Articles Posted in Sports Law

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave the NFL owners a big win today, reversing the District Court ruling to lift the NFL lockout, handing the league a victory in a labor stoppage. Personally, I’m counting this as a loss for Tom Brady. He was the “starter” as the lead plaintiff in the players’ class action.

There is a pretty strong dissent in the case by a Clinton appointee. The court split right on party lines.

What does this mean? I think the deal is done. Now they are just battling over the details. The owners were going to win 80% of those details. Now they win 90%.

The Supreme Court yesterday unanimously rejected in American Needle v. NFL, the NFL’s request for broad antitrust law protection as a joint venture, ruling that the NFL should be viewed as 32 separate corporations when selling branded merchandise and apparel. The court’s ruling in American Needle flipped a 7th Circuit opinion that reached the opposite finding.

The NFL really wanted this appeal, hoping to knock the ball out of the park and grab a baseball like antitrust exemption. This means that someone handicapped the Supreme Court and saw a victory. But the league’s lawyers read it wrong, and it was not even close. If the NFL had won, they would have parlayed that new leverage into even more anticompetitive behavior that would have been great for team owners but not for fans or players. If the American Needle ruling gave the NFL a broad exemption, it could have destroyed the years and years of leverage building NFL players have earned in the collective bargaining process. I think this ruling makes it less likely the owners are going to lock out the players in 2011. In fact, if the NFL owners (actually, their lawyers) had read the situation correctly, the league would have tried to get a deal done with American Needle hanging over the players’ heads.

The Chicago Board of Education and a youth center settled a $14.7 million lawsuit concerning a man who became a quadriplegic after hitting his head on the side of the trampoline. The injury occurred when the man was 13 years old. Underscoring how slow the wheels of justice can be, the man is not 31.

Plaintiff had what I thought was a tough case at trial because Illinois law sets a high bar for “contact” participant sports injuries, requiring willful or wanton conduct which is certainly a tougher standard than ordinary negligence.

I have always disliked this judicially created an exception to the usual “reasonable person” standard in Illinois so I’m glad to see that this incredibly sympathetic plaintiff could get a meaningful recovery.

Overlawyered has a blog post today about the reports of a high school pitcher suing his school district because he wore out his arm throwing 140 pitches in a single game. Here is the gist of the story from the Seattle Times: Seven years ago, Plaintiff was pitching against a rival school. He had no plans to take himself out of the game. In the eighth inning his mother, assuming you believe her story, told coach, “He’s at 117 pitches. He’s done.” (How many mothers out there are keeping exact pitch counts?) You know the rest of the story. The Plaintiff hurts his arm. He thinks he was the next coming of Roger Clemens… better make that Greg Maddux… and files suit claiming the coach should have pulled him out of the game.

Overlawyered and the Maryland Lawyer Blog agree that the possibility of a lawsuit causes people to act differently than they otherwise would. Where we disagree is whether, on balance, this is a good thing for society. For example, football coaches now know that depriving kids of water during practice is a bad thing and their doing so may expose the school to liability. In this area I think coaches already have proper incentive to do the right thing and this will only serve to exaggerate the risk of a “pitch count” lawsuit. Even if this is what I believe is the first lawsuit of its kind in this country. Obviously every baseball coach around the country is going to be talking about this and many are going to become worried about pitch counts.

Awareness of valid lawsuits properly encourages people (including doctors) to proceed with caution and to consider the risks that may cause harm. Frivolous lawsuits like this one have the opposite effect and are going to have some coaches – a small minority but still some – overreacting and limiting kids to ridiculously low pitch counts. But just as free speech requires us to tolerate hate speech, the search for justice requires us to tolerate some level of frivolous lawsuits. Whatever inertia this country has towards tort reform, it comes in no small measure from mainstream media and Internet reports (many of which are simply false) of ridiculous lawsuits.

According to the Sports Business Journal, Major League Baseball and its Players’ Association are submitting a Writ of Certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling made by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals that allows fantasy baseball companies to continue to use players’ names and statistics without paying a licensing fee.

Major League Baseball has argued that players should be paid when their names are used for fantasy baseball leagues. Conveniently, they believe the players should be paid in the same way they are paid when their names are used for product endorsements.

The problem Major League Baseball has had in advancing this argument is that their position flies in the face of existing copyright law. As the 8th Circuit pointed out, it would be a strange law, to say the least, that a person would not have a First Amendment right to use information that is available to everyone in the public domain. There is no violation of the right of publicity.