic is aesthetics and the look of the game. The rulemakers did not want what one soccer web site called a "ping-pong match" of long kicks back and forth, as opposed to short passes and runs up and through the middle of the pitch. It also avoids what many would regard as "cheap" goals.
But Offside does not seem to be about extreme cost-benefit disparties, as is the IFR. I suppose it would give the offense an advantage--the cherry-picker could get the ball in position to go one-on-one with the goalkeeper, a big advantage to the offense. Importantly, however, the opponent is not helpless. Absent Law 11, the defense simply counters the cherry-picker by moving a defender back to his area. The opponent also might be able to prevent the long pass to the cherry-picker or otherwise prevent the team from taking advantage of the loitering player. More importantly, the cherry-picker is not intentionally failing to perform the expected athletic skills. The infield fly rule aims at a play in which the infielder might otherwise intentionally not catch the ball (the thing he is expected to do). In being in offside position, a soccer player is trying to succeed as expected--he is trying to score a goal by getting into the best position for himself. (Note: I know little about soccer, so please correct me if I miss anything here).
Lastly, the complexity of the rule likely reflects an attempt to calibrate it and the game. As written, the rule allows for long balls, so long as the player was onside when the pass is made. And it only penalizes if the offside player is involved in the play (itself subject to a detailed definition). Again, check out the videos below if you want to learn.
In Esquire's Father's Day edition, there is an article about fathers and sports, with a sidebar giving the approximate ages that kids typically can do certain sports-related things (e.g., sustain a game of catch--8). The last entry: "Understand the Infield Fly Rule--34." I'm 46--what does that say about Offside?
Now for the videos:
Watch this one if you like PowerPoint:
Watch this one if you like British accents, bad graphics, and cheesy music.
Saturday, May 31, 2014
Donald Sterling v. NBA: Your new Civ Pro exam
Donald Sterling sued the NBA to stop his league-imposed punishment and the forced sale of his team. A $ 2 billion offer from Steve Ballmar was accepted by Sterling's wife, Shelly on behalf of the trust that owns the team, having had Donald declared mentally incompetent; the NBA has approved that deal and canceled a planned hearing of the Board of Governors (the other 29 owners) to strip Donald of ownership. The lawsuit, with Sterling and the trust as plaintiffs against the NBA, asserts claims for a violation of the state constitution, federal antitrust, and various breach of contract claims; it seeks damages and an injunction halting the NBA-imposed punishments (a $ 2.5 million fine and lifetime suspension from the NBA) and the hearing to terminate his ownership.Oddly, these claims are either not ripe or about to become moot, depending on what happens with the sale. The NBA has not yet held the hearing to terminate his ownership, so he has not yet suffered any damages from it. And since the league will cancel the hearing if the sale goes through, that claim becomes moot. If the sale goes through, expect the league to rescind the fine, mooting that element of relief. It might even lift the lifetime suspension--what involvement will Sterling have with the league if he is no longer an owner?--mooting that claim. And assuming the sale goes through, what damage will Sterling have suffered? Two billion dollars will be more than double the sale price of any NBA franchise and likely more money than he would have earned from continued ownership of the team. So, at best, maybe he can get the non-economic value of being an NBA owner--except he is such a pariah now among NBA owners that it would be hard to put any real value on this.
What Sterling really wants is an injunction halting the sale of the team, at least pending outcome of the litigation. But to get that, Shelly Sterling needs to be involved in the case, since she claims an interest in controlling the trust and pushing through the sale. So either she has to be joined under FRCP 19 or she will try to intervene under FRCP 24. (Note: I don't do much more than lecture on these two rules, just to show other ways of bringing parties into cases But Rule 19 confuses students, who think it applies more broadly to cover simple joint-tortfeasor situations; having a nice clear example, purely involving injunctive relief, is helpful).
