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.
Friday, October 26, 2012
Sports Law in Malibu
It is my pleasure to announce that the Pepperdine Law Review will host a Sports Law symposium on Friday, April 5th, 2013. The event, titled The New Normal in College Sports: Realigned and Reckoning, will take an in-depth look at various issues in the ever-evolving world of college sports. The current schedule of distinguished panelists reflects a wide-range of expertise, such as: scholars Michael McCann, Matt Mitten, Daniel Lazaroff and others (including little 'ole me); broadcast professionals Andrew Brandt and my own colleague Roger Cossack; and other panelists with unique NCAA and conference leadership perspectives such as Brian Halloran and Britt Banowsky. If that's not enough, I submit for your consideration a link to the historic, average temperature in Malibu on April 5th. Have a wonderful weekend, and I'll see you in April!
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Recently I've been researching the antitrust and communications law issues posed by various league sports' broadcast contracts (that's broadcast with a little "b" for you telecom wonks (and you know I say that with affection)). One of the more interesting developments in the arena is the birth of the University of Texas' Longhorn Network (LHN). LHN provides hook 'em viewers total access to all things Longhorn, including team practices and interviews with coaches.
LHN is managed and delivered to distributors by ESPN. In exchange for content, ESPN will pay UT $300 million over twenty years. Now since the academy may just be the last place where that's still considered real money; it was with a bit of disbelief that I read an article in which Longhorn coach, Mack Brown, listed some "first world problems" LHN was causing him. Here are some brief excerpts:
[Problem 1, the opponents]: "We know they (opponents) have it for a fact," Brown said. "Lots of them do. And people are taping it across the country and sending it to the coach if they don't have it in their area. . . . "It's in Waco. Baylor sees every practice. So it's not like it used to be. We're a little overexposed." [ed. note - the LH's only transmit the exercise portion of their practices, not the actual plays].
[Problem 2, the time commitment]: Brown said he's spending six hours a week minimum preparing, participating or traveling to the studio for shows that air on LHN. [As Brown says] ,"And I do have three shows over there that take you 20 minutes to get there and 20 minutes to get back and an hour to do them. So there's no question it takes away some of your time."
At first I thought Mack sounded a bit like a whining 1L but I quickly abandoned that analogy as being unfair to 1Ls -- after all 1Ls pay us, Mack is paid millions. If Mack feels he (or his staff) is now personally obligated to do more under the new regime I have just two words of advice: "contract modification." But then again, I'm not a Longhorn follower--and I don't watch LHN--so I may be missing the wellspring of fear that the network will reveal team secrets and strategies so important $300 million is simply inadequate compensation. If I am missing such a point, I have a strange suspicion you just may tell me about it.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Outsourcing NCAA enforcement
An excellent and thoughtful essay in The Atlantic from my friend and law school classmate Stephen Miller, arguing that the NCAA should charge an outside body with conducting major investigations and punishments. Steve is a former Scalia clerk and AUSA; his practice now includes representing athletes in NCAA proceedings. He also is a lifelong Kentucky fan, so he is personally familiar with the vagaries of NCAA enforcement.
This is an interesting take, especially if we begin from the premise that the NCAA is here to stay, that there is good reason to regulate intercollegiate athletics and the conduct of student-athletes (in terms of amateurism, academics, etc.), and that self-regulation, given the structure of college sports, is unworkable.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Today in sanctionable lawsuits
A New Orleans Saints fan named David Mancina has filed a putative class action against Roger Goodell and the NFL, alleging that Goodell and the league's suspension of Saints players entitles Mancina and other Saints fans to damages from (I am not making this up) "the diminishment in the value of their tickets; their personal emotional reaction to the unwarranted penalties inflicted on their beloved team, players, coaches, and executives; and the deliberate reduction of the competitive capability of the Saints due to the selective gutting of the critical components needed to justify the loyalty of Plaintiff and the class." And according to the complaint, he actually had counsel to do this.
