Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Union Solidarity?

The gauntlet has been thrown down and things are about to get interesting. As the NFL continues to negotiate with the NFLRA over terms of a new CBA for the league’s officials, replacement officials work pre-season games. In a bold move yesterday, the NFLPA pulled out the “health and safety” card in support of the NFLRA.

In a pointed statement yesterday, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith stated:
“In America it is the employer’s obligation to provide as safe a working environment as possible. We believe that if the National Football League fails in that obligation we reserve the right to seek any relief that we believe is appropriate. The NFL has chosen to prevent the very officials that they have trained, championed and cultivated for decades to be on the field to protect players and — by their own admission — further our goal of enhanced safety.”
Let’s be clear, player safety is the priority for the NFLPA. Above salary, compensation, free agency, two-a-day practices, an 18 game schedule, and anything else you can imagine. According to reports the gap is approximately $6,000 per game to get the best football officials in the world back onto the field. The NFL’s annual revenues? Somewhere in the neighborhood of $9.3 billion PER YEAR.

A few thoughts:

1. Great to see solidarity across unions. Always wondered why the various professional sports league unions (MLBPA, NBPA, NFLPA, & NHLPA) didn’t cooperate more than they do.

2. If you don’t think the NFLPA is serious about both a) protecting their players; and b) their membership’s unhappiness with the replacement officials you’re not paying attention.

3. Lurking in the shadows of this labor impasse is the dark cloud hanging over the league—the concussion lawsuit. Unequivocally, this lawsuit threatens the financial stability of the league. Do you think that $6,000 per game is too much for the NFL to show the league’s players that safety is a concern?

For fans of the NFL, the next several days are going to be interesting.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

American Indian Mascot Sensitivity at the University of Utah

The Sports Law Blog has tackled the issue of American Indian mascots many times over the past few years. Last week, Dr. Chris Hill, the Athletics Director at the University of Utah (nicknamed the "Utes" after the local Ute Indian tribe), posted a youtube "chat" where he asked Ute fans to become more "sensitive" to issues that might offend American Indians in Utah and across the country when they attend athletic contests (see below). Specifically, Dr. Hill asks fans to be aware that painting their faces, wearing headdresses, and bringing faux tomahawks to games likely offend sacred and religious traditions of Native Americans around the country. He impliedly asked Ute fans to leave the feathers, headdresses, face paint and tomahawk chops at home.

Dr. Hill alluded to the Ute logo, the feather and drumset, as appropriate, likely based on the approval of the use of the name and logo by the Ute tribal counsel, and the NCAA policy, that while generally forbidding the use of American Indian nicknames and mascots, allows an exception for University use of such nicknames and mascots if the local tribe approves. Because of this exception, Florida State continues as the Seminoles and Utah continues as the Utes, while the University of Illinois and the University of North Dakota are no longer able to use Native American imagery as their logos or mascots.

While laudable, Dr. Hill seems to miss the broader point that American Indian imagery and caricatures remain significantly injurious to some American Indian citizens (though some polls indicate that Native Americans are split on the issue of mascot offensiveness). If offensive to some, then why continue the use of the mascot name and imagery? Certainly, University of Utah fans can become more sensitive by educating themselves and leaving American Indian regalia at home on game day. Dr. Hill himself mentioned educating himself on the sacred and spiritual in American Indian culture, which no doubt prompted the message to fans. Still, tradition and culture should not support the continued use of names and mascots that offend.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Legal Issues in Fantasy Sports: Yahoo! More Risk Averse than CBS Sports

As I had predicted last year in my law review article, A Short Treatise on Fantasy Sports and the Law, it was only a matter of time before another public company joined CBS Sports in the cash-prize fantasy football marketplace. As anticipated, Yahoo! has recently announced its launch of Yahoo! Pro Leagues, which are leagues offering up to $500 in cash prizes to fantasy football winners.

Nevertheless, in launching its pay-to-win fantasy football game, Yahoo! seems to be a tad more risk averse than CBS Sports. For example, even though the CBSSports Terms of Service only prevent the paying of prizes to winners in six states (Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Vermont and Washington), the Yahoo! Sports Terms of Service disallows prizes in two more -- Maryland and Illinois.