Jurisidction here hinges on the antitrust claim and § 1331; there is supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims (although Sterling's lawyer--who in an ongoing media blitz has come across as the worst kind of slickster lawyer who does not actually care about things like law and procedure--did not mention that or any other basis for jurisdiction over the non-federal claims). But, here is where it gets fun. Antitrust experts generally agree that the antitrust claim is nonsense--Sterling signed a series of agreements and contracts to become owner of an NBA franchise and cannot claim harm if those contracts harm the public or competitors. Sterling really is arguing that, by violating its own Constitution and By-Laws in punishing him (arguments that are not entirely frivolous), the NBA has breached those agreements; in other words, this is really a state-law case. So perhaps the court declines supplemental jurisdiction under § 1367(c)(2) because the state claims predominate. Moreeover, the court is going to have to figure out who controls the trust (Donald or Shelly) and, perhaps, whether Donald is competent. Those sound like potentially complex issues of state law, warranting the court to decline jurisdiction under § 1367(c)(1). Finally, and most obviously, if the antitrust claim is that weak and the court dismisses it relatively early, it could decline jurisdiction simply for that reasons under § 1367(c)(3).
Update: An alert reader emails with another way Shelly Sterling could be brought into this case: She agreed to indemnify the NBA for any judgments arising from the sale of the team, including for lawsuits by her husband. So, having been sued, the NBA could now implead Shelly and the trust to enforce the indemnification agreement in the same action. Sterling then could assert claims against Shelly relating to any injunction of the sale.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
More statutory interpretation from Donald Sterling
Sterling leads off by challenging the NBA's reliance on the secretly recorded conversations as evidence, which gets interesting. He points to California Penal Code § 632(a), which prohibits recording confidential communications without consent, and § 632(d), which excludes "evidence obtained as a result of eavesdropping upon or recording a confidential communication . . . in any judicial, administrative, legislative, or other proceeding." From this, Sterling insists he has a constitutional right not to have his private conversations recorded or having the evidence of his conversations used against him. That seems overstated--that the state offers a statutory protection against being recorded in furtherance of the constitutional right of privacy does not convert the right against being recorded into a constitutional right.The interesting statutory question is whether internal dispute-resolution proceedings of a private organization constitute an "other proceeding" under § 632(d). On one hand, the language seems to contemplate public proceedings, since the three enumerated types of proceedings are all public in nature. So under ejusdem generis, that catch-all should be read to cover only similarly public proceedings. It also makes sense that the criminal code would regulate evidence in public but not private proceedings. On the other hand, are there any public proceedings that are not judicial, administrative, or legislative? If not, then "other proceedings" must mean something not public. Perhaps it refers to something like arbitration or mediation, which can be considered quasi-public--they are privately controlled processes to which parties agree to send otherwise-public disputes. But this proceeding still seems different. This is not a situation in which the NBA established an outside-but-private process (such as arbitration of appeals under the CBA with the players' union). This is the collection of 30 owners establishing their own internal processes controlled by the 30 owners, for regulating who stays within their own ranks. Even if § 632(d) goes beyond public proceedings, the NBA process still seems fundamentally different.
Finally, the answer may be affected by the 2001 decision in Bartnicki v. Vopper. Bartnicki held that Congress could not punish publication of an illegally intercepted and recorded phone call, where the publishers were uninvolved in the unlawful interception or recording. The First Amendment protects publication (and, implicitly, other uses) of truthful lawfully obtained information on matters of public concern, except where the government is serving a need of the highest order. So perhaps the NBA could argue that it is entitled under Bartnicki to use the laefully obtained (and thus constitutionally protected) recording in its private internal proceedings, meaning California law is limited only to public, California-established proceedings, but not to whatever private proceedings private persons and entities may adopt.
Thursday, May 08, 2014
Donald Sterling and free speech
There have been scattered rumblings about the problem of the NBA sanctioning Donald Sterling for protected, although offensive, speech. Obviously, this is not a First Amendment problem, since the NBA is a wholly private actor. But we might call it a free speech problem, in that Sterling did suffer a sanction for expressing his opinions. And because it may be difficult to draw the line between this case and people speaking on other matters of people controversy (marriage equality, gay rights, abortion, whatever) and possibly offending someone, the specter of league-imposed suspensions for political speech looms.
