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.
Saturday, March 08, 2014
Gambling v. PEDs and the Baseball Hall of Fame
Warning: Another sports-and-law post, this focusing on the internal rules of baseball as a business
Kostya Kennedy has a new book on Pete Rose, titled Pete Rose: An American Dilemma, excerpted in this week's Sports Illustrated cover story. Kennedy states that Rose's Hall-of-Fame worthiness has come under "renewed discussion" as players linked to PED use (Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens) come up for Hall consideration. TThe excerpt (and presumably the book) present the arguments that Rose' gambling is a lesser crime than PED use, so he should be a more worthy candidate for the Hall than a juicer. Will Leitch at Sports on Earth responds and basically blows up the argument, by pointing out the serious problems that gambling creates and the moral panic that surrounds PEDs.
But there is a different, more legalistic reason Kennedy's article gets Rose's Hall eligibility wrong, one I discussed eight years ago, just as the major PED suspects were beginning to retire. Rose is ineligible for the Hall because he voluntarily accepted a lifetime ban from baseball and placement on baseball's permanently ineligible list. Under Rule 3E of the BBWAA voting rules, "Any player on Baseball's ineligible list shall not be an eligible candidate." And that ends the inquiry. It actually does not matter whether Rose bet on baseball or on the Reds (he admitted gambling on baseball, although never on games involving his team)--he accepted the ban and thus the collateral consequence of the ban. On the other hand, no suspected steroid user has ever been assessed a lifetime ban or placed on the permanently ineligible list, thus none is subject to Rule 3E. Steroid users are being kept out of the Hall by the principled insistence (or priggish obstinance, depending on your perspective) of BBWAA members.
Of course, we might reconsider this ordering, which would require reconsideration of the comparative evil of steroid use and gambling. Under present rules, a person is banned for life for a third positive test or finding of PED use, but banned for life on one finding of having bet on games involving his team. Perhaps that should be flipped, or at least treated on equal footing. (On this, I agree with Leitch that we have the order right, that gambling is a far greater sin than taking drugs designed to help you play better and for longer). But none of that changes anything for Rose given the current rules and the rules under which he operated.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Sport, non-sport, and judging
I have wanted to use Jordy's posts about judging and reputation to jump into other things, especially as the posts pertain to activities such as figure skating. And I want to tie this to my ongoing interest in defining what constitutes sport, for which I believe I have landed on a workable definition that focuses on whether a contest is decided by evaluating the intrinsic quality of an athletic skill (not sport) or the instrumental result of the performance of that skill (sport). The attempt to understandin judging may introduce some consequences into the distinction.
Sport is governed by what Mitchell Berman called the “competitive desideratum,” the desire that the “outcome of athletic contests . . . depend (insofar as possible) upon competitors’ relative excellence in executing the particular athletic virtues that the sport is centrally designed to showcase, develop, and reward.” The outcome of a sporting event should not be decided by anyone other than the players themselves. And it particularly should not be decided by an umpire or referee making pronouncements about the game's rules.. Of course, that is not entirely possible, since sports are governed by rules that must be applied and enforced by someone, with enforcement certainly influencing the outcome.The answer, I began arguing here, is that sports rules are analogous to rules of procedure, the framework rules in which a contest (athletic or judicial) is decided and resolved. These framework rules are not the focus of the contest and should not dictate the outcome. Instead, they regulate the competition, while the players control the outcome through their relative skills and the results of those skills. True, decisions about these framework rules--whether a pitch is a ball or strike or whether something is a foul-- affect how the competitors act and the contest must be resolved in light of those decisions. So we might say these rules "influence" the result. But the players still control the outcome of the game through their skills--whether the pitcher gets the batter out, whether the ball goes in the basket, etc.--without real input from the umpire/judge/referee.
And this is where the sport/non-sport distinction matters. For non-sports such as figure skating, we never get away from the judge and her ultimate opinion as to the intrinsic quality of the skater's performance of those skills. That opinion of the skaters' skills decides the outcome of the contest, not anything that follows from those skills. In other words, the rules of a non-sport are analogous to substantive law that courts (whether through jury or judge) use to decide a legal dispute. Non-sport possesses some of Berman's "competitive desideratum," but the skills cannot alone decide the outcome without a judicial ruling. Just as legal arguments and proof cannot alone decide the outcome of litigation without a judicial ruling.
Returning to Jordy's point about attorney reputation in the eyes of judges, the difference between sport and non-sport lies in how directly reputation affects the outcome. In a sport, to the extent reputation affects what gets called a strike for certain hitters or what gets called a foul for certain players, the influence is indirect, the outcome still controlled by whether the pitcher can get the batter out or whether the ball goes in the basket. In non-sport, to the extent reputation affects how the judges perceive the quality of a jump, spin, or skate, the influence directly dictates the end result of the competition. (In the litigation realm, this might parallel differences in how attorney reputation affects a judge's view of a particular attorney's discovery motion and how it affects the judge's ultimate findings of fact on the merits of the claim).
These are necessarily preliminary thoughts that I hope to perhaps flesh out in the future.
Banning home plate collisions: An exercise in statutory interpretation
Major League Baseball yesterday announced an experimental rule banning, or at least limiting, home-plate collisions. The rule is intended to protect players, as home-plate collisions are a common cause of concussions and other injuries to catchers. Whether it does or not provides an interesting exercise in statutory interpretation.New Rule 7.13 provides:
A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate). If, in the judgment of the umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball). In such circumstances, the umpire shall call the ball dead, and all other baserunners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the collision.
An interpretive comment adds:
The failure by the runner to make an effort to touch the plate, the runner's lowering of the shoulder, or the runner's pushing through with his hands, elbows or arms, would support a determination that the runner deviated from the pathway in order to initiate contact with the catcher in violation of Rule 7.13. If the runner slides into the plate in an appropriate manner, he shall not be adjudged to have violated Rule 7.13. A slide shall be deemed appropriate, in the case of a feet first slide, if the runner's buttocks and legs should hit the ground before contact with the catcher. In the case of a head first slide, a runner shall be deemed to have slid appropriately if his body should hit the ground before contact with the catcher.
Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 7.13 if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.
The rule reportedly reflects a compromise between MLB, which had wanted a must-slide-can't-block rule that would have eliminated all collisions and thus done the most for player safety, and the MLBPA, which did not want to make such a major change so close to the season, fearing the players would not have time to adjust.
The basic rule prohibits a runner from deviating from the direct path home to initiate contact with the catcher (or whoever is covering the plate)--that is, from going out of his way to make contact rather than running directly for the plate. But the rule does not prohibit collisions where the runner runs directly into the catcher in trying to score. So, reading only the text, it is not clear the new rule eliminates most collisions, since most collisions come when runner, catcher, and ball all converge at the plate and running through the catcher is the most direct route to scoring. It thus is not clear that it provides the safety benefits it is intended to provide.
The solution may come in the interpretive comments and a more purposivist approach. An umpire may find that the runner deviated if the runner fails to make an effort to touch the plate, lowers his shoulder, or pushes with his hands, elbows, or arms. On the other hand, a runner does not violate the rule if he slides into the plate in an "appropriate manner," meaning his body hits the ground before making contact with the catcher. The upshot of the comments is to grant the umpires discretion to judge when the runner has "deviated" from the path, and thereby to apply the rule so as to further its purpose. The comment incentivizes runners to slide in most cases, since a proper slide per se will not violate the rule, while running through the catcher might be deemed deviating, subject to how the umpire exercises his discretion in viewing the play (whether the runner lowered his shoulder or raiseed his arms, etc.).
The rule seems unnecessarily complicated, given the player-safety goals involved. Especially since they simply could have modeled this rule after the rules that apply at the other three bases. But the sense seems to be that this is experimental, designed to be revisited during and after the upcoming seasons and to function as a first step to get players used to this new way of playing. Think of it as the legislature phasing-in new rules so as to also phase-in new, preferred behavior.
Friday, February 21, 2014
Not a sport, redux
Jordan presaged it, although for different reasons: Judging in women's figure skating is once again a thing, as people question the scoring that gave a Russian skater a surprisingly easy Gold Medal on Thursday. The issue here is less about reputation than about good, old-fashioned home cooking. And a judge who was suspended previously for trying to fix a competition previously. And we may be back to concerns about anonymous judging--established to avoid collusion and bloc-voting, it also removes accountability.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Fan speech, once again
I suppose I should wade back into the renewed interest in fan speech at sporting events, given two recent events at college basketball games: 1) Last week, Marcus Smart, a star player for Oklahoma State, was suspended for three games for shoving an adult fan at a game against Texas Tech, in response to something that the fan, a prominent heckler at games, yelled at him (the fan, Jeff Orr, apologized for his role and voluntarily agreed not to attend any more games this season); 2) Last night, an adult fan was ejected from a game at the University of Memphis, apparently at the request of the referee.
I do not know all the details, so I am not necessarily opining on either situation. But both have people thinking about fan speech, so I would weigh in with what I think are the general principles at work (And I know very well that I am not on the side of the angels in this).
1) At a game involving a public university (as both Texas Tech and Memphis are), the First Amendment is in play. Any efforts to punish fans for their speech is subject to First Amendment limits. This applies, I would argue, even in a privately owned arena that a government entity (such as a public university) is using for its official governmental functions.
2) The stands of a publcily owned/controlled basketball arena are a designated public forum for "cheering speech," which is a broad category consisting of just about everything will say (and shout) during a sporting event that is not inconsistent with that event. This includes taunts, insults, profanity, and even some racist and sexist comments against players, coaches, and refs, as well as all manner of social and political speech.
