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The Blitz – 03/01/2020

The BlitzMarch 1, 2020

Our picks for the
Ten Most Interesting Sports Law Stories
from the past week.

This week was another tough call for ranking the Top 10 sports law stories for the week.  The dockets produced a wide array of cases spanning across the spectrum of sports, some with a narrow focus but high profile while others could be precedent-setting delivering a broad influence for some time to come.  Here are our picks for the Top 10 based on a combination of noteworthiness and potential impact and bonus reading to bridge the gap.

10 Gotta wonder if  Tampa will soon be joining St. Louis and Oakland as cities that lost their NFL teams?  Or what the NFL owners would do when every city of interest says, “Thanks but no thanks.”  Seems like a great opportunity for XFL growth as long as they don’t mimic the NFL’s corrosive behavior.

If Passed, Proposed Legislation Would Push Florida’s Pro Sports Teams Towards Exit Door

(Sports Illustrated-John Wall Street 02/28/2020)  —  Florida lawmakers are considering legislation (HB 1369) that would prevent pro sports teams from utilizing county tourism-development tax dollars or the proceeds from a half-cent sales tax on pro sports amenities to help fund new stadium construction or improvements on existing facilities after July 1, 2020 (existing contracts would be honored). The proposed bill, which the House Ways & Means Committee voted to advance in January (it has not yet been introduced to the full House), would also require teams to pay fair market value on land leases. There is seemingly momentum within Florida to end public subsidies for sporting venues. HB 1369 is considered “linked to” another proposal (HB 6057), one that would repeal a State funded program that makes money available for stadium and arena development (or improvement) projects. The Florida Senate does not currently maintain a companion bill for HB 1369.  Continue reading…

3 Two recent lawsuits alleging sex discrimination against female coaches have recently been filed.

Ex-Youth Coach Hits Penguins With Sex Discrimination Suit

(Law360-Matt Fair 02/24/2020) — The Pittsburgh Penguins were slapped with a federal lawsuit Friday alleging that the team fired the coordinator of its youth skating program in September after she complained that staff repeatedly refused to accommodate lactation breaks she needed when she returned to work from maternity leave.

Angela Gubala says that she faced discriminatory treatment — including a human resources official asking her to choose between her job and her need to pump breast milk — and was fired after more than four years with the team following her request that she be allowed to take lactation breaks upon returning from maternity leave.  Continue reading…  | Lawsuit

Although this one is technically from last week, we’re including it here ICYMI, and to underscore the importance of the current litigation.

Analyzing the Case: Attorney Sues Heat, Claims Team Fired Her For Taking Parental Leave

(Sports Illustrated-Michael McCann 02/19/2020) — Vered Yakovee, a former vice president and associate general counsel of the Heat, claims the team treated her illegally and wrongfully fired her taking maternity leave. Here’s how this case might play out.  Continue reading…

8 The issue of how to best handle transgender sports participation is now creeping into the legislative realm.

Bar transgender athletes from girls sports? Ohio Lawmakers say yes

(Dayton Daily News-Laura A. Bischoff 02/25/2020) — Republican state Rep. Jena Powell calls her new bill the Save Women’s Sports Act, but LGBTQ advocates call it an attack on transgender youths.

Powell, of Arcanum, intends to co-sponsor a bill that would mandate the Ohio High School Athletic Association block biological male students from competing in girls’ sports.  Continue Reading…

Sexual abuse continues to be a major problem across the spectrum of amateur sports where young athletes of both sexes are frequently subjected to abusers in a position of authority.  This week we have updates on three of these lawsuits.

Simone Biles blasts USA Gymnastics’ settlement proposal; Aly Raisman assails ‘massive cover up’

(Washington Post-Liz Clarke 02/29/2020)  —  On Saturday morning, while en route to Indianapolis for a mandatory U.S. women’s training camp, Biles revealed the toll it is taking, particularly in light of USA Gymnastics’ latest proposal for settling hundreds of lawsuits over its failure to protect athletes from sexual predator and former team doctor Larry Nassar.

The proposal would release U.S. Olympic officials, former USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny, former coaches Martha and Bela Karolyi and others from liability. Moreover, it includes no provision for disclosing who at USA Gymnastics was aware of and hid Nassar’s abuse — details that survivors have demanded from the outset.  Continue reading…

OSU Not Handling Sex Abuse Talks In Good Faith, Judge Told

(Law360-Craig Clough 02/25/2020) — A group of alleged sexual assault victims of a former Ohio State University sports doctor urged a federal judge to allow their litigation to continue, telling him that mediation has “run its course” and that the university has not been negotiating in good faith.

In a notice to the court on behalf of some of the plaintiffs out of hundreds of named and unnamed former athletes and others who filed claims in several consolidated lawsuits, the alleged victims said that OSU had not engaged in “meaningful negotiation” to settle the allegations that now-deceased university sports doctor Richard Strauss sexually abused or assaulted them.  Continue reading…  |  Letter

USA Taekwondo Looks To Permanently Ax Abuse Claims

(Law360-Alyssa Aquino 02/24/2020) — USA Taekwondo urged a Colorado federal court to permanently end claims it revictimized female athletes with its handling of complaints that two taekwondo superstars forced young women to trade sex for opportunities to compete.