Mike Dorf looks for a principled line and finds it in a broad conception of harassment, such that once Sterling's racist views became public, his continued position as owner "created a kind of hostile work environment." While this is not enough to violate Title VII, Dorf argues that private firms often adopt prophylactic policies that go beyond what the law requires. He thus urges the NBA to defend the punishment on those grounds, rather than on his offensive speech simpliciter.
There is an appeal to this view, especially as a post hoc explanation for what the league did and as a way to isolate what Sterling did as something unique. But I wonder if the principle can be easily cabined. Any controversial policy could be recast as creating this sort of hostile environment--an openly LGBT player may find it hostile that the owner or a teammate contributes to anti-marriage equality causes, just as a devoutly religious player may find it hostile that a teammate opposes Christian prayer before public meetings, just as an Dominican player may find it hostile that a teammate supports heightened immigration enforcement. Maybe this is just the worst kind of slippery-slope anxiety--no league is going to suspend anyone for being involved in genuine social and political causes and we should not dignify what Sterling did by comparing it genuine political involvement. But I am not convinced Sterling (or to go back a longer time, former MLB pitcher John Rocker) only a difference of degree, not kind.
But if not Dorf's approach, then what?One possibility is to try to distinguish speech (and wrongful non-speech activities) that genuinely relates to one's part or role on a team and in the league from speech that does not, with only the former providing a basis for league sanction. I thought about a version of this in thinking about what the league should have done a decade ago with the various racialized civil actions Sterling was involved in.
Now, this may not be any better, since it does not necessarily avoid those same line-drawing problems. Just as a league always can say X's involvement in a hot-button political controversy "creates a kind of hostile work environment," so can a league always say X's involvement in a hot-button political controversy relaates to his role on the team (often by throwing out the buzzword of creating "distractions in the lockerroom"). This saves us having to define and develope a new concept such as "kind of hostile work environment." But we still have to figure out what "genuinely relates" to one's role on the team. Another approach is for private entities to import some kind of Pickering balance, although that remains squishy and malleable enough to still cause problems.
None of this changes my basic view that the NBA has the authority to force the sale (and probably to suspend) Sterling and that these sanctions should hold up if/when he challenges them in court. But Dorf is onto something about not what the league can do, but what it ought to do.
Wednesday, May 07, 2014
The end of roller derby names?
In the closing segment of this week's Slate Hang Up and Listen podcast (go to 57:55 mark), Slate's Josh Levin discusses efforts to make roller derby a more serious sport at the intercollegiate and international levels, also discussed in this Slate piece. Making the sport serious includes the demise of the roller derby nickname--Nun Meaner, Sigmund Droid, Haute Flash, Carmen Getsome, and my favorite, Stone Cold Jane Austen (that one belongs to Devoney Looser, an English professor at Arizona State). More players are going by their given names, at least in international competition, to make the sport seem less like professional wrestling. Occasional GuestPrawf Dave Fagundes, who wrote the definitive article on roller derby names, will no doubt be saddened to learn of this development.
And, since we all need a break from grading: What would you choose as your law- or law-professor-related derby name?
Thursday, May 01, 2014
Two additional thoughts on the Sterling suspension
Yesterday I questioned the precise basis for the NBA's suspension of Clippers owner Donald Sterling. On further reflection, I want to consider some additional interpretive points.
First, I noted that the NBA Constitution and By-Laws contain two provisions--Article 35A(c) allows for a fine of up to $ 1 million for statements prejudicial or detrimental to the league and Article 35A(d) allows for a suspension and/or a fine of up to $ 1 million for conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the league. Commissioner Adam Silver must have relied on 35A(d), since 35A(c) does not allow for a suspension. But I questioned that usage. Sterling's misdeeds involved statements and the existence of distinct prohibitions--one regulating conduct and one regulating statements--suggests that the statement-specific provision should have been used here, which would make the suspension inappropriate.