3) As a public forum, content-based regulations (as on a particular type of cheering) are subject to strict scrutiny, while content-neutral regulations (no signs) are subject to intermediate scrutiny. There also could be reasonable viewpoint-neutral restrictions on non-cheering speech, but the category of cheering speech is so broad, I don't know what that would reach.
4) Fans can be punished for the rare speech that crosses the line into fighting words, which has been narrowed to reach only up-close, targeted, face-to-face taunts. It is possible that Jeff Orr crossed that line, since the incident occurred in very close range--Smart had fallen out of bounds right below where Orr was sitting. And Smart says he heard Orr use a racial epithet, although Orr says he just called Smart a "piece of crap." I do not know if this was a close enough encounter to fall outside the First Amendment, regardless of what was said.
5) Labeling what Orr did "fighting words" does not justify what Smart did. Contrary to what some apparently have said on ESPN, one person using fighting words does not mean the listener has license to fight. It simply means that the speaker can be sanctioned.
6) I legitimately cannot imagine what the fan at the Memphis game said last night that would have gotten him ejected and still be consistent with the First Amendment. Everyone at a basketball game is yelling and screaming and that is accepted as part of the game. So the ejection must have been based on the content of his particular screaming--a content-based enforcement that the First Amendment does not permit.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Skating, Judging, and the Role of Direct Observation
Howard raises an interesting question about how a skating judge’s direct observation of a figure skater’s routine might affect subsequent evaluations of that routine. A study of judges in a different sport -- this time baseball umpires -- may provide part of the answer. The study allowed umpires to observe videotaped pitchers throwing warmup pitches. Some of the pitchers were “control” pitchers, with 70% of pitches down the middle of the strike zone and 30% out of the strike zone. The other pitchers were “wild” pitchers, with the ratio of balls and strikes reversed. The umpires were then asked to call balls and strikes for several dozen more videotaped pitches by the pitcher they had observed, with most of the pitches deliberately being close calls.
The researchers hypothesized that the umpires would call fewer actual strikes correctly for the wild pitchers and fewer actual balls for the control pitchers. That is, they assumed that the umpires would take what they had observed into account and assume that a close call from a wild pitcher was more likely to be a ball and a close call from a control pitcher was more likely to be a strike. In fact, the umpires were influenced in the opposite direction: wild pitchers got more strike calls and control pitchers more balls.
This is only one study, but it suggests that after brief, direct observation, a judge or decision-maker builds a mental image of the athlete’s competence and skill, which in turn establishes expectations of future performance. Pitchers who set the “control” bar high in their warmups were expected to demonstrate similar control in a game situation, and close calls were evidently seen as a failure to perform to expectations. Similarly, pitchers who showed less control in warmups were expected to demonstrate less control in a game situation, and close calls were evidently seen as “close enough.”
If the same cognitive processing holds, Gracie Gold and Julia Lipnitskaia might have been better holding something back just a little during the team competition. And Ashley Wagner may have unintentionally helped her cause. The world will soon find out.
NB: The umpire study is not easily found online, but for those interested here is the cite: David W. Rainey et al., The Effects of a Pitcher’s Reputation on Umpires’ Calls of Balls and Strikes, 12 Journal of Sport Behavior 139 (1989).
Sunday, February 09, 2014
More on skating: What if they know your reputation and your routine?
I hope to have more to say on Jordy's post on figure-skating judging. In the meantime, this story on the move from the (new) team skating competition to the upcoming individual competitions later this week adds a new element to Jordy's point. The skaters will perform the same routines in the individual competitions that they did in the team competition. This means that not only do the judges have each skater's reputation in mind, but they already have seen exactly what each skater is going to do and likely have formed some opinion about how they do it.
So how will the combination of reputation and prior viewing affect judging? Because they already loved Russian Julia Lipnitskaia's routine (performed to music from Schindler's List and dancing as the girl in the red coat, as creepy as that may seem), will they be predisposed to loving it the second time? And because they found fault with American Ashley Wagner's jumps, will they be predisposed to find the same faults the second time?
Monday, January 13, 2014
More on the Infield Fly Rule
This has been a good week for my ongoing work on baseball's Infield Fly Rule. First, my originlal cost-benefit defense of the rule, The Economics of the Infield Fly Rule, is now out in Utah Law Review and SSRN. Second, I have a piece forthcoming in UCLA Law Review Discourse discussing football rules that reflect similar logic to the infield fly. Third, I am finally through the quantitative analysis of how often the IFR is called and where, which involved watching thousands of plays from the last four years of Major League Baseball; now I just have to write it up and draw conclusions. And I'm now trying to figure out whether I can turn all of this into a book-length project and what additional pieces I can add.
Thursday, January 09, 2014
You can't make this stuff up, prison litigation and football edition
A man in the Pennsylvania prison system last week filed a handwritten Motion for a Temporary Emergency Injunction on the NFL Playoffs.
The man appears to be a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, who is angry that the Steelers missed the playoffs. This happened because, in the final week of the season, the San Diego Chargers beat the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime. In that game Chiefs kicker missed a field goal as regulation expired. The Chargers had an illegal formation on that kick, which was not called and which the Chiefs could not challenge; had it been, the Chiefs would have gotten to re-kick from five yards closer.
The motion argues that the league acts fraudulently and negligently in limiting the replay challenges that teams can make. It also argues that the league rule requiring immediate stoppage of play if a player loses his helmet (which took an overtime touchdown away from KC) is unconstitutional because it violates "enacting clause amendments" (not sure what this means) and was "not founded on their forefathers" (hey, Originalism!).
The motion was denied because the plaintiff did not pay the filing fee--he asserted In Forma Pauperis at the top of the motion, but never formally sought a waiver of the fee. In some ways this is bad, because Mr. Spuck now will be angry that his motion, which has no remote legal validity whatsoever, was not considered on its merits. On the other hand, my experience as a law clerk was that many prisoners react worse when you do give their papers merits analysis and they still lose.
Tuesday, January 07, 2014
Where sports law meets contracts
In 1976, the NBA and ABA merged, with four ABA teams joining the NBA and two--the Kentucky Colonels and Spirits of St. Louis--being bought out. The Colonels owners took $ 3 million and went away. The Spirits owners--Ozzie and Daniel Silna--took a different approach. They took less cash--about $ 2.2 million--in exchange for getting 1/7 of the television revenue for the four ABA teams that joined in perpetuity. In 1976, that was not a big deal; as late as 1980, the NBA finals were being shown on CBS late at night on tape delay. All that changed when the NBA exploded in the early 1980s. Instead, the league has paid the Silnas more than $ 300 million over the past 30+ years, while regularly trying to get out of the deal. Well, it now appears they are close to a deal that will pay the owners $ 500 million to go away. That's more than $ 800 million where one side has foresight and the other doesn't (or where one side just gets lucky).
There must be a good contracts lesson in here somewhere--about expectations or mistake or something?
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
College football and the Brandenburg Concerto
[Update: Reports are stating that police have identified the man in the picture and want to interview him, in part to find out how (and if) he caused the events in East Lansing.]
Students at Michigan State University celebrated their football team's Big Ten championship last weekend the way many sports fans do: Setting things on fire. Police responded to a large civil disturbance and reportedly responded to at least 57 fires throughout the city. In many cases, the favored object to burn was a couch.
So what, you ask? Well, because of the guy pictured at right, who attended the Big 10 Championship game in Indianapolis sporting that sign. According to the East Lansing Police Department Facebook page, they are looking for information on his identity. And rewards of up to $20,000 are being offered for information on the overall disturbance.
So the obvious question: Could this guy be charged with anything for holding up that sign? Could any prosecution satisfy Brandenburg v. Ohio and the requirement that the lawless action in East Lansing be imminent and likely to arise from his holding up a sign from a football stadium in Indianapolis?
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Football and limiting rules
In breaking down and defending the infield fly rule, I rely on the concept of limiting rules--special rules designed to recalibrate cost-benefit disparities that appear if some plays are left to the game's ordinary rules. I identify four features that, when present, show the need for limiting rules. I also discuss situations in which the absence of one or more feature shows that a limiting rule is not necessary. In a work-in-progress (hopefully forthcoming), I apply this model to football, focusing on several plays from the last two Super Bowls to consider situations that do or do not call for limiting rules.
But on Slate's Hang Up and Listen Podcast (go to around the 51:00 mark), Josh Levin identifies a play that exposes another hole in the rules that might justify a limiting rule. A defensive team trailing in the final minutes commits a penalty on a play on which the offense had gotten a first down; the penalty stopped the clock, even though the clock would have continued to run without the penalty. In other words, it functionally gave the trailing defensive team a free timeout, forcing the offense to run more plays in order to run out the clock. This, Levin argues, incentivizes teams to intentionally take penalties to stop the clock and give themselves extra, an idea discussed on Football Commentary almost a decade ago. This arose with 2:14 remaining in last Thursday's Saints-Falcons game (the trailing Falcons committed defensive holding on a play) and arguably gave the Falcons a chance to get the ball back one final time (although they did not score) and still lost.
Warning: Another more-sport-than-law-post, so continue at your own risk.This seems like a game situation in which a limiting rule is warranted, as it is defined by all four features: 1) the play produces a significantly inequitable cost-benefit disparity, as the trailing defensive team can stop the clock and give itself more time to get the ball back, to the detriment of the leading offensive team, which receives no benefit from the play; 2) the defense entirely controls the play, as the offense can do nothing to stop an intentional penalty or the clock from stopping, even by declining the penalty; 3) the cost-benefit disparity arises because the defense intentionally commits a penalty, something teams do not want to do under ordinary rules and practices and something that rulemakers probably do not want them doing; and 4) the opportunity to gain those advantages incentivizes the defense to make this move regularly.