Yahoo!'s decision not to compete against CBS Sports in either Maryland or Illinois is likely based on the uncertainties in both states' gaming laws. In Maryland, the state governor recently signed into law a bill that exempts certain online fantasy sports games from its gambling prohibitions, and instead grants the state Comptroller the right to regulate the industry. However, to date, the state Comptroller has not issued any regulations related to fantasy sports. Presumably, CBS Sports believes this puts them in the clear to move forward with offering prize-based games.  Meanwhile, Yahoo! is not willing to take that risk. 

Similarly, in Illinois, one section of the state’s gambling law specifies that a person commits a gambling offense if he “[k]nowingly establishes, maintains, or operates an internet site that permits a person to play a game of chance or skill for money or a thing of value.” Yet, another section of that same statute exempts from the law “any bona fide contest for the determination of skill, speed, strength,or endurance.” CBS Sports must be confident that its fantasy football contest is a "bona fide contest for the determination of skill."  Meanwhile, Yahoo! might be less sure, perhaps based on a 1983 Illinois decision that found poker did not fall into this exemption.

Most interesting to me, however, is that even though Yahoo has taken a more risk averse approach than CBS Sports, it still does not outlaw its game in a number of states where some risk may still exist. For example, Yahoo! is willing to pay cash prizes to contestants in Kansas, even though last fall the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission had language on its website indicating that pay-to-win fantasy sports games were illegal. In addition, Yahoo! is willing to operate in at least one state where a former attorney general has issued an advisory opinion indicating that fantasy sports games are illegal.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Alan Milstein on Al Jazeera English to discuss Lance Armstrong

Terrific discussion on Al Jazeera English with Alan Milstein, Dave Zirin and Grant Wahl. They have a lively, interesting debate on Lance Armstrong. Here's the video:

To read an article on the Milstein/Zirin/Wahl discussion, click here.

Friday, August 24, 2012

My thoughts on Lance Armstrong for CNN International

2012: The Summer of Sports Law

As I thought about this past (and it is past because Boston College's MBA program has already started) summer, I realized the huge impact that "sports law" had on the major events. I wrote the following article which appears on the Huffington Post.

It begins....

Each year I welcome students in my Sports Law course at Boston College by declaring: “To truly understand sports, you must have a basic understanding of the law….let’s begin.” The cycle is straight-forward: the demand for sports on television grows which in turn generates revenue; the business operations to support this growth become more complex, resulting in the law’s ever-increasing role in the events and stories of the industry. The summer of 2012 has poignantly proved my point: virtually every major story, from the Olympics, to college sports, to professional leagues has been shaped by legal principles studied in the first year of law school—civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, and business law.

Let me know what you think....

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lance Armstrong = Pete Rose?

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks on Monday dismissed Lance Armstrong's lawsuit against USADA, concluding that: 1) while USADA processes were questionable, they accorded with due process (although the court skipped the prior question of whether USADA is a government actor); 2) Armstrong had to resort to administrative and foreign remedies; and 3) he contractually agreed to arbitrate all doping matters with USADA. On Thursday, Armstrong announced that he is not going to fight the USADA proceedings. This likely means he will be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, his Olympic medal, and all other cycling accomplishments dating back to 1998; he also may receive a lifetime ban from cycling.

Armstrong's statement continues to insist that he never doped or used PEDs. It explains that he decided to "turn the page." While he would "jump at the chance" to defend himself if he thought the process was fair or legitimate, he "refuse[d] to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair."  But, he reminded everyone, "I know who won those seven Tours, my teammates know who won those seven Tours, and everyone I competed against knows who won those seven Tours."

In taking this position, Armstrong sounds very much like Pete Rose. Rose similarly stopped fighting MLB's investigation and accepted a punishment, but without admitting any wrongdoing.  He then spent fifteen years insisting that he had done nothing wrong and that no one had proven that he had done anything wrong and reminding everyone that someone got all those hits and achieved all those things on the field. Eventually, of course, Rose gave up and admitted wrongdoing.

Curious to see what happens with Armstrong going forward.