But now I am wondering whether I am reading 35A(c) incorrectly. Perhaps the "statements" it prohibits are those that directly criticize the league or something about the league, for example game officiating (many a fine has been imposed on a coach or owner for doing that). But it does not reach statements about something else that, because of their viewpoint, happen to make the league look bad. That would instead be treated as "conduct" and pulled back within the more-general regulation of 35A(d).Second, I am wondering if Silver simply jumped to the catch-all power of Article 24(l) to make decisions and impose punishments in the best interests of the NBA for all three sanctions, ignoring anything in Article 35A. Article 24(l) allows for a range of penalties, including suspension and a fine up to $ 2.5 million. If so, it brings to even sharper light the question of how he could do that, since, again, 24(l) only operates when "a situation arises which is not covered in the Constitution and By-Laws." This means Silver should have at least glanced at 35A(c) and/or (d), which do seem to cover this situation.
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Sterling, Silver, and statutory interpretation
For those of you who like using sports rules to illustrate statutory interpretation, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's lowering of the hammer on Clippers owner Donald Sterling is a gold mine (forgive the precious metal puns). And it may be that, while Silver is being lauded for his moral and ethical stand, his legal footing is a bit shakier.
Silver on Tuesday imposed three punishments: 1) A lifetime ban from all involvement with the Clippers or the league; 2) a $ 2.5 million fine; and 3) a call for the owners to vote to terminate Sterling's ownership. The NBA had previously kept its governing documents secret; at the time of Silver's press conference, no one outside the league knew the precise bases for these punishments (when asked, Silver said he would "leave that to the lawyers"). The league finally released its Constitution and By-Laws (H/T: Deadspin), although they still have not announced the precise bases for these decisions, so we are guessing as to exactly what Silver relied on and why. We may only know if Sterling challenges his punishments (presumably through a breach of contract action). Either way, you probably could get a nice legal analysis exam out of this.
The lifetime ban is most likely pursuant to Article 35A(d), which empowers the commissioner to "suspend for a definite or indefinite period . . . any person who, in his opinion, shall have been guilty of conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the Association." The fine seems to be pursuant to Article 24(l), which gives the commissioner catch-all authority to make decisions "as in his judgment shall be in the best interests of the Assocaition" when a situation is not otherwise covered; the maximum fine under that provision is $ 2.5 million. Finally, the call for termination of Sterling's membership triggers Articles 13, 14, and 14A. Article 13 enumerates ten bases for termination; the only one that might fit is (a), where an owner "Willfully violate[s] any of the provisions of the Constitution and By-Laws, resolutions, or agreements of the Association," which brings us back to Article 35A(d)'s conduct prejudicial or detrimental or Article 24(l)'s "best interests." The power to terminate rests with the NBA's Board of Governors, comprised of the other 29 owners, and requires a 3/4 supermajority.
First, it is interesting that Silver apparently split the source for the first two punishments. The suspension seems to have been under Article 35A(d) for conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the NBA. But 35A(d) (already used as the basis for the suspension) also allows for a maximum $1m fine in addition to the suspension. Clearly Silver did not rely on Article 35A for the fine, however, since he imposed a fine 1 1/2 times larger than 35A(d)'s limit. Instead, the fine must have been under the Article 24(l) catch-all, given the amount. Why did he do it this way? Presumably to impose the larger fine under 24(l).
But there is a good argument that resort to the catch-all is inappropriate here. Article 24(l) expressly applies only "[w]here a situation arises which is not covered in the Constitution and By-Laws." This situation is covered by another part of the Constitution--Article 35A(d), already used for the suspension. In other words, since Silver found that Sterling violated Article 35A(d) (in suspending him), that also should have been the basis for the fine. Silver thus was wrong to resort to the catch-all. Further complicating matters is Article 35A(c), providing for fines (again, maximum $ 1 m) specifically for statements prejudicial or detrimental to the best interests of the team, league, or basketball. That also seems to cover this situation--Sterling obviously said things contrary to the best interests of the NBA--again making resort to Article 24(l) inappropriate.