In fact, the NFL recognized this gap iand tried to stop it with a limiting rule. The problem seems to be that the limiting rule has not gone far enough.
This play sits at the intersection of three rules.
1) Under Rule 4-3-2(f), when the clock is stopped following a foul by either team, the clock starts as if no foul had occurred. So if the clock would have kept running but for the foul, the clock starts as soon as the ball is ready; if the clock would have stopped but for the foul, it starts on the next snap.
2) But Rule 4-3-2(f) contains three exceptions: The clock starts on the snap when the foul occurs in the last two minutes of the first half, last five minutes of the second half, and when a specific rule prescribes otherwise. R. 4-3-2(f)(1), (2), (3). 4-3-2(f)(2) covered the Saints-Falcons game.
3) Finally, there is a specific rule prescribing otherwise: Rule 4-7-1 prohibits teams from "conserving time" by committing certain acts, including "any other intentional foul that causes the clock to stop." R. 4-7-1(f). The penalty for this act is a 10-second run-off and the clock starts when the ball is ready.
Rule 4-7-1 is a limiting rule. It closes a gap in the rules by imposing the outcome that would have resulted on the play--clock runs, including the ten seconds it would have taken for the ball to be spotted--and putting us in the same place as if the had not been called. By imposing that outcome, the limiting rule eliminates any incentive to commit intentional penalties and thus to act in a way contrary to the game's expectation. The problem is that the limiting rule does not go far enough--it is limited to the final minute of each half, so it does not reach intentional fouls that occur with slightly more time remaining, even if those time-conservation incentives are as present. That seems to have been the case in the Saints-Falcons game. The rule also does not address unintentional fouls, meaning a trailing team might gain that significant cost-benefit advantage, even if only accidentally.
The answer is to expand the limiting rules. Perhaps Rule 4-7-1 should be extended to the final three minutes (at least of the second half), when a leading team is already in time-wasting mode and the trailing team is in time-conserving mode. The increasing sophistication with which NFL coaches understand and strategize those final minutes--discussed weekly on advanced metrics sites--suggests teams have an incentive to begin doing this earlier than the one-minute mark.
Better still, eliminate the exceptions in Rule 4-3-2(f) for the final five minutes of the game. Instead, the clock always should start for the next play as if no foul had occurred on the previous play; if the clock would have continued running, it should keep running (as would have happened in the Saints-Falcons game). Rule 4-7-1 then could perform the narrower function of disincentivizing intentional fouls by imposing an additional cost--a 10-second run-off-- for any intentional fouls committed to stop the clock. In either case, the trailing team would no longer receive (intentionally or unintentionally) the equivalent of a time-out by committing a penalty, thereby presumably removing the incentive to commit the intentional foul.
This is a fun question, because it illustrates how rules collide. Levin does say in his commentary that he spoke with people from the NFL and they did not see this as a big problem. My best guess on that is that R. 4-3-2(f)(1) and (2) probably were designed to create more excitement in close games, by allowing the clock to stop more, allowing for more plays, and, perhaps, more comebacks. That purpose has now run into possible gamesmanship in taking penalties, but the league may consider the balance between excitement and gamesmanship properly struck.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Baseball rules, again
One year after benefiting from a bizarre and controversial (although I believe correct) Infield Fly call in the NL WIld Card, the St. Louis Cardinals won Game 3 of the World Series on an obstruction call on the Red Sox third baseman. Although early reaction (at least outside the Red Sox clubhouse) seems to approve of the call, this one will remain a point of contention, both because it occurred in the World Series and because it allowed the game-winning run to score (officially, it was scored an error on the third baseman who obstructed).
Rule 2.00 of the Official Baseball Rules defines "Obstruction" as "act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner." A Comment to the rule provides that a fielder can occupy space when "in the act of fielding a ball," but once he has attempted to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the act. Thus, if a player dives at a ball and continues to lie on the ground after it is passed him and delays the runner's progress, "he very likely has obstructed the runner." The rule has no intent requirement; impeding the runner, even unintentionally, constitutes obstruction. Under R. 7.06(b), the umpire can "impose such penalties, if any, as in his judgment will nullify the act of obstruction;" typically, that is awarding base the player would have been entitled to without the obstruction, in this case, home.
And here is the umpires' post-game press conference, which can best be described as an opinion issued orally from the bench, explaining the court's judgment.
A couple of themes emerge that, I think, support the call. First, intent does not matter, only the result. Even if (as here) it is almost unfair because the play happened too quickly for the fielder to do anything to get out of the way. Second, while the internet is talking about the Sox third baseman's legs going up in the air, the umpires insisted that it was not the legs, but the fielder's body that created the obstruction. Third, it did not matter that the runner was inside the foul line when he tripped over the fielder (one ump said he was right on the chalk, the video suggests he was inside the line), a point the Red Sox players kept repeating in interviews; a runner can "make his own baseline" by picking the most direct path to the next base.
As expected, some players (Sox starter Jake Peavy was one) complained about the game ending on the umpire's call and the umpire "deciding" the game, a reflection of what Mitch Berman has called "temporal variance" in enforcement of sports rules. That argument seems especially incoherent in this context. After all, the Cardinals could just as easily argue that the play was important precisely because the Cardinals had a chance to score the game-winning run and the Sox were preventing him from doing so in a way not allowed under the rules.
Anyway, obstruction now will be the word of the rest of this Series.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Olympic free expression at 45
Today (Wednesday, October 16) is the 45th anniversary of the Tommie Smith/John Carlos Black Power salute on the medal stand following the 200 meters at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. The third person on the stand is Australian Peter Norman, the silver medalist, who supported Smith and Carlos by giving them his gloves and standing at attention while wearing a badge of the Olympic Project for Human Rights. And while Smith and Carlos are generally regarded as heroes who took a stand, 45 years ago they were vilified and expelled from the games.
Of course, gay rights have become an issue for the 2014 Winter Olymics in Sochi, Russia, given recent legislation prohibiting gay-rights "propaganda" and public displays of homosexuality or support for homosexuality. And the International Olympic Committee has repeatedly and publicly reminded athletes of IOC regulations requiring respect for the home country and its laws--in other words, athlete protests of these laws will not be tolerated.
In other words, the "Olympic Ideal" of free expression has not evolved much in 45 years.
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
Baseball and removal
Baseball player and PED pariah Alex Rodriguez sued Major League Baseball in state court in New York last week, asserting claims for tortious interference with existing contract (his contract with the New York Yankees) and tortious interference with prospective business relationship (because sponsors have dropped or refused to hire him). Today, MLB removed the action to the Southern District of New York.
But the basis for removal was not, as one might expect in a tort suit, diversity. That removal would have been impossible. MLB is an unincorporated association of its 32 teams, which are themselves unincorporated associations and partnerships; each team is a citizen of every state in which a member or partner is a citizen, meaning MLB is a citizen of every such state. MLB thus is a citizen of New York (among other places), as is Rodriguez, meaning complete diversity is lacking. Moreover, because MLB is a citizen of New York, it cannot remove a diversity action under the Forum Defendant Rule.
Instead, removal was based on federal question jurisdiction under the doctrine of complete preemption. MLB argues that Rodriguez's claim, which functionally challenges his suspensiona and the process by which that suspension was imposed, is preempted by § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act and MLB's agreements with the MLBPA. The LMRA is one of a few federal statutes (ERISA and the National Bank Act are the others) that have "uniquely powerful preemptive force;" the statute provides the only available cause of action in this realm, such that any state law claim is converted into a federal claim arising under the federal statute. Thus, although Rodriguez pled state-law claims, such state claims do not exist. His claims therefore arise under federal law (the LMRA) and are removable as such.Complete preemption is controversial and in many ways makes no sense. Preemption ordinarily is a defense; the preemptive force of federal law defeats the state law claim and warrants its dismissal. But that argument is made in state court. By allowing removal to federal court, the doctrine carves an unexplained exception to the Well-Pleaded Complaint Rule, under which removal can only be based on the claims appearing in the complaint, not on defenses. The response, I suppose, is that this is a unqiue form of preemption, which converts the nature of the cause of action; removal is not based on a defense, but on the actual claim, recast in light of federal law's preemptive force. But the Court has never explained or justified what Justice Scalia has derided as this "federalize-and-remove dance."
It is particularly obvious in this case that the LMRA provides a defense rather than a change to the claim. With the case now in federal court, MLB almost certainly will argue that the civil action should be dismissed because the claims are governed by MLB's Basic Agreement (its CBA) and related agreements respecting drug use and testing, which empower the commissioner with respect to PED use and commit challenges to that power to binding arbitration. In other words, the LMRA and the Basic Agreement are doing double work--providing the jurisdictional hook to put the case in federal court, then providing the merits hook to defeat the claim. This offends my basic belief that rules should be either merits or jurisdictional but never both. In any event, the extra step seems wasteful and unncecessary. It would have been simpler and more efficient for MLB to simply move to dismiss in state court in favor of arbitration.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
How else do you enforce rules?
Last week, the NCAA reduced some of the sanctions imposed on the Penn State football program for the sexual abuse committed by a former assistant coach. Geoffrey Rapp (Toledo) describes this as "punisher's remorse"--the NCAA "realized the victims are the current players. It’s not really putting any hurt on the people that we think are really responsible."
I disagree that only the current players are being hurt. Penn State University as an institution was being punished. And if Penn State cannot be punished, then the entire scheme of NCAA regulations is unenforceable (and humor me for the moment and assume NCAA regs are worth enforcing). Any long-lasting institution survives its individual members; old members are replaced by new members, but the institution is understood to survive uninterrupted. And the institution bears responsibility for the conduct of its members--past, present, and future. The players and coaches who break rules are always gone by the time enforcement comes down. If that punishment is wrongful because current (rather than rule-breaking) players are in the institution at the time of enforcement, then punishment of the institution always becomes wrongful. Even in a case of lack of institutional control (as Penn State arguably was), the institution could always argue that its failure was to control previous players, but that shouldn't be taken out on current players. But then the university gets off scott-free and has no incentive to police its future members, because it always can argue against punishment falling on its current players.