The first, obvious response is they lack standing. But the defects in this go so far beyond that. This has to be sanctionable, and I am not someone who is big on sanctions. If one of my students turned this in in a drafting exercise, she would fail.1) The Complaint does not identify any claim, that is any right or legal obligation to the plaintiffs that Goodell or the league breached on the facts at issue. They just ask for damages to fully compensate them, but assert no legal rule that entitles them to recovery, but they assert no legal right to recover. We teach in Civ Pro that "he violated my rights" or "he injured me" is not sufficient in a complaint, even pre-Twiqbal. You never expect to actually see one of those.
2) The prayer for relief asks "that Defendants be duly cited to appear and answer this complaint and after due proceedings for judgment against The Commissioner and the League for damages to fully compensate Plaintiffs, and the Class, for damages, and all other general and equitable relief required in the premises." This is utter nonsense. His prayer for relief is that they be made to respond to the complaint.
3) The complaint asserts as one basis of jurisdiction § 1331, but no indication of how this is a civil action "arising under" federal law.
I am tempted to use this in class next semester, as a sample complaint showing what you absolutely shouldn't do. But this is almost so bad as to not be a good illustration of what is bad. Almost.
Friday, October 12, 2012
In Defense of the Infield Fly Rule
My two posts on the controversial Infield Fly Rule call in last week's National League Wild Card game generated a number of comments and emails, several suggesting that, not only was the call wrong, but that the rule itself is a bad idea and should be scrapped. This motivated me to write a defense of the Infield Fly Rule, which now has been published on The Atlantic.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Coming soon?: All-You-Can-Watch Local Sports (whether you want it or not)
I teach antitrust and communications law--both filled with meaty, topical issues that can generate complex questions--but a perennial student favorite is "Why can't I watch my hometown team on TV?" This question typically elicits a dry recital of specific league rules, FCC blackout regulations and a varied assortment of broadcast deals. But I've been pleasantly surprised that recent developments are changing that answer--and may soon even eliminate the question. For example the NFL has relaxed its blackout rules, designed primarily to bolster gate receipts, in an apparent nod to evolving league economics. The FCC's sports blackout rules, are also up for reconsideration, as changing economics and video delivery preferences have arguably undercut the underlying rationale for the rules. Finally, there has been a flurry of new contracts, new channels and new methods of bringing you your local team--at a price; sometimes a price paid whether or not you're interested.
The latest deal to hit my area is a new Laker/Time Warner Cable contract. Now if you live in official, Laker Nation territory, all regular season Laker games that are not nationally broadcast (that's about 53 out of 82, although reports vary) will be brought to you on Time Warner SportsNet. Not a Time Warner Cable customer? (There are about 3.1 million Angelenos who aren't.) No problem! Go to iwantmylakers.com, type in your zip code and Time Warner will show you which provider can bring you SportsNet (spoiler alert: in all zip codes you can get the channel from only one operator: Time Warner Cable). The site also allows you to email/tweet your provider directly to demand that they add the new channel for only $3.95 per month, per subscriber--yes, even you non-Laker watching subscribers will pay (at least some of) that fee. Compare that to the most expensive national channel, ESPN--rumored to command $4.69 per subscriber--and, depending on your persepective, it either looks like ESPN has paved the way for competition or some cable/satellite customers are being highjacked. Either way, the Pac-12 asking price of $0.90 suddenly looks like a bargain basement sale.
Later I'll take a closer look at some intriguing antitrust and regulatory implications of these new trends--and I would love to hear your comments--but for now, since I don't have Time Warner Cable, I guess I'll just go watch some Los Angeles professional football . . . oh . . ..
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
The political is the personal
One of the venerable "predictors" of a presidential election is the World Series winner--American League team means Republican president, National League team means Democratic president. It has held 16 out of 26 times (when I first learned about it in a freshman poli sci class in 1986, it had held 13 out of 20 times).