Second, and related: Why did Silver rely on Article 35A(d) for conduct prejudicial or detrimental rather than Article 35A(c) for a statement prejudicial or detrimental? Presumably because (c) does not allow for suspension, while (d) does. But Sterling is unquestionably being punished for statements, not conduct (whatever his racist views, he was not punished for acting on his views or operating his team in a way that implemented those views). While a provision prohibiting conduct could, standing alone, also reach statements, that argument does not work when there are distinct provisions, one regulating conduct and one regulating speech. Did the NBA Constitution intentionally set-up a situation in which conduct could be the basis for a suspension but statements only for a fine? If so, perhaps this means the suspension is improper.
Note that my analysis presumes a certain exclusivity--Article 24(l) by its terms cannot be in play if a different provision is; Article 35A(d) cannot be used to regulate statements because 35A(c) already does. Perhaps Silver would argue--and an arbiter would accept--that all of the provisions together allow for this range of punishments. But that is an odd form of statutory interpretation and would render many provisions of the NBA Constitution superfluous.
Third, expect some controversy when the owners attempt to terminate Sterling's ownership. The league would be basing termination on a willful violation of either of three broad, non-specific provisions (either "conduct prejudicial or detrimental," statements prejudicial or detrimental, or conduct judged not in the "best interests'); either seems a very generic basis for this ultimate sanction. (For a legal comparison, think of SCOTUS' efforts to make 18 U.S.C. § 241 work for catch-all Due Process violations in the face of vagueness concerns). The other nine bases for termination are fairly specific, going to gambling and fixing games (forever the cardinal sin) and extreme mismanagement of the franchise, although none is in play here. Perhaps Sterling could argue that either 35A(d) or 24(l) is not a specific enough rule in the Constitution & By-Laws as to be willfully violated as to form a basis for termination under 13(a). Failing that, termination of ownership, if the owners must the necessary supermajority (and I imagine they will, both to show support for Silver's leadership and to keep the players happy), appears proper and within league rules. Of course, under Article 14(j), owners waive any review of this decision (and a similar one in the franchise agreement), so it may not matter (unless, as David Hoffman suggests, the enforceability of this waiver-of-recourse clause is dubious).
[Update: A thought that just rolled around: One might read "willfully" in Article 13(a) to require specific intent (again, what the Court has done with § 241 to avoid vagueness concerns). That is, requiring a finding that Sterling not only specifically intended to make those statements (he did), but specifically intended to make them so as to be prejudicial or detrimental to the league. If that is what willfully does, termination of ownership may become tougher. Otherwise, any little violation of any rule could become a basis for termination.]
Finally, it will be interesting to see how the owners approach termination of ownership. Typically, terminating a franchise transfers control to the league, under Article 14A(c). But the media seems to be talking in terms of the owners giving Sterling an opportunity to sell the team outright to some outside owner. While not specifically provided for, that might be a potential negotiated resolution.
Monday, April 28, 2014
People everywhere are looking for ways to protest the racist comments allegedly made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Clippers players used a silent pre-game protest, leaving their warm-up jackets on the floor at halfcourt and warming up with their shirts inside-out (hiding the "Clippers" logo). Two Golden State fans got creative with posters. And Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, who was mentioned in the telephone conversation between Sterling and his girlfriend as someone who was OK to bring to games because he is of mixed race and ethnicity, used Michael Jackson's "Black or White" as the music when he came to the plate in Sunday's game. And some companies are now withdrawing from sponsorship deals with the Clippers.