Taken to its conclusion, Geoff's argument applies to any institution and institutional punishments. Germany should not be made to provide reparations or other compensation to Holocaust victims because the punishment falls on the current German government and citizens; ditto for arguments with respect to slavery. International law (which I rarely cite or discuss) recognizes the concept of successor governments. Why not for universities in the field of NCAA enforcement?
All that said, I agree with Geoff that this is an example of "punisher's remorse", a term I wish I had used in a radio interview I did last week. But the remorse is over punishing Penn State--the NCAA does not want one of its flagship institutions under such a harsh punishment.
Friday, September 06, 2013
What is the civil justice system for?
The general view seems to be that the NFL won and the players lost with the $ 765 million settlement of the head-trauma class action. An illustrative missive comes from Charles Pierce, who speaks of the NFL "buy[ing] silence," essentially copping a "nolo [contendere] plea" that should not happen in a just world, and having "bought itself out from under its responsibilities." I have not decided what I think about the settlement, largely because I do not know enough about the merits of the NFL's labor preemption arguments. But Pierce's article fundamentally misunderstands the purposes and operation of the civil justice system.
Settlement is part of the civil justice system, particularly in damages actions. The pressure to settle comes from multiple sources, often including the presiding judge (as was the case here, where Judge Brody ordered the parties to mediation and set a deadline for settling). The plaintiffs, who know more about the case than anyone sitting on the outside commenting, agreed to the settlement. There was a professional mediator involved, who worked to bring everyone to an ultimately mutually agreeable solution. And the judge still must sign-off on the agreement (and presumably will). So the ire at the NFL and the suggestion that it somehow has escaped justice by paying money seems misplaced, when the league did not settle unilaterally or in a vacuum, but only with the agreement of several other actors. And Pierce's comparison of the NFL to Texas fertilizer plants that uniltaerally refuse (presumably in violation of law) to allow inspections is, to say the least, overwrought. The NFL did nothing wrong in the context of litigation other than availing itself of its procedural rights and the settlement mechanism; it is troubling to tar an entity for doing that.
Even if we accept that too many cases settle and that "truth" is lost by over-settlement, Pierce still ignores what litigation is all about and how it functions. It is not some public auto-da-fe in which the NFL would have confessed its sins and had punishment imposed. Discovery, particularly depositions of present and former NFL officials, would have been conducted in private and likely placed under seal (as determined by the court, not the league acting unilaterally). At best, discovery might have driven-up the settlement value. But Pierce is angry about the fact of settlement, not the amount; the mythical $ 10 billion settlement that some predicted would still entail "buying silence." The only public component would have been trial. But trial occurs in so few cases (again, not the NFL's fault), and in this case might not have happened for years (followed by even more years of appeals). So the notion that settling short-circuited some immediate public accounting seems far-fetched.
Further, the NFL asserted several potentially meritorious legal defenses about assumption of risk, preemption by workers' compensation schemes, and, especially, arbitrability under the CBA. It was possible that, had the parties not settled last month, the complaint would have been dismissed as to many players. According to recent reports, Judge Brody hinted to the parties that she was inclned to find many of the claims subject to arbitration, which explains why the case settled when it and for the unexpectedly lesser amount. It also is possible that, even at trial on the ultimate merits of the tort claims, the league still would have won. Pierce's response, I imagine, would have been that the NFL somehow acts nefariously in asserting those legal rights or in demanding the plaintiffs prove their case. But again, this is not some public confession ritual; it is a judicial proceeding in which the court must apply controlling law (including legal defenses such as arbitrability) and the complaining party is put to its burden of persuasion.
Pierce sees this as a public-health issue, demanding that the truth about the inherent risks of football and what the NFL knows of those risks be aired so decisions about the game's future can be made. He is right about the public-health part. But damages litigation--designed to compensate injured players and perhaps impose a monetary punishment on the league--can only indirectly provide public-health solutions. What Pierce wants, really, is not litigation, but something like a congressional hearing--a free-standing inquisition supported by subpoena power into a public problem or issue, disassociated from particular legal rules, claims of right, defenses, or legal remedies. Of course, it is highly unlikely that Congress or any executive agency ever will undertake such an investigation, which probably is why Pierce sees litigation as the only hope.
Finally, not all change happens through formal legal and political processes. We also should not overlook the value of journalistic and scientific investigations into the problem. The upcoming documentary from PBS' Frontline, which is going to attract a larger audience after ESPN's sudden decision to take its name off the project, may do a lot to drive the conversation forward. Journalism, not litigation, moved the ball on the meat-packing industry a century ago. Perhaps that also will be the case here.
Which is not to say there is not value in Pierce's essay. It is hard to find good, short readings for the few minutes we spend on settlement in Civ Pro. This actually may be good for that, if only to move students into a more lawyerly understanding of how settlement fits in civil litigation.
Gladwell on PEDs
Malcolm Gladwell has a piece in The New Yorker (which he defends on this podcast) that basically lays out in detail an argument I've made previously--there is no good reason that performance-enhancing drugs are outlawed when performance-enhancing medical procedures (e.g., Tommy John surgery or eye surgery to improve vision) are permitted and that people with random genetic benefits (for example, an Olympic cross-country skier with a genetic mutation that over-produces red blood cells, which provides a tremendous advantage in endurance sports) are allowed to benefit from them. It is definitely worth a read, as is the new book The Sports Gene by journalist David Epstein, which Gladwell is reviewing in this piece.People (particularly present and former players, who should know better) often criticize PEDs as short-cuts and PED users as lazy; the player used instead of putting in the hard work of making himself a great player. In fact, many PEDs actually are all about hard work; the reason cyclists blood dope is so their bodies can work harder for longer and the benefit of steroids is to allow players to work-out longer and become stronger. When Lance Armstrong insisted "I am on my bike busting my ass six hours a day", he was telling the truth; the doping was what made it humanly possible for him to do that much work. On the other hand, we don't think of genetic advantages (say, especially good eyesight for a Major League hitter) as a short-cut, but as a natural tool that the player then must maximize through hard work. The point of PEDs is to level that genetic advantage, which he then must maximize through hard work. What's wrong with that?
Thursday, August 29, 2013
Settlement in NFL concussion lawsuit
The class action against the NFL by more than 4000 former players, alleging that the league knew and failed to disclose the risks of head trauma associated with the game, has tentatively settled. Players will receive $ 765 million (plus court-approved attorneys' fees to be determined later) for individual compensation (reportedly about $ 110,000 per plaintiff), plus funding for research and medical examinations. The settlement was reached following court-ordered mediation, although the agreement still must be approved by the court.
Much is being made in some sports-media circles about the size of the settlement relative to the NFL's wealth, but, of course, civil damages are tied to the harm to the plaintiffs, not to the defendant's ability to play. We might question whether the settlement figure provides sufficient deterrence that the NFL will take real steps (as opposed to the cosmetic ones it has been taking) to make the game safer--assuming such a thing is actually possible (I have my doubts).
Like many other cases, this one also highlights the question whether settlement, especially in money cases, furthers the civil justice system's goals of discovering the truth. There was no discovery, so we never really learned what the NFL knows and has known about the game's risks or about what those risks actually might be (the answer to both is "a lot," according to a forthcoming documentary). We also have not heard the plaintiffs' stories told in a judicial forum (although we might not have). Of course, discovery in a case like this almost certainly would have been sealed, a regular practice that presents a different problem in modern litigation. And the plaintiffs' willingness to settle this early makes sense, because this case would have been a ripe target for a Twiqbal-based 12(b)(6) and a motion to send the entire issue to arbitration under the CBA.
Update: The prevailing view among sports columnists is that the NFL won huge, although this seems to be because legal experts predicted settlements of between $ 5 and $ 10 billion, so a figure of less than $ 1 billion is so paltry that plaintiffs' attorneys must have caved. So did they cave? Or does this just show the limited ability of "legal experts" to predict anything?
Sport and speech: The Bobblehead
Monday night was Rick Monday Flag-Saving Bobblehead Night at Dodger Stadium. In 1976, two damn hippies (no doubt the common characterization at the time) tried to burn an American flag on the field during a game between the Cubs and Dodgers; Monday, then the Cubs centerfielder (he later played for the Dodgers), snatched the flag away. Video of the incident is included in the link.
Monday discussed it in a 2006 interview:
“That means something, because this wasn’t just a flag on the field. This was a flag that people looked at with respect. We have a lot of rights and freedoms — not to sound corny — but we all have the option if we don’t like something to make it better. Or you also have the option, if you don’t like it, [to] pack up and leave. But don’t come onto the field and burn an American flag.”
While I have argued that the stands of a ballpark qualify for designated public-forum status, the field itself does not, because speech is inconsistent with expected uses (i.e., playing baseball). So Monday is half-right in that last sentence: Don't come onto the field and burn an American flag. Make sure you stay in a public forum.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Fixed matches and cultural capital
A new article in ESPN The Magazine (which includes an embedded video) tells the story of rumors that Bobby Riggs tanked the famous "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match against Billie Jean King, which was played 40 years ago next month. The touchstone of the piece is an interview with a man who claims to have overheard two mob bosses and a mob lawyer discussing Riggs' tanking several months before the match, although rumors that Riggs threw it have abounded for 40 years.