Now, I'm a Cubs fan, so my rooting and political interests generally align (not that anyone is worrying about the Cubs playing in the World Series). My wife, however, is an Orioles fan and I have been watching and rooting for them (and wearing a '70s-era bird hat) as a show of spousal support. But with the election fast-approaching, Obama's polls tanking, and Andrew Sullivan losing his mind, I am beginning to wonder if I should continue rooting for an AL team right now. What should I do?By the way, if you are looking for other sports-related predictors, try this: If the Redskins win their final home game before the election, the incumbent party retains the White House. This has held in 18 of the last 19 elections. The 'Skins play the Carolina Panthers on November 4.
Tuesday, October 02, 2012
An NHL Antitrust Hat Trick?
Thanks for the invite PrawfsBlawg! Writing from the homeland of current Stanley Cup Champions, the Los Angeles Kings (Tri-State dwellers love it when you say that), I feel I must discuss the NHL lockout. Unfortunately hockey fans are no stranger to long strikes and lockouts (remember the 2004-05 season? no? exactly.). In fact, one of my students has written a terrific piece where she charts the strike/lockout history of the four major sports leagues. Each league shares a common intense interaction among players, owners, the NLRB and (sometimes) antitrust authorities. But the NHL stands apart in at least one way--although it could be effective, the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) has never been decertified as a negotiating strategy.*
Decertification of the union is a strategic maneuver by players because it permits the use of a very big stick--a Sherman Act s. 1 antitrust claim. Given the corporate structure of most leagues, it is simple to bring a colorable antitrust claim. However, a collective bargaining agreement puts players under the authority of the NLRB, not antitrust (Powell). But if players decertify the union then "presto" there is no CBA to bind players and it's off to the federal court house they go.
The players of the NFLPA and NBPA have done just that as recently as 2011--quite effectively thank you very much. Is strategic decertification bad faith negotiation? No answer yet from the NLRB because claims of bad faith have always been mooted by quick settlements--so, well, the strategy works. Given the recent success of the NFLPA and NBPA decertifications and antitrust suits, the question for the NHLPA is whether this season they'll score an antitrust hat trick?
*[The MLBPA has not been decertified either but the strategic benefit of doing so has been dubious until the late '90s given baseball's unique, judicial antitrust exemption .]
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Over the summer, Dan and I wrote a short piece for The Atlantic arguing for the creation of "Fan Action Committees," through which fans could collect and give money to free agent players to lure them to join fans' favorite team. We currently are working, along with Michael McCann, on a longer version of the piece.
As even non sports fans probably know, this week's Monday Night Football game between Green Bay and Seattle ended on a touchdown on the final play of the game, in what most people outside Seattle believe was one of the worst calls, and worst-handled calls, in NFL history.* Several Green Bay players took to Twitter to express their dispelasure, notably offensive linement T.J. Lang, who tweeted ""Fine me and use the money to pay the regular refs." Shortly after that, a fan posted on the site Indiegogo (the page has been taken down, unfortunately) encouraging fans to send money to Lang to help him pay the fine that most believed was inevitable, as the NFL routinely fines players, coaches, and executives who criticize officiating. As it turned out, the league announced it would not impose fines for any comments related to Monday's game, no doubt a concession to the egregiousness of the mistake.
Still, this is our FAC idea in action--fans paying money as a show of fandom and of support for their favorite players. Although we primarily discussed the idea only in the context of free agency, this shows that fans may support players through money for a number of difference reasons in a number of different contexts. And it shows that fans instinctively understand this as a legitimate way to express support for their favorite players and teams.
See, scholarship can have a practical effect.
* Which, it turns out, will be the last call ever by the replacement referees, at least in this labor dispute.
Monday, September 24, 2012
As NASCAR goes, so goes America?
Two years ago, I wrote about a poll showing the general politcal breakdown of sports fans. It found that sports fans overall leaned Republican, with NASCAR fans among the strongest Republican supporters (along with fans of golf and college football). Zogby just published a poll showing Obama with a lead among self-identified NASCAR fans (admittedly small sample size of only about 200 out of an overall sample of 800).