It has become commonplace to protest high-level business people by economically targeting the businesses with which they are associated, by refusing to invest, work at, or shop at these companies. These include attempted or limited boycotts--see Chick-Fil-A or, going back further, Domino's Pizza--or threatened targeting with the hope of inciting change--see the ouster of RadiumOne's CEO following his guilty plea on misdemeanor domestic violence charges or Mozilla firing the CEO who supported Prop 8). Whether such efforts are effective, they have come to be seen as a strong means of political expression if not change.
For all that I have argued for the intimate connection between sport and free expression, however, it is ironic that those expressive weapons cannot work with respect to professional sports.
The first problem is the collective nature of leagues such as the NBA. Donald Sterling benefits from everything that happens as to every team in the league, not just what happens to the Clippers. He benefitted from Warriors fans who attended the game in Oakland on Sunday, since visiting teams receive a percentage of gate. He benefitted from every basketball fan of every team who watched any playoff game on television, because teams share revenue earned from the league's massive broadcast deals--that includes not only the Clippers-Warriors game, but all three games played yesterday. It is not enough to target the Clippers, in other words; it would take a massive fan movement against the NBA as a whole.
A second problem is the emotional connection and loyalty that fans feel to their teams. Clippers fans do not want to entirely abandon the team, because they want to see "their" team succeed. And that is not fungible--I can get a chicken sandwich from a lot of places, but I cannot just shift my team loyalties overnight. Moreover, fan loyalty runs to the players who represent them on the court, not to the owner in the background. And it still is about the league as a whole, not one team. Fans of the Warriors are not going to abandon their loyalties to their players and teams, and their desire to celebrate a championship, because the owner of the opposing team is a racist. Nor are the fans of the other playoff teams not currently playing the Clippers, who similarly want their teams to win and do not care about the racist owner of a team other than their beloved franchise. Even fans without another rooting interest are in a bind; the easy move is to root against the Clippers so Sterling does not enjoy a championship and to stop watching games. But that means rooting against the players who also want that success, which somehow seems unfair.
A third problem is that the players are unable to vote with their feet by seeking employment elsewhere, at least not right now. They want to win a championship right now--it is bound up in who they are and what they do, and the opportunity does not come around very often. To walk away from that opportunity in protest hurts them more than it hurts Sterling (who still profits from being part of the NBA money-printing aparatus). It is why Clippers players reportedly only briefly considered, then rejected, forfeiting Sunday's game. Again, it would take league-wide action--every team refusing to play until the NBA takes action against Sterling. And while the NBAPA is trying to get involved in the matter, I see no way that such a collective walkout is in the offing (not to mention whether it is even legal under the NLRA)--again, players must jump at the opportunity to win a championship, because it may not come around again.
Update: I forgot the most important point in all of this, so I'll add it here: The most obvious way for Clippers fans to express their anti-Sterling viewpoints without having to stop supporting their team is to show up with signs and clothes and chants doing just that. This doesn't change the team's ownership or anything, but it is the best outlet for fan expression. But this raises an important issue: Will the Clippers and/or the NBA try to control what fans say about Sterling or how they say it? On one hand, I believe Staples Center (where the Clippers play) is privately owned, so the First Amendment is not in play and fans are at the mercy of the arena's owners. Most pro teams are look to stop speech criticial of ownership when they can. On the other hand, both would take an overwhelming PR hit for censoring anti-Sterling speech at this point, so they might actually allow fans to get away with more than they ordinarily would in a situation that had not so boiled over.
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Why I have spent so much time arguing about fan speech and stadiums as public forums--because it allows expression such as this. But I wonder two things: 1) Did ABC show this or did the NBAorder them not to? 2) Would the Warriors/the arena have taken the signs were the wave of public opinion not running so overwhelmingly against Sterling?
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
A (Limited) Defense of Saving Players for "Crunch Time"
If you love sports and you’re interested in empirical methodology, the last ten-plus years (call it the Moneyball Era) have been very good indeed. The increase in attention to statistical studies of sports has grown a ton (though of course it has much longer roots that date at least back to Bill James and early sabermetrics in the late 70s).