Two notable things in the article. First, Riggs' son and his best friend both suggested that Riggs' famous pre-match chauvinism was all for show, that he believed in gender equality and had worked with a female coach at the start of his career. Second, the story ends with Riggs and King speaking several days before Riggs died in 1995; King says she told Riggs how important their match was to women and the women's movement. "'"Well, we did it," Bobby Riggs finally told her. "We really made a difference, didn't we?""
What if Riggs did tank? The match is a cultural milestone because it purported to show that women could successfully compete with men. That idea is absolutely true, of course (although not in high-level professional sports, and I wish the sports conversation would move away from women competing with men so we could enjoy women's sports on their own merits). But the match no longer represents the idea if King did not actually beat Riggs. On the other hand, suppose Riggs tanked because he saw that he could advance the cause of women's rights and women's equality (ideas to which he perhaps was sympathetic) by losing. Regardless of whether the win was real, it laid the groundwork for what we now, 40 years on, understand as true. And his dying words to King suggest he may have understood that.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Seriously? quote of the day
From a public statement by the Fairfield County (OH) School District, announcing it would allow a 12-year-old girl to play football rather than defend its ban (which it never explained) in litigation that the ACLU threatened to bring on the girl's behalf:
"We have no intent of competing with the deep pockets of the ACLU in any litigation situation in order to secure a favorable judgment," the district said in a statement. "Therefore, we will allow female participation in contact sports."
Really? The ACLU has deep pockets? The ACLU's pockets for litigation are lined with the money it recovers from idiotic governments--like Franklin Fairfield County--when it successfully challenges pointless-but-unconstitutional like this one. Still, it's a nice piece of demagoguery that might play well with the public. And the school district is not necessarily alone--Justice Scalia expressed similar beliefs about public-interest groups wielding superior financial resources to overwhelm governments in § 1983 litigation.
I do agree with one commentator, who noted that such a statement indicates the district still does not support the girl's efforts, is not convinced she is legally entitled to play, and potentially not willing to give her the backing she needs (that is, the same backing as all other players get). We may not be done with this story.
Friday, July 26, 2013
More fan speech
Here. A fan attended a Brewers game at Miller Park wearing a shirt of Ryan Braun's uniform, with "Fraud" in place of the name. An usher made her turn the shirt inside-out, which she did. Although when she went to the media, the Brewers immediately apologized, invited her to another game, and threw the usher under the bus. And that was the right move--that shirt was unquestionably protected expression that should be encouraged at a forum such as a ballpark--what better place to speak out about cheating in baseball. Two other things.First, Miller Park is 71% owned by the government (the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District), so it is a prime candidate for my arguments that through joint participation, the team becomes, at least for ballpark purposes, a state actor subject to the First Amendment and its limitations.
Second, note the vacuousness of the Brewers' statement, which toes the common line on ballpark speech
We welcome the opportunity for fans to express their opinions. The only circumstances that would warrant us intervening is if someone were to display a message or item that would be considered offensive to other fans.
But every message potentially could be considered offensive to other fans. A friend of Ryan Braun or a member of his family easily would be offended by that shirt. Of course, that is not what the Brewers mean--that mean what they--as the governing authority--would consider offensive to other fans. But we don't allow the governing authority (when subject to the First Amendment) to decide what speech is OK and what is offensive.
Rage against the Infield Fly Rule
The Infield Fly Rule is back in the news and ticking off baseball fans, but this time because the umpires didn't call it. On Wednesday, the Minnesota Twins had runners on first and second with none out. The batter hit a low looping pop-up to the side of the pitcher's mound; the pitcher let the ball drop to the ground, then threw to first to start a double play on the batter and the runner on first (who had to be tagged out). Video here (H/T: One of my team of RAs looking at baseball games and reports looking for Infield Fly situations).
This certainly looks like a play warranting an infield fly call--it was a fair fly ball that could have been caught with ordinary effort in the appropriate game situation. And it did, in fact, lead to a double play (although not the double play the rule is designed to prevent), providing the defense the overwhelming advantage that the rule is intended to avoid. The crew chief explained the non-call as follows:
"For an infield fly, we look for if the ball has arc and if the fielder can catch it with ordinary effort and if the fielder gets comfortably underneath," said crew chief Ted Barrett, who was working third base. "That one definitely had enough arc, but the fielder has to get comfortably underneath the ball to catch it. That's the criteria that wasn't met."
Ironically, that explanation arguably makes the call worse. It looks as if the pitcher was standing still and waiting for the ball; he wasn't settled directly under it only because he already had decided to let it fall to the ground and wanted to be in good position to surround it and pick it up. The better explanation would have been that the ball did not have enough arc (the rule does not apply to line drives, so the umpires would have to decide whether this was more like a pop-up or line drive). If he truly wasn't settled under the ball, it's only because the ball wasn't hit high enough.As always, the play tells us some things. First, note the shorthand the umpires have developed for when a ball can be caught with ordinary effort. Neither the rule nor commentary says anything about arc or the fielder being settled under the ball, but the umpires have adopted those visual indicators as indications that a ball is catchable with ordinary effort.
Second, this play is an example of why the IFR is necessary. Without it, double plays on intentionally not caught pop-ups are possible (watch the runner on first and see how hung up he is and how he has to retreat close to the base) and that infielders will intentionally not catch the ball to try for the double play. True, this did not produce the double play the rule is designed to prevent; had the batter been running hard to first, he probably would have beaten the throw (he starts running hard only when he sees the ball drop). But look at the :06 mark of the video--both base runners are about two steps off the base; the pitcher easily could have turned around and start a third-to-second (1-5-4, if you're scoring at home) double play on the base runners. The point is that many double plays would be possible if fielders could seek out multiple outs by intentionally not catching an easily catchable ball.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Nate Silver and the Hidden Genius of Capitalist Crowdfunding
After a long and difficult year personally, it gives me some quiet joy to announce that I've just uploaded a "shitty" first draft of Catalyzing Fans to SSRN. Actually, it's somewhat polished as a draft, but it's pre-submission, blissfully short (13,000 words) and, um, really interesting. Bonus: it has nothing to do with retributive justice. So, my co-authors, Mike McCann and Howard Wasserman, and I hope you'll read a draft and send along comments. Here's an overview:
Should Nate Silver have stayed at the New York Times, or instead go to ESPN? Where should Cass Sunstein teach? What team should Lebron James play on? In this paper, we have a proposal for how to think about the trilateral relationships among "talent" (Silver, Sunstein, James), teams (the NYT, the Miami Heat, Harvard), and fans. For some reason, the answers to where that talent should work are often only indirectly connected to the desires of third-party fans. We think this could be different.Specifically, we propose the development of Fan Action Committees (FACs).
Analogous to, but distinct from, Political Action Committees (PACs), these FACs would coordinate, aggregate, and monetize the intensity of fan preferences and would thus serve to either enrich "talent" directly, or, in a wrinkle we prefer, make contributions to charities favored by talent. If we're right about how fans could introduce crowdfunding as a way to re-configure that triangular relationship, well, it's a potential game-changer, if you'll pardon the pun. Once our paper lays out the architecture of the direct compensation and charitable models, we anticipate how to overcome obstacles to the development of FACs that may exist under current rules or laws. We also address a variety of policy concerns and objections ranging from considerations of competitive balance to distributive justice. Advancing and illuminating the possibility of FACs across pro team sports and commercial entertainment, journalists and academics, we show how crowdfunding options produce the potential for more efficient valuations of talent by registering not only the number of fans but also the intensity of their preferences. This insight, which stresses the upside of price discrimination, has relevance to a wide range of human endeavor. In short, the introduction of FACs can basically change the dynamic of any area where bilateral contracts have third party externalities that are not currently calibrated or adequately valued.
Btw, Howard, Mike and I began kicking this idea around last summer after I floated on FB something like the notion of fan interference, wondering why fans couldn't affect the Knicks' incentives to hire or retain Jeremy Lin in the midst of Linsanity. To transition this into a proper paper, however, I encountered the slight problem that I could not care less about sports or sports law, and knew zero about the area. So I enlisted my pals Mike and Howard -- two of the leading sports law guys in the country -- to write a paper with me about the law, policy and economics about fandom. The paper's come a long way from a facebook thread (which itself is a sort of crowd wisdom opportunity), and some of its most interesting moves and extensions come from conversations with prior readers at FSU and more recently the 10,000 Feet Legal Theory Workshop--so thanks to those folks! (The latter, btw, is a workshop that spontaneously emerged among the group of profs who went hiking with me in the afternoons while in the Rockies two weeks ago for the LEC's annual law and econ boot camp.) Anyway, we'll be sending it out soon, and, now that it's been gently road-tested, I'm sure any of us would be excited about the prospect of talking about it at your law school this coming year.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Let them wear towels
Last night, ESPN premiered Let Them Wear Towels, the third in its Nine for IX documentary series (nine films, all by female directors, marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX). Directed by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern, the film examines the experiences of the first generation of female sportswriters and their efforts to get equal access to lockerrooms and to post-game interviews with players. This one has a lot of law to it. For one thing, many of the early women sportswriters got those jobs because many of the major news outlets (including The New York Times, Washington Post, and Newsday) had been sued for employment discrimination and were looking to hire female sportswriters. The film also discusses Melissa Ludtke's successful 1978 lawsuit challenging Major League Baseball's exclusion of women from clubhouses as applied to Yankee Stadium,* which somewhat started the slow move toward league-wide equal-access policies in all four major sports.
* The district court found that MLB and the Yankees acted under color of law, because New York City owned the old Yankee Stadium. This decision is a big part of my arguments about the First Amendment rights of fans at publicly financed ballparks.