Saturday, September 08, 2012
Activist athletes, tone-deaf politicians
Now here's a fun free-speech controversy.
On Thursday, the story got out that Emmett C. Burns, Jr., a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, had sent a letter to the principal owner of the Baltimore Ravens, expressing horror that a member of the Ravens, Brendan Ayanbadejo, had spoken in support of a pending ballot initiative that would establish marriage equality in Maryland. Burns asked the team to "take the necessary action . . . to inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions." Ayanbadejo responded on Twitter by saying "Football is just my job it's not who I am. I am an American before anything. And just like every American I have the right to speak!!!" (wow, maybe you can make good points in 140 characters). Vikings punter Chris Kluwe defended Ayanbadejo on Deadspin and has been getting some attention for his response, which mostly hits (in an inimitable style) the key points.
Burns obviously should not be taken seriously or given too much credit for having put any real thought or principle into the letter. What I find disturbing is the stated belief that, as a football player, Ayanbadejo has less of a right to speak out on public issues--that it is wrong for him to "try to sway public opinion one way or another" simply because he is a professional athlete. I haven't heard of Burns sending letters to other employers in the state (such as Johns Hopkins University, the largest employer in Maryland) asking them to tell their employees to concentrate on their jobs. Modern athletes are frequently criticized for not being political and not taking a stand on public issues (recall Michael Jordan's infamous comment that "Republicans buy shoes, too"). Now, when an athlete is willing to take a stand, a public official insists that he is engaging in "injurious behavior" and should be silenced.
We have not heard any response from Burns since the story became public and my guess is we won't. As an unknown and not influential state legislator, he no doubt is basking in the attention, even if it all makes him look like a complete fool.
Update: The New York Times has a short piece on the controversy, mentioning a number of current and former players who have come out in support of marriage equality and arguing that it reflects a shift in the NFL's political culture.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
PEGs: Performance Enhancing Gloves
Researchers at Stanford, led by two biologists, are close to having a commercially viable cooling glove, a device designed to cool core body temperature by cooling blood in particular veins in the palm that are devoted to temperature regulation. (H/T: My colleague Tracy Hresko Pearl).
The research team also discovered that the glove carries athletic benefits. Cooling the body also cools muscles. Muscle fatigue, it has been found, is a product of the temperature in the muscle getting too high (something to do with a chemical enzyme); by cooling the muscles, the glove essentially resets the state of muscle fatigue, allowing an athlete to start over. In a six-week period, one member of the team went from doing 180 pull-ups in a session to over 620; they found similar improvements in bench press, running, and cycling. And several teams--including the Raiders, Niners, Man United, and the Stanford football and track teams--have begun using it.
Given this level of improvement, one of the researchers said that the glove was "[e]qual to or substantially better than steroids … and it's not illegal." But should it be? And if not, returning to a question I asked when I first started blogging, why is the glove different from steroids or HGH or EPO or blood doping or other performance enhances that we have outlawed and decried? All use modern technology and modern scientific knowledge (the science behind cooling was not fully understood until 2009) to improve athletic performance. Athletes training with any of these have a technological advantage not available 10, 20, or 50 years ago.
The only apparent difference is the negative health consequences associated with steroids. But is that all there is? And in our new Libertarian Era, should that be enough?
Friday, August 10, 2012
Women's Sports and the Olympics
A few of thoughts and questions on a good morning to talk about women's sports and Title IX, in the wake of 1) yesterday's gold medal win by the U.S. women's soccer team before 80,000 at Wembley Stadium (and millions more live on some medium--are you listening NBC) and 2) the Second Circuit's decision earlier this week holding that Quinnipiac University violated Title IX by trying to eliminate the women's volleyball team.
First, there has been talk in the last few days about US women earning more medals, and more golds, than their male counterparts. Yesterday's wins in soccer and water polo add to that, as might a gold in today's women's volleyball final (the men were eliminated in the quarters).