One of the most interesting parts of this movement has been to do what good research so often does: Take a longstanding belief and show that it’s nothing more than smoke and mirrors. For instance, does icing the kicker work? According to this study, the answer is simple: Nope (not that it’s stopped NFL coaches from doing it, of course).
Consider as well the practice in basketball games of sitting players early on so that they will be available (and not in foul trouble) when it’s late in the game and “crunch time” arrives. As many people, including Richard Thaler, have argued, this strategy is probably counterproductive because you get just as many points for baskets scored early in a game as you do during late-game moments, so that sitting players to save them for late-game heroics probably just means you’re shortening their total on-court minutes to the team’s detriment.
The point of this post is not to propound a full defense of the crunch time strategy. This is because I think it’s basically right that basketball coaches are too cautious with saving players for late-game situations, and would probably do better to just max out their points earlier on even if that meant more players would foul out.
The point of this post, rather, is to point out one reason why the story of the crunch time strategy may be more complicated, and somewhat more compelling, than its critics have let on. I elaborate this point below the fold.
To start with an orthogonal observation, the strategy of sitting basketball (and, for what it's worth, hockey) players periodically throughout a game is not only to save them for crucial late-game moments. It also is a necessity (or at least is very advisable) given the highly intense pace of basketball. If you didn’t give cagers regular breaks, by the end of the fourth quarter (or earlier) even the fittest players would be totally gassed, regardless of whether they were close to disqualification via foul accumulation.
That point aside, though, consider a reason that the crunch time strategy might not be a total loss. First, the critique of the strategy assumes that players are equally likely to score baskets throughout a game. If they are, then it makes the most sense to just maximize their on-court time, regardless of whether that court time occurs early or late in a game.
But if players’ likelihood of scoring is not constant, and in particular if players are more likely to score later in games, then saving them for the times when they tend to be more productive may be a good strategy. This sort of discontinuity in scoring aptitude is plausible—indeed, one of the hallmarks of what makes a player great may be their tendency to perform well in late-game high-pressure situations.
A related point is that great players have the dynamic effect of making others around them better, either through abstract qualities like inspiring leadership or more concrete ones like making good passes, setting effective screens, etc. These dynamic effects of a star player on their team could also vary throughout a game, and if they were greater at the end of a game, then reserving a star player’s minutes to allocate them later in a game could make more sense than crunch-time critique acknowledges.
This is, of course, only a limited defense of the crunch time strategy. This post has sought to add one underappreciated possible reason that sitting players early in a contest in order to save them for later-game moments might make more sense than the prevailing critique of the crunch time strategy lets on. And since, as I observed above, sitting players to some extent at intervals throughout a game is inevitable, it’s not possible to just play your best players until they successively foul out, even if this were the optimal strategy.
So given that it is necessary in basketball to sit players periodically throughout a game, one factor that might help craft the optimal strategy for when to sit players would be their likelihood of performing well later in a game (which is, of course, different than the prevailing wisdom that stars should always be saved for “crunch time”). And it bears noting that even if a given star performed marginally better later in games, that slight advantage might well not be great enough to justify reducing his overall on-court minutes by sitting him out earlier in the game.
This is, though, as the man says, an empirical question with an empirical answer. Do stars actually perform better later in games? Perhaps it’s true that some stars do while others tend to wilt under the perceived pressure. And why limit the inquiry to star players? It could be that all players' performance varies differently throughout a game, which could help a coach figure out when it's optimal to put anyone on the court. The broader point is that while we look at players' statistics as constant given that most basketball stats are based on games (points per game, assists per game, etc.), that may mask discontinuities in when during a game players are at their best, and that uncovering patterns in these discontinuities may be a strategically helpful insight.
Sunday, April 13, 2014
The best sports deal ever
That is how Sports Illustrated describes the deal struck between the NBA and the owners of the Spirits of St. Louis when the Spirits folded and four ABA teams joined the league, which had paid them $ 300 million over the past three-plus decades. The SI story does a good job of elaborating on the deal's business and legal details, the negotiations leading to the original deal, and the litigation and settlement that ended it.