The film closes with the story of Lisa Olson, who in 1990 was sexually harassed by several players in the New England Patriots lockerroom, then suffered public harassment and vilification that pushed her to move out of the country for six years. The film's presentation of the Olson case illustrates something about the evolution of social movements. [ED: One TV critic argued that they should have built the film around Olson]. The early cohort of women reporters, who are the main subjects of the film, talk about turning a blind eye and deaf ear to offensive behavior. For them and their period of the mid-'70s to mid-'80s, the goal was simply access and getting inside the lockerroom so they could do their jobs; lewd comments and actions were the cost of that access. Olson's story is the second wave of the movement--having been granted access (a given by 1990), the demand was for a certain minimum level of behavior and treatment when they were there.
The one other thing I would have liked to have seen was some update on the views of the men who strongly opposed women's access back in the day--do they still hold to what they said 30 years ago or are they embarassed by it? Several of them are dead (former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, former Patriots owner Robert Kraft Victor Kiam, whose public comments exacerbated the Olson situation). ESPN does have a short companion film in which male journalists and athletes of that era talk about the past and come across as largely supportive.
Friday, July 05, 2013
Sports and patriotism
From ESPN's Howard Bryant. I'm not sure this is as new a phenomenon as he suggests or that sports used to be apolitical, but I agree that it has become more pervasive and, to some, obnoxious. I particularly like the closing paragraph, where he points out the inconsistency (if not outright hypocrisy) of leagues and the media immersing games in compulsory politics, then criticizing players who speak out for their own causes and ideals, demanding that they "shut up and play."
Monday, July 01, 2013
Apolitical sports leagues? No
Beginning October 1, people will be able to shop for the expanded insurance coverage made possible by ACA. As part of its publicity effort, the Department of Health and Human Services is seeking to partner with the NFL and other sports leagues in publicity efforts. This does not sit well with GOP Sens. Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn, who sent this letter to Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The letter chastises the league for risking its "inclusive and apolitical" brand, expressing surprise that a pro sports league would take "public sides in such a highly polarized public debate." But I would reject the suggestion that the NFL, or any other sports league, is or ever has been apolitical. Putting aside the way leagues regularly engage in politics for their own direct benefit--antitrust, labor law, stadium funding. Leagues and teams regularly get involved in public issues--gay rights, women's rights, racial equality, war and the military. At least some of these are at least as contentious as ACA. In fact, as the letter acknowledges, the Boston Red Sox in 2007 participated in efforts to encourage enrollment in Massachusetts' program (which was the basic model for ACA). The reason for this being different, they argue, is that ACA passed on a party-line vote using "legislative gimmicks" and "ridiculed political favors." Stated differently, ACA passed through the ordinary legislative process, but the process worked to our disadvantage and produced a law we don't like. Thus, the law is illegitimate, so you, as an apolitical entity, should stay out of it.
There also is a hint of the paranoid. They express concern for "the Obama Administration's record of using the threat of policy retaliation to solicit support for its policies or to silence its critics" and helpfully tell the NFL to come to them if they are feeling threatened or coerced so the Senate GOP can protect them from the big, bad President. Of course, in emphasizing how unheard-of and wrong-headed the NFL's involvement would be , the letter could be read as its own threat designed to solicit support for the McConnell/Cornyn side in this debate. It actually is the classic bully trick--you better come to us for protection from that other guy who is threatening you.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Judges Gone Wild?
I couldn't help but think that this judge's behavior, earlier today, is an example of imperious official action. The judge was all set to accept the defendant's plea bargain, but because the offender, footballer Chad Johnson, gave a playful slap on the backside to his lawyer during the hearing, in response to a question asked by the judge regarding whether he was satisfied with his counsel, she rejected the bargain, which called for no jail time, and gave him 30 days in jail. You can read more about it here and see the footage from the court. (H/t: atl). Stephen A. Smith's apt albeit volcanic reaction on ESPN emphasizes the socio-legal realities of why Johnson was an idiot here. It's true that Johnson is a criminal wife-beating a**hole, and, in this context, acted imprudently, but is the bum-slap really the kind of thing that warrants jail when it was not otherwise about to happen? It doesn't warrant the judge's behavior in my mind, and instead strikes me as the kind of official tyranny and hot-headed hubris that rule of law constraints are meant to prevent. The quickness of the decision also suggests the need for courts to impose a mandatory cooling-off period between the time they reach a decision re: liability and the time they impose a sentence.
Cf. some of the problems of judicial discretion more generally. And of course, this seems right in the same vein as Judge Marvin Frankel's famous story in Criminal Sentences: Law Without Order about the judge who, over cocktails, acknowledged elevating a defendant's sentence by a year simply because the offender had been disrespectful to the judge that day.
Friday, May 24, 2013
"Sport as Speech" and Non-sport as Speech
I just finished reading Sport as Speech, a new paper by Genevieve Lakier (currently a law clerk on the Sixth Circuit); Lakier argues that spectator sports are expressive activities entitled to First Amendment protection (or at least First Amendment scrutiny of any regulations). It is an interesting notion that I had not thought of, although if she is right, it certainly strengthens my arguments about fan speech.
Two further thoughts on the paper.
1) Lakier takes on prior scholarhip and case law (notably a 2002 student comment in Yale LJ) arguing that sport is protected only to the extent it is close to being a dance or theatrical performance--for example, gymnastics, diving, and figure skating. These are the events that I have argued are not sport because the results are determined by evaluating the intrinsic merit of the athletic skills performed, as opposed to sport, where the result of that performance. In other words, under this approach (which Lakier rejects), non-sport is expressive, but sport is not expressive. So there is another reason to bother defining what qualifies as sport.
2) Lakier expressly limits her argument only to spectator sports, arguing that the expressive component of sport comes from players performing for a crowd. But I wonder if that cuts her case short. She relies a lot on the similarity between sport and other conduct widely recognized as expressive, notably music and dance. But those activities enjoy First Amendment protection even if not done for an audience; a prohibition on dancing in private or when no one is watching (think Footloose) would violate the First Amendment. So if basketball is expressive when played for a crowd, why not when it's ten people playing in an empty gym or playground or even one person playing in the driveway?
Thursday, May 09, 2013
Sports, video, and procedural rules
1) The umpires went to video review of a disputed non-Home Run call. And despite everyone (including the opposing team's announcers) believing the ball was a home run, the umps upheld the call. Why? Because video review still involves judgments and inferences, depending on the angle and what each individual sees. Contra Justice Scalia, the video does not necessarily speak for itself; someone has to figure out what the video is saying and that is going to vary on the viewer. Video just gives sports fans another thing to argue and complain about with respect to umpires.
2) The manager for the losing team was thrown out after this happened. Baseball has specific rules on what and how you can argue with umpires. One rule is that if a manager requests video review, he cannot argue over the results of that review (much as he cannot argue balls and strikes). Nor can he protest the review decision to the league, which is a non-reviewable judgment call. So you can make a motion, but not a motion for reconsideration. And you cannot appeal.
Monday, May 06, 2013
The truth about past relationships
NBA player Jason Collins famously came out as gay last week, the first active player in a major U.S. team sport to do so. The reaction was the expected mixed bag. One mini firestorm erupted over comments by media critic Howard Kurtz, who chastised Collins for not owning up to his having been engaged to a woman. Unfortunately for Kurtz, Collins actually mentions his engagement (along with the fact that he dated women) in the eighth paragraph of the Sports Illustrated cover story. Kurtz apologized--initially in a typically half-assed fashion, then more unequivocally--and was grilled about it on CNN, stating "I deserve the criticism, I accept it and I am determined to learn from this episode." He also was terminated from The Daily Beast, although he insists this was in the works for a while and the timing was a coincidence.
Criticisms of Kurtz, and his apology, all focus on the factual error of his criticism. But this suggests that had Kurtz been correct and Collins had not mentioned the engagement, Kurtz's criticism would have been justified. Is that right? hat bothered me about Kurtz's initial story (but that I did not see discussed) was the stupidity of his premise: Collins was not being completely honest or forthcoming in excluding the detail of his engagement from the SI story. When a public-figure comes out, does the story really have to be "complete" and does that completeness necessarily include details about past heterosexual sexual activity? And how deep does this run--what is it, exactly, that Kurtz believes the public is entitled to know? Is it only the engagement about which Collins was obligated to "come clean"? Is it all dating? Is it the number of heterosexual sexual partners? Collins is 34 years old and only recently (within the past several years) came to understand his sexuality. It stands to reason that in the decade-plus between puberty and his coming out, he dated and had relationships, perhaps even long-term and serious relationships, with women. But why is that fact remotely relevant to the story of his coming out? Does it make him less gay? Does it make his story less sympathetic that he behaved as many closeted (or unrealizing) GLBT people do and as people have been forced to do by society, particularly in the world of team sports?
Sunday, February 24, 2013
The Economics of the Infield Fly RuleMy longer treatment of the infield fly rule, The Economics of the Infield Fly Rule, is now available on SSRN and forthcoming in Utah Law Review. The abstract is after the jump. Comments welcome.
No rule in all of sports has generated as much legal scholarship as baseball’s Infield Fly Rule. Interestingly, however, no one has explained or defended that rule on its own terms as an internal part of the rules and institutional structure of baseball as a game. This paper takes on that issue, explaining both why baseball should have the Infield Fly Rule and why a similar rule is not necessary or appropriate in seemingly comparable, but actually quite different, baseball situations. The answer lies in the dramatic cost-benefit disparities present in the infield fly and absent in most other baseball game situations.