Second, here is a nice essay by Slate/NPR's Stefan Fatsis about the women's soccer match and its "meaning," arguing that it actually has no deeper meaning other than that a bunch of women's teams played an exciting tournament that in every way (from playing hard to bitching about the refs) resembled a men's tournament, was watched by a lot of people, and can be evaluated on its own terms. He does consider briefly what the large audience for Olympic soccer tells us about the sustainability of a professional women's league (a point I addressed here). I do like his broader point--that women's sports is, slowly, becoming less of a cause and a simply a matter of good competition.Third, the Second Circuit decision received some attention because Quinnipiac had sought to make up the lost volleyball spaces by creating a competitive cheerleading team; this required the court to consider whether cheerleading is a sport, concluding it was not (although not for the reasons I would offer--it had to do with how well-established and well-organized something was as a competitive event, meaning cheer could become a sport some day).
A question: Would a more purposivist take on Title IX uniformly favor opportunities in volleyball or soccer over opportunities in cheer, given the statute's goal of creating new opportunities for women in sports? Cheerleading predates Title IX by many years, obviously, and it seems to me it would undermine the statute if schools could satisfy their statutory obligations by increasing the number of opportunities for women/girls to do what they have been doing all along rather than providing genuinely new athletic opportunities.
Saturday, August 04, 2012
Defining sport: Intrinsic and Instrumental (not utilitarian) Values
I have written before about defining sport and distinguishing sport from other athletic competitions. My preferred definition of sport includes four elements: 1) Large motor skills; 2) Simple machines; 3) Objective scoring (distinct from subjective judging); and 4) Competition. Of these, # 3 has proven to be most difficult, controversial, and contested, as the comments on this post show. Watching the Olympics (count me among the many who detest the NBC Primetime productions) has lead me to a different way of thinking about # 3, using a line familiar to legal scholarship--the difference between intinsic and utilitarian instrumental values. Hear me out.
Everything involves the performance of particular skills (dives, flips, swimming strokes, running strides, throwing, putting the shot, whatever), with the hope of performing those skills as correctly as possible. The difference is why the athlete performs those skills.
Sometimes they are done for utilitarian instrumental purposes--to enable the athlete to swim or run faster or to put the shot further or to put the ball in the basket. And the better or more perfectly the athlete performs those skills, the more likely he is to do well in the competition. But ultimate evaluation is not on the skills themselves and correct performance is not essential to success. A shot-putter still can have a good throw even if his performance on that throw is not technically correct; a swimmer still might swim fast even if his stroke is off; a jump shot in basketball may go in even if the form on the shot is off. Each of those scores is worth the same as one done with perfect form. Other times, those skills are performed for their intrinsic value and utlimate evaluation is on the correctness and form of the skill itself. An Inward 2 1/2 that is not done correctly will score less than an Inward 2 1/2 done correctly; a backflip not done correctly will score less than a backflip done correctly.
This is our new third element. Sport is utilitarian instrumental; skills are performed toward some other end and outcomes are determined by the result of the skill rather than by evaluating the skill itself. It is not sport if it is intrinsic; skills are performed for their own sake and outcomes are determined by evaluating the skill itself. We no longer care about objective or subjective evaluation, about scoring or judging. Instead, we focus only on the thing being evaluated to determine outcome--the skill itself (not sport) or the results of the skill (sport).
Combined with elements 1, 2, and 4, above, we may have a winner.
I accept Patrick's friendly amendment in the comments and have changed "utilitarian" to "instrumental."
I am trying to figure out whether this new element solves the conundrum of boxing. Boxers are throwing punches to score points, although the vagaries of judging sometimes hint that judges are evaluating the punches themselves.
Thursday, August 02, 2012
Minority religions and the Olympics
My colleague Tom Baker linked me to this story on the Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and other minority religious groups taking special rooting interest and pride in the Olympic success of their co-religionists, even if they are competing for other countries. The author seems surprised by this, although I am not sure why. American Jews always have been very conscious of the existence and success of Jewish-American as well as Israeli athletes (while never being afraid to recycle the old joke "Do you have some light reading? Here's a pamphlet of great Jewish athletes"). What is new here, if anything, is the way that other religious groups in the U.S. are catching on.