Pursuant to a recent confidential settlement (disposing of a lawsuit to obtain rights to certain international and online revenues), the old deal is over; the former owners (brothers Ozzie and Daniel Silna) will be paid more than $ 500 million, plus a small stake in the NBA's new TV contract. All told, the Silnas will make more than $ 1 billion (from a team they bought for $ 1 million in 1974).
Sunday, April 06, 2014
Unions, incentives, and change
In March, the regional director of the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that football players at Northwestern University were employees, entitled to form a union and to collectively bargain with the university over conditions. That vote is scheduled for April 25, although the votes would be impounded if, as expected, Northwestern appeals the decision to the full NLRB. Yesterday, Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald publicly urged his players to vote against forming a union in a letter sent to players and their families. And at least a few players seem inclined to vote against it, at least based on quotations in the story.
What is interesting is the near-universal sense from everyone that things do need to change in college football in terms of benefits, hours, health care, and other conditions for student-athletes.--all the things supporters want to get through the union and collective bargaining. The dispute is over how those changes will or should occur. One player pointed to Fitzgerald and his activities with the American College Football Association (he is on the association's Board of Trustees); another said he hopes the NCAA will see the need for change. But what would cause anyone to believe either of those groups (or any other non-player group) is likely to act in the players' interests. Football coaches are control freaks (I say that as a control freak myself) who would see that control threatened by many of the changes the players might want. How likely is ACFA to support tighter limits on football hours--so players can spend more time being students--or tighter limits on contact practices--so players are subject to fewer hits? The NCAA is a dysfunctional organization that has never shown any inclination to truly protect and benefit players, especially when the changes transfer from it and its schools to the players. This is not an institution likely to change unilaterally or from within. Especially since the NCAA, conferences, and schools make massive amounts of money off football and men's basketball and may make less money if the system changes.Importantly, none of these organizations is structured or legally obligated to take player interests into account or even to hear their concerns. All the unfortunate anti-union sentiment in the United States obscures the real benefit of the NLRA and a union in this situation--the rules regarding the terms and conditions under which the players operate can only be made with consent from the players. Absent a union, the players are left hoping that someone else--ACFA, the NCAA, the Big Ten/Twelve, Northwestern--will deign to give them what they want or need. In other words, change comes because the same powers that be decide to throw the players a bone via the same paternalistic arrangements. Moreover, since Northwestern must follow NCAA regulations (as a condition of membership and maintaining eligibility of its teams), the only source of change really is the NCAA.
I thought of similar issues surrounding the union in doing an interview regarding this joint study by the Student Press Law Center and a journalism class at the University of Maryland (I am quoted in the report itself). The report describes some of the policies to which student-athletes are subject (either by the university, the athletic department, or the team) regarding social media and other speech activities; social, dating, and sexual activities; and privacy. For example, the University of Georgia men's basketball team has policies regarding monogamy (good) and visible hickeys (bad) and reserving the right to inspect a player's dorm room at any time. Obviously these policies would be unconstitutional as applied to an ordinary student at the University of Georgia. They probably are not much more constitutionally valid as applied to student-athletes--much depends on whether the court views student-athletes as akin to employees and thus subject to the tighter speech and conduct restrictions that government can impose on its employees. Of course, one still could argue that these policies are over the top even in that situation--seriously, telling a student-athlete how many girlfriends he can have or that he cannot use "offensive language" (whatever that means) on Twitter?
Of course, we never will find out whether these policies and rules are constitutionally valid because no player is ever going to challenge them in court, for fear of retribution from the powerful and in-control coach. Collective action eliminates that problem--the coach is not going to kick everyone off the team for objecting to these sorts of unconstitutional and offensive rules. Only the group, not the lone player, can resist the greater power of the coach, the school, and the NCAA.