The infield fly is defined by three relevant features: 1) it contains an extreme disparity of costs and benefits inherent in that play that overwhelmingly favors one team and disfavors the other team; 2) the favored team has total control over the play and the other side is powerless to stop or counter the play; and 3) the cost-benefit disparity arises because one team has intentionally failed (or declined) to do what tordinary rules and strategies expect it to do and the extreme cost-benefit disparity incentivizes that negative behavior every time the play arises. When all three features are present on a play, a unique, situation-specific limiting rule becomes necessary; such a rule restricts one team’s opportunities to create or take advantage of a dramatic cost-benefit imbalance, instead imposing a set outcome on the play, one that levels the playing field. The Infield Fly Rule is baseball’s prime example of this type of limiting rule. By contrast, no other baseball situation shares all three defining features, particularly in having a cost-benefit disparity so strongly tilted toward one side. The cost-benefit balance in these other game situations is more even; these other situations can and should be left to ordinary rules and strategies.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
More on defining sportThe surprising and controversial announcement that wrestling is being dropped from the core Olympic programme effective with the 2020 Summer Games made me think that we may have found a reason why it matters whether something is a sport or not: Whether something is a sport (as opposed to a game or a competition) should be a tiebreaking factor when choosing between two events. In other words, when the IOC is deciding between wrestling and, say, synchronized ballroom dancing for a spot in the Games, the former wins out because it is a sport and the other is not.
Tuesday, February 05, 2013
More on obscure rules, limiting rules, and the Super Bowl
Two items following on my post on the rules discussions following the Super Bowl:
First, here is a nice discussion of the fair-catch kick rule that the Niners might have tried to execute to tie the game had the Ravens punter shanked the kick. The author describes the rule as vestigial, a throwback to rugby's "try from mark" rule, which rugby subsequently eliminated, as did college football. But arguably the rule remains necessary to maintain a more even balance of costs and benefits on an intentional safety, by giving the trailing team another weapon with which it can counter the benefits the leading team gets from the intentional safety.
Second, a commenter to my prior post raises the situation that may have occurred in last year's Super Bowl: The offense needs a touchdown to win or tie while the the defense wants to stop the touchdown and run time off the clock, so the defense puts extra players on the field. The extra players obviously give the defense a better chance of stopping the offense on the play. And while the defense will surrender five yards and the down will be replayed on the penalty, time has run off the clock on the live play, meaning the offense will get fewer plays to run.
This seems to meet the three features that necessitate a limiting rule. The defense has an incentive to do something we ordinarily don't expect; the defense is in control and the offense cannot counter (because trying to score againt 12 or 14 is going to be exceedingly difficult); and the cost-benefit disparity has increased dramatically, because the offense is going to run out of clock on wasted plays.
And recognizing this, the NFL enacted a limiting rule: If the defense has 12 men on the field and the extra players are not attempting to get off the field, the play is whistled dead on the snap and the clock stops (if the defender is trying to get off the field, the play is live, since the extra defender does not hinder the offense). This eliminates the advantage to the defense--it cannot use extra defenders to stop a play and cause the offense to waste time because the clock stops--in turn eliminating the negative incentive for the defense.
Monday, February 04, 2013
Intentional safety = Infield fly?
One of the non-baseball plays often suggested to me in arguments over the Infield Fly Rule (and why the Rule is not necessary) is the intentional safety late in a football game. Like the infield fly, the argument goes, a team is intentionally not doing what we ordinarily expect it to do--here, running sideways or backwards and intentionally surrendering points. So should this play, which helped clinch Super Bowl XLVII for the Ravens last night, be banned, just like the dropped infield fly?
Under my model (introduced here and being refined in a current work-in-progress), three features define a sports situation as so out-of-balance as to warrant a special rule that limits a team's strategic options: 1) Negative incentives for a team to intentionally not do what we expect under ordinary rules and strategies; 2) total control over the play resting with one team and leaves the other helpless to counter the play; and 3) overwhelming cost-benefit disparity, with substantial benefits in favor of the controlling team and substantial costs imposed on, and absolutely no benefits gained by, the opponent. Applying that standard, the answer is no-- the intentional safety is not like the infield fly and should not be banned or limited.One thing to keep in mind about football (distinct from baseball) is that there are several moving parts--teams not only worry about scoring and gaining maximum yardage on a play, but also about field position, sets of downs, and time. So football teams regularly make small cost-benefit trade-offs, intentionally failing to seek maximum yardage on a play in exchange for time off the clock. On the play in question, the Ravens incurred a cost--two points, meaning a field goal could tie the game, and they still have to kick the ball away--in exchange for the benefits of eight seconds off the clock and a more advantageous punting position (twenty yards upfield and no rush). The Niners, in turn, experienced both of those in reverse. The Niners also were not helpless or out of control on the play--although they could not stop the safety, they could have anticipated the play better, brought more pressure, and not allowed as much time to run off the clock (although there was a pretty blatant offensive hold on the play). The Niners also benefited by getting the ball back (and they would have had more than four seconds if they had played it better) and an opportunity to make a counter-play--a run back on the kick, Hail Mary pass, or (as CBS play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz discussed) the fair-catch kick (a field goal attempt from wherever the Niners caught the free kick) had the Ravens punter shanked it. So the second and third features are clearly absent on this play. This looks like just one more example of teams exchanging small costs for small (but, it hopes, slightly greater) benefits.
This calculus would change if the safety occurred on the final play of the game (say, where the play starts with :01 on the clock). The play now contains all three features--there is a far greater cost-benefit imbalance, and the trailing team has no control and will not get the ball back or have the chance to take advantage of the safety. But that does not undermine the intentional safety or require a limiting rule. Any problem there can be remedied by still requiring the team to free kick after the safety, even with no time on the clock, giving the trailing team an opportunity to do something on that play (including the fair-catch-and-free-kick). In other words, treat a safety at the end of the game the same as any other safety. We already some precedent on this. A game cannot end on a defensive penalty. And a team that scores a game-winning touchdown on the final play still must play the point-after, even with no time on the clock.
So another fun example of sports rules in action, further supporting my idea that the rules of a sport are akin to the rules of procedure in governing how players operate and strategize in a process (whether a football game or litigation). Just as last fall's National League Wild Card had everyone talking about the IFR, I am glad this Super Bowl has people talking about the intentional safety. But it further illustrates how just unique the Infield Fly Rule is.
Friday, January 18, 2013
Vilma lawsuit dismissed
U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan yesterday dismissed under FRCP 12(b)(6) the defamation suit filed by Jonathan Vilma, one of the Saints player suspended in "Bountygate,"against Roger Goodell (but not the NFL). The court concluded that Goodell made these statements in his role as commissioner exercising his investigative powers under the CBA, thus the claims were precluded by the anti-suit provision and other portions of the CBA and the Labor Management Relations Act. The court also concluded that Goodell could not have acted with actual malice because his statements came after an investigation, even if it was a procedurally flawed one.
The second of those conclusions is a bit dicey, although the first seems right (based on what little I know about the LMRA). The court was not always faithful in drawing all inferences in favor of the plaintiff and at times seemed to be making factual conclusions based on what she read in the newspaper about Bountygate. There also is some gratuitous "look at me" language that the case "feels as protracted and painful as the Saints season itself" and taking a potshot at Goodell that had he been less heavy-handed, the lawsuit could have been avoided. Lines like that always sounds better coming from Posner or Kozinski.
In any event, the timing of this decision is good for me. I gave my Civ Pro students Vilma as one of their sample pleadings (it lends itself to a great subject matter jurisdiction question) and we just started talking about 12(b)(6).
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Not just balls and strikes, redux
I have returned to writing about the infield fly rule, a more scholarly expansion of the short defense of the rule that I wrote in October. Thinking about particular examples of infield fly situations (or non-examples) in the context of the full baseball rulebook brought me back to the judge/umpire/calling balls-and-strikes analogy. In particular, I come back to the argument (which I have made before) that one problem with the analogy is that it understates the complexity of the decisions that umpires actually have to make. And I have in mind one historic play that illustrates this complexity quite well.
(I apologize in advance for a post that may be tilted fairly heavily towards the sports and away from the law--feel free not to follow the jump).The Situation: (sorry not to have video to embed--it's really hard to find baseball footage online): Game 4 of the 1978 World Series between the Dodgers and Yankees; Dodgers leading 2 games to 1 and 3-1 with the Yankees batting in the bottom of the sixth. Reggie Jackson on first, Thurman Munson on second, one out; Lou Piniella batting. Piniella hits a low (ankle-high) line drive up the middle, to the left of Dodgers shortstop Bill Russell. Russell moves to his left, catches the ball at his shoe tops, drops it, picks it up as his body is continuing to move left, steps on second for the force out, then throws to first. Jackson had stopped running when he saw Russell initially catch the line drive and he is standing between first and second. As Russell's relay is coming, Jackson (imperceptibly) sticks out his right hip; the ball hits his hip and caroms into right field. Munson scores, Piniella is safe at first.
Several separate columns labeled this one of the five worst (or at least most controversial) calls in World Series or postseason history. Maybe. But look at the rules and facts the umpires had to determine on the fly:
1) Infield Fly: This is a potential infield fly situation (runners on first and second, less than two out). So the second-base umpire first had to determine that the ball hit was a line drive, to which the IFR does not apply, rather than a fly ball. Easy enough decision to make here--the ball clearly is a line drive and not easily playable--but the umpire at least must consider the rule in passing.
2) Intentionally Dropped Ball: Rule 6.05(l) provides that a batter is out and the ball is dead if an infielder intentionally drops a fair fly ball, including a line drive, where any force out is in effect. So the second base umpire had to determine whether Russell had intentionally dropped the ball to get a double play. He concluded it was not deliberate, presumably by reading where the ball was hit, how quickly and far Russell had to move to his left, and Russell's body language suggesting he was scrambling to pick the ball back up rather than being in control.