For what it's worth, my sense with Jews and Jewish athletes is that it always has been more ethnic/cultural than religious. People knew gymnast Aly Raisman is Jewish because of her name and her floor routine done to "Hava Nagila." The issue was never whether she was particularly observant (although her rabbi is quoted in the story, so we somewhat know), but that she identified as Jewish. That has always been enough.
Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Are Sporting Setbacks Penalties or Punishments?
Sportswriter Bill Simmons discovered Team Handball, which always has been my favorite off-the-beaten-path Summer Olympic sport.
Now here's one for Dan: A few years ago, he was trying to incorporate into his punishment scholarship some analogies to penalties in football and how those are calibrated (something economists have also begun exploring in earnest after the strange ending to the last Super Bowl). Like hockey, players in handball have to sit out of the game for some period if they commit a foul. But handball calls these "punishments," the only sport (as far as I know) to use this terminology--a player is "punished" by having to sit out for two minutes.
Is penalty v. punishment a useful distinction--both for sports and for law?
Monday, July 23, 2012
Just the FACs: Fan Action Committees and Fan Support
Dan and I have an op-ed that just posted at The Atlantic, introducing the concept of "Fan Action Committees." The sports counterpart to PACs, these are vehicles for fans to pool money to give to star players (or donate to the player's favored charitable causes) to induce them to join or remain with a favored team. We take a particular focus on last week's Jeremy Lin/New York Knicks saga.
This presents the germ of an idea that we hope (along with sports law guru Mike McCann of Vermont) to expand into a longer essay. Comments welcome and encouraged. Thanks to Mike, Gregg Polsky (UNC), and Brian Galle (BC) for their comments.
Monday, July 16, 2012
Public memorials and Penn State
Legal historian Al Brophy of UNC and the Faculty Lounge writes some interesting stuff on public memorials and monuments, particularly in the South. This has become the new locus of discussion at Penn State, as the trustees and others try to figure out what to do with the Paterno iconography that dots Penn State and State College. These include a statue, the family name on the university library, and a famous mural in town (the mural artist recently removed the halo from over Paterno's head).
The current sentiment on the Board of Trustees is to leave the statue, at least for now and pending a broader public discussion. I was struck by the comment of one trustee, who insisted "The statue represents the good that Joe did. It doesn't represent the bad that he did." Can they have it both ways like that? Can a monument to someone with a divided legacy (as Paterno now has) simply remain in place, pretending there was no bad? Do the trustees at least have to acknowledge in the public conversation that they are determining that the good Paterno did outweighs the bad and thus warrants keeping the statute (a reasonable position)? I actually don't particularly care what they do with the statue; I'm more interested in how the conversation about the statue honestly addresses that Paterno genuinely did something wrong and the statute represents that part of him as much as it represents everything else.
I am far more disturbed by the announcement that they are going to renovate the locker rooms and shower areas where some of Sandusky's assaults took place. While this has been described as an attempt to "erase the legacy of Sandusky's crimes," it also strikes me as an actual and symbolic attempt to erase the past in a way that covers the university's role in those crimes. I am not suggesting they have to turn the shower into a shrine or a museum. But their first response is to whitewash the crime scene and, in some sense, the evidence of their collective misdeeds. And to also get a shiny new athletics facility out of it, when the special treatment of athletics is a major element of this entire mess, is especially offensive.
[Update, July 18: Brophy, who happens to be in Pennsylvania, comments]
Boards of Trustees Irony
Penn State's Board of Trustees took a minor beating in the Freeh Report last week, criticized for failing to exercise oversight and to have in place procedures for gathering information from university officials, especially the President and General Counsel. This was tempered somewhat by the much sharper criticism of former President Graham Spanier for failing to keep the Board informed; Spanier is the real bad guy, so the Board's misdeeds are somewhat mitigated. The point is that Board is the potential white knight--had the Board known, it would have done s0mething at least in 2001 and perhaps in 1998 and many of these problems (and perhaps the further assaults of children) would have been avoided. In other words, the narrative is we needed more active involvement by the Board of Trustees, which should have done more to check the President and to run the university.