3) Interference: This is the one for which this play is remembered. Rule 7.09(f) provides that both the base runner and the batter are out and the ball is dead if a base runner "willfully and deliberately interferes" with a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the "obvious intent to break up a double play." So the question is whether Jackson "willfully and deliberately" interfered with Russell's relay throw. The first base umpire decided he was not, presumably because Jackson was genuinely hung-up on the play. The runner need not move all the way out of the baseline as the throw is coming (they usually do as a matter of self-preservation). It appears on slow-motion that Jackson did stick his right hip out as the ball approached, but the umpires did not have that luxury of breaking the play down that much.
Whether you think the call was right or wrong probably depends on your rooting interests--I was 10 years old and living in northern New Jersey at the time. My point is that the umpires actually had a huge amount to watch, process, and interpret. And it is far from a simple or robotic task.
Update: Thanks to commenter Jack, here is the video:
Friday, December 14, 2012
Doing the waive at the ballpark
Via Nathaniel Grow (who teaches Legal Studies in the business school at Georgia): The image at left (click to enlarge) is a page from the October issue of Yankees Magazine and features the team's ticket policy. Note the underlined language in the inset at the top--fans acknowledge that team policies banning foul/abusive language and obscene/indecent clothing do not violate their free speech rights and they waive any free-speech objections to those policies or their enforcement.
I find it interesting that the team is now framing its attempts to regulate fan expression explicitly in free-speech terms. It suggests their recognition of my core argument--that fan expression, even profane or objectionable fan expression, is subject to First Amendment protection and analysis. This policy is an effort to wiggle away from that legal reality. Of course, the idea of "acknowledg[ing]] and agree[ing]" that something does not violate one's rights when it probably does is pretty Orwellian. It goes well beyond a waiver of a claim into a compelled agreement to an alternate reality.
More fundamentally, even as a straight waiver, it cannot possible be enforceable. Assume for the moment the Yankees are a state actor in managing the ballpark--I argued they were with respect to the old Yankee Stadium, which was owned by the City of New York, although the analysis changes for the new ballpark, which is privately owned but (largely) publicly built. The government cannot condition access to a public forum on a person waiving their right to challenge constitutionally suspect limitations on their speech in that forum (imagine a parade permit saying "As a condition of accepting this permit, you agree that police can halt the parade if your speech is objectionable"). Nor is this saved by the fan's compelled acknowledgement that "such time, place and manner of [sic] the restrictions are reasonable." While it is telling that the team is using those precise words, a TPM restriction must be content-neutral; a ban on foul language and indecent clothing is so obviously not content-neutral.
Finally, I do note that the waiver only applies to dirty words and dirty clothes and not to other possible free-speech violations, such as compelling fans to remain standing by their seats for "God Bless America" or other forced patriotism. I wonder if that is an oversight or if the team has genuinely given up on those efforts.
Monday, November 19, 2012
Final sports/election link
One final sports "predictor" of the presidential election: The winner of The Game--a Harvard win means a Democratic president, a Yale win means a Republican president. This held form this year, as Harvard won 34-24.
More broadly, since they have been playing since 1875, we actually have some data to work with.
• Since the origins of the rivalry, there have been 35 presidential elections and 32 games (no games in 1888, 1894, or 1940), this has held 20 times (62 %--not that impressive). That includes the Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 tie in 1968. Maybe that election should have gone to the House of Representatives.
• Over the last 18 elections and 17 games going back to 1940 (again, no game in 1944 because of World War II), it has held 14 times (82 %--much better).
• In my lifetime, going back 12 elections and 12 games to 1968, it has held 9 times (75 %).
• Over the last 9 elections going back to 1980 (call it my political lifetime), it has held 8 times (89 %); the only miss was W's reelection in 2004.
Of course, since The Game usually is played in mid-to-late November, this is less a predictor than an ex post correlation. Except in 2000, that is, when they played while the Florida debacle was playing out. Maybe we should not have been so surprised when Bush v. Gore came out as it did.
Let us praise the BCSOr not. Whatever. I'm sure the playoff will be better. But today, the BCS computers have Notre Dame at No. 1 (and Paul Horwitz's Tide at No. 2). Go Irish! Beat condoms! And, if you have a few minutes, check out this short piece (video) about ND's star linebacker, Manti Te'o, who is by all accounts a wonderful guy.
Saturday, November 17, 2012
Infield flies and taking a knee
I have written recently about baseball's Infield Fly Rule, including a general defense of, and rationale for, the rule itself. I plan to come back to it more fully in the spring, after I get through some current and future projects. I want to write a fuller piece on the cost/benefit analysis underlying the IFR and why that cost/benefit balancing both justifies IFR and why, given that balance of costs and benefits, the infield fly situation is unique not only in baseball but in all sports. There simply is no other situation like it.
This will expand on The Atlantic piece. In that essay, I identified four features of the infield fly situation that justify a special rule: 1) The fielding team has a strong incentive to intentionally not do what they are ordinarily expected to do in the game (catch the ball); 2) the fielding team gains a substantial benefit or advantage by intentionally not doing what is ordinarily expected (this is the prong I want to flesh out in economic terms of optimal outcomes, costs incurred, and benefits gained for each team); 3) the play is slow-developing and not fast-moving, so the player has time to think and control what he does; and 4) even doing what is ordinarily expected of them, the opposing players are powerless to stop the play from developing or to prevent the team from gaining this overwhelming advantage.
As I said, I believe the infield fly is the only situation in all of sport that possesses all four features. But in conversations with friends and readers, one situation keeps getting brought up: The kneel down (or "Victory Formation") at the end of football games.For those of you who don't know football (but who are still reading this post anyway; if so, thanks for sticking around): At the end of a game, with the offensive team leading and some permutation of score, time on the clock, and timeouts held by the defense indicating that the game is functionally over, the offensive team will snap the ball and the quarterback will kneel down behind the line of scrimmage, ending the play, with the clock continuing to wind down. A team may do this 2-3 times to the end of the game. The players on both teams know the game is over and that the kneeldown is coming and the defense won't do anything to challenge the play (although the play is alive and the defense could contest it, even if the practice is frowned upon). The defense's only hope in this situation is to somehow get a turnover; taking a knee is designed to avoid that risk by only snapping the ball to the quarterback and not having a handoff or other exchange that may go wrong.
Taking a knee shares all four features of the infield fly: 1) the offensive team is not trying do what we ordinarily expect--move the football forward--and is intentionally losing a couple of yards in exchange for running out the clock and avoiding the risk of a turnover; 2) the offensive team gains a substantial benefit (time runs off the clock, no turnover), imposes a substantial cost on the defensive team (time running out, no opportunity to make a play), and offers no benefit at all to the defensive team; 3) the offensive team entirely controls the situation; and 4) the defensive team can do nothing to stop the kneeldown and the running of the clock (it could try to be aggressive on the snap and force a turnover, but, again, that is frowned upon).
If the kneeldown does contain all four features, it means that I am wrong about the uniqueness of the infield fly. The question is what to do; here are some options:
1) Eliminate the Infield Fly Rule. If the situation is not unique and if there are similar situations that do not enjoy a special rule, maybe (as a number of readers have argued to me) that special rule is unwarranted here. I like the IFR, so this is the least acceptable option for me.
2) Outlaw taking a knee. My colleague Alex Pearl suggests a requirement that a team at least make an effort to move the ball forward, even if just by a quarterback sneak; by keeping the play truly live, it gives the defense a chance to force a turnover or otherwise make a play. The problem is that this adds more plays in which players are going to be hitting one another; given the genuine need to do something concussions and other injuries, the sport should not be looking for more hitting. Plus, such a rule requires a tricky determination of intent--how hard does the team have to try to move forward, since lots of plays go nowhere.
3) Recognize the effect of the clock in a timed sport such as football, as opposed to baseball. Football is not all or always about gaining the maximum yardage; in many situations a team runs plays that are likely to gain less yardage, but with the benefit of winding down the clock and bringing them closer to the end of the game and the win. In taking a knee, the offensive teams loses yards but gains in time. In other words, we're tweaking how we understand what a team ordinarily is expected to do on a play; it is not only about gaining yardage, but also about managing the clock. The response is that running a play still is different than taking a knee because of prong 4--the ability of the defense to oppose the kneeldown. So running out the clock by simply handing the ball off and running into the line is OK because teams are still running true plays, trying to gain yardage, and the defense has a real chance to force a mistake. But simply taking a knee is different.
4) Adjust my four features to add a fifth--the game must still be genuinely contested. A team takes a knee only when the outcome is, at least as a practical matter, no longer in dispute.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
Catalyzing Sports Fans (and the Rest of Us)--early draft now available
I'm happy to say that my co-authors Howard Wasserman, Michael McCann, and I have a short shitty first draft to read -- Catalyzing Sports Fans (and the Rest of Us) -- if anyone's interested. The paper is *not* about retributive justice in any dimension. It's about sports, free speech, contracts, taxes, crowds, opera, charity, and jurisdictional competition, etc. In short, it's about nothing I know anything about. So I hope you'll see fit to set me straight. Let me know via email if you'd like to read an early version please. I've pasted our working abstract below.
In most major professional sports, the desires of fans are of secondary significance. We think this could be different, and we offer two variations on a theme in which fans can be more influential stakeholders, particularly with respect to player trades or retention deals. We propose the development of Fan Action Committees (FACs).
Whether through enriching players directly, or through contributions to a player’s foundation or favorite charitable cause (our preferred approach), we examine the uneasy case for FACs. After anticipating objections and obstacles under current rules to their development, we offer some reflections about how the FAC model can transform, well, just about all other realms of human endeavor where third parties are benefited or harmed by agreements between two other parties.