Wait. Wasn't the narrative of the University of Virginia mess (less than a month ago) that the Board of Visitors was meddling and interfering with the school's academic mission and that they should leave Teresa Sullivan alone to run the school and not impose their anti-intellectual vision on the university?
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Choosing your own decisionmaking processes
At Sunday's Olympic Trials in the women's 100m, there was a tie for third place (the final spot on the team). And now the question is how to break the tie, with the options being a coin flip or a run-off between the two women, Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh. But it gets more complicated, because the choice is delegated to the runners: If they agree on a process, they use that. If they disagree on their preferences, they use a run-off. And if no one expresses a preference, they use a coin flip.
This raises a couple of interesting issues:
1) As Miriam Cherry discusses at CoOp, Olympic officials have avoided making a decision (and having to provide reasons for the decision) by delegating the choice to the participants, something judges typically are unable to do.
2) Is there any doubt that world-class athletes will choose the run-off? And, if so, why? Is it fear of randomness? Is it a desire for control? Is there something unique about professional athletes that influences their choices?
3) Note the game theory element to this. If they state a preference and disagree, it's a run-off; if one or both decline to state a preference, it's a coin flip.
Sunday, June 24, 2012
Changing the rhetoric on women's sports
The sports world marked yesterday's 40th anniversary of Title IX by showing a lot of women's sports on TV, including Olympic trials in a number of sports (such as diving and track) and a marathon of WNBA games.
I also caught a new Nike ad, titled Voices. It features close-up shots of basketball players Diana Taurasi and Lisa Leslie, boxer Marlen Esperaza, and marathoner Joan Benoit Samuelson (I still remember her winning the first Olympic women's marathon in Los Angeles in 1984, wearing a white painter's cap) talking about the obstacles and challenges they faced growing up and starting to play sports. Notably, each of the four is a different age (ranging from 20s to 55) and grew up at different stages in Title IX's 40-year history. Those head shots are interspersed with shots of young girls in uniform lip-synching their comments. This ad can be seen as the successor to Nike's famous 1995 If You Let Me Play (regarded by many as one of the all-time best ads). Both can be seen after the jump.
In watching them, note the new rhetoric and narrative. The earlier ad tried to convince the viewer that women and girls should be ableto play sports by citing all the instrumental benefits that come with participation in sports (better grades, increased self-confidence, better health, etc.). The new ad says that women and girls do and should play simply because they want to. Oh, and because they're really freaking good. This strikes me as progress.Voices:
If You Let Me Play:
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
All politics is local, some of it is microscopic
Primary voters in North Dakota yesterday voted in favor of legislation that will allow the state Board of Education to retire the controversial Fighting Sioux nickname of the University of North Dakota.
The NCAA has been pressing UND to get rid of its logo and nickname for several years because it deems it offensive to American Indians; schools that continue to use offensive nicknames are barred from hosting NCAA tournament events and cannot use the name and logo in NCAA tournament play. The state was unable to get approval for continued use of the name from the two area nations, Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux; the latter passed a resolution supporting the nickname but the latter never held a vote. In 2011, the North Dakota legislature passed a law requiring the school to continue using the nickname, but that law was repealed in a special session. A group supporting the nickname then gathered the signatures necessary to challenge the repeal law on the ballot. This now sends the matter back to the Board of Ed., which is expected to change the name.
That is, unless nickname supporters succeed in making the Fighting Sioux nickname a constitutional requirement. Yep, the next move, which supporters say they are going to pursue, is a popular constitutional amendment to amend the state's structural charter to require a university to use a particular nickname and logo. Needless to say, I don't expect to see this particular proposla in Slate's discussion of How to Fix the Constitution. I do not have skin in this nickname dispute; I do not believe that using Indian tribe names and titles (as opposed to, for example, "Redskins") is inherently offensive and perhaps the NCAA is overreacting (shocking, I know). But this cannot be the sort of even symbolic issue that has any place in a state constitution.
One other touch to this report, also reflective of every political dispute: Sean Johnson, spokesman for the group supporting the ballot measure, pointed out that they were outspent by the other side. It is now virtually guaranteed that the loser in any election, particularly on issue refenda and initiatives, will point out how badly it was outspent. This has become the electoral equivalent of calling the judge in a case "activist": If I lose, it must be because someone (the judge, the other side) did something wrong or untoward.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
NFL Bounty Scandal - Pre-Saints?
I feel I’m coming a little late to the party, given that this is my first guest post and we’ve almost hit the middle of June. I’ll blame it on Law and Society in Hawaii, although Dave didn’t seem to have problems posting while he was there…
I am hoping this month to post some things on drugs, guns, and general border crime stuff – all the fun stuff in my wheelhouse. I also have enjoyed looking at some things on Fast and Furious and the Ted Stevens prosecution too, so I might say some stuff there too. We’ll see how far we get.
But first, I’ve been doing some research on prominent prosecutions gone wrong (hence the interest in both Fast and Furious and the Ted Stevens prosecution, and we can likely chalk the John Edwards prosecution up there now as well). One of the “case studies” I’m looking at is from the Archer Daniels Midland price-fixing investigation in the mid-90s (and thankfully, Kurt Eichenwald put everything together in a nice book for me to read: The Informant (published in 2000 and made into a movie staring Matt Damon in 2009, although I can’t find the movie anywhere here in Laramie so I haven’t seen it yet)). While reading through the book, I noticed something that seems to have a played a prominent role in sports news this past few months, so I wanted to comment slightly on that.
By way of background:the ADM investigation involved a number of FBI agents, AUSAs, folks from Main Justice and other officials investigating ADM allegedly engaging in price fixing with other foreign corporations. The FBI became involved when Mark Whitacre (“the Informant”) started cooperating and recorded numerous conversations with officials from other companies and persons working at his own company. Whitacre seems to have acted at times as a rogue agent (and also seems to have engaged in embezzlement from ADM while working as a CI (confidential informant)) and ultimately got a pretty high chunk of time in prison. While my research deals with the problems inherent in having a prosecutor run such an investigation, that isn’t the point of this post.
To make a long post short (too late), I noticed some information about the NFL bounty scandal in the book. On p. 465 of the book, Eichenwald describes a FBI interview of Ron Ferrari, one of Whitacre’s salesmen and someone the FBI thought might be involved in the price-fixing. Ferrari played linebacker for the 49ers during the Joe Montana years, and the FBI questioned him about $25,000 in a safe-deposit box (thinking it might have come from price-fixing). Ferrari tells the FBI this is money from “unofficial bonuses” he received while playing football for the 49ers. He goes on to indicate that sometimes, when there were unpopular players on the other team, the coaches would pay “little bonus payments” for a “particularly vicious hit on one of those unpopular guys.” This seems exactly what the NFL bounty scandal is all about, but this is an allegation of it happening in the mid-80s, a long time before the Saints “bountygate” came out.
So, after my exhaustive internet research on this issue (about 2 minutes on Google), as far as I can tell, this information never made it to the NFL. In 2000, Eichenwald provides evidence about these bounties occurring in the NFL, and yet, no mention is made of that within the Saints “bounty-gate” discussion. Of course, I’m not surprised that none of this information really made much of a dent back in 2000 because a) it isn’t likely that anyone associated with the NFL read Eichenwald’s book, and b) the bounty-gate stuff seems more of a big deal now given all of the concussion-related news and suits that have arisen in the past year or so.
Of course, now that I’ve written this post, I’m sure I’ll be getting called by Roger Goodell…
Thanks for letting me post, and I look forward to trying to post some interesting things here while I’m here.