The sports organization told U.S. District Judge Christine M. Arguello Friday it can’t face claims it hampered an investigation into allegations that two brothers of the “first family of taekwondo” forced young women into sexual relationships because it doesn’t owe a duty of care to the female athletes.  Continue reading…  |  For background on the case see: At What Price Glory? (Advocacy for Fairness in Sports-Sheilla Dingus 05/21/2019)  |  Motion to Dismiss

6 Developments in the NFL Concussion Settlement have been grossly under-reported but decisions in that settlement will impact the fate of NFL players for the remaining 62 years of the settlement term.  While over $700 Million has been paid out to the most tragically impaired, equaling the NFL’s expected expenditures for the entire 65-year settlement, it was represented as providing relief to all players suffering from dementia and in that respect, it has missed the bar.  The claim that’s the focus of this week’s stories could be a game-changer if successful or a deal-breaker if the status quo is permitted to continue.  Sheilla’s story outlines the NFL’s arguments and Ryan’s story chronicles the recently filed Plaintiff response.

Recent Concussion Settlement Filings Confirm the NFL Leopard Doesn’t Change Its Spots

(Advocacy for Fairness in Sports-Sheilla Dingus 02/25/2020) — Courtroom or Leopard Lounge?  When you consider the NFL and its highly paid Paul Weiss lawyers are the symbolic leopards in this picture it’s really hard to tell the difference.  There’s an adage among lawyers that says, “If the facts are on your side, argue the facts.  If the law is on your side argue the law.  If neither the facts nor the law is on your side, yell the loudest.”  Brad Karp and Bruce Birenboim of Paul Weiss have refined the latter to an art in their representation of the NFL, along with developing mastery in deflecting away from the real issues their opponents raise while echoing a one-sided refrain that repeats over and over until the officers of the court are sufficiently programmed to sing along.

Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than their latest briefing in the Amon Gordon appeal.  Continue reading…  |  Gordon Brief  |  NFL Brief

Controversial Concussion Deal Redo Bid Teed Up For Ruling

(Law360-Ryan Boysen 02/27/2020)  —  A retired NFL player who’s been fighting for months to reverse the denial of his $1.5 million claim in the concussion settlement has again blasted the league for mischaracterizing his arguments, setting the stage for a ruling in the closely watched episode.

In a brief filed Wednesday in Pennsylvania federal court, Amon Gordon doubled down on his argument that the decision to deny his claim was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the settlement’s guidelines caused by NFL manipulation, echoing frustrations voiced by many other players and their attorneys since the program went into effect in 2017…  “The NFL backhandedly mischaracterizes what is before this court and what formed the basis of the appeal,” Gordon said.  Continue reading… Reply Brief

5 Legal sports betting and DFS have placed a renewed focus on game integrity and various gaming-related issues charting a new frontier.  The Astro’s cheating scandal has spawned numerous lawsuits, two of which are focused on sports betting and DFS impact.

How MLB Can Defend Sign-Stealing Lawsuits From Daily Fantasy Players

(Sports Illustrated-Michael McCann 02/28/2020)  — Will “Spygate” help Major League Baseball contain the fallout of the electronic sign-stealing scandal?

This unusual question stems from a new filing by MLB in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The league, along with the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox, hope to thwart a deceptive practices lawsuit brought by a daily fantasy sports contestant. Key to that effort is a decade-old case precedent involving a New York Jets season-ticket holder who unsuccessfully sued the New England Patriots over their use of technology for competitive gain.  Continue Reading…

Data Provider Sportradar Targeted In New MLB Cheating Suit

(Law360-Zach Zagger 02/26/2020) —  Major League Baseball‘s distributor of real-time statistics Sportradar on Wednesday was hit in the latest proposed class action from daily fantasy sports contestants over the Houston Astros‘ and Boston Red Sox‘s alleged sign-stealing cheating scandal, with the suit saying the company had a duty to monitor the integrity of the data it provided to daily fantasy sports operators.

New York daily fantasy sports contestant Cody Lucas alleged in a Minnesota federal court that he and other contestants were lured into playing the games after MLB embraced them, but that they would never have played had they known the integrity of the MLB games on which the daily fantasy sports, or DFS, contests were based was compromised by sophisticated efforts by some teams to steal signs of opposing pitchers.  Continue reading…

FanDuel CEO: NY is missing out on mobile sports betting revenue

( King 02/28/2020)  —  Here’s something you don’t read every day: I’m the CEO of a large company headquartered in Manhattan, and I’d like to pay more taxes to the state of New York. In fact, this might be the first time those words have ever been written. But I mean it.

My company, FanDuel, is a New York success story. Our business began by offering fantasy sports contests and, after sports betting was made legal by the U.S. Supreme Court, we became one of the largest sports betting platforms in the country.  Yet thousands of New York customers travel out of state to play on our platform because the state only allows sports betting at Upstate casinos, the closest of which, Tioga Downs, is hours away from much of Downstate New York.  Continue reading…

4 Gender pay equality is the focus in the U.S. Women’s Team Lawsuit, but also unofficially on trial is the importance of women’s sports.

Summary Judgment Would Give Either Side Tremendous Pull in USWNT Labor Dispute

(Advocacy for Fairness in Sports-Derek Helling  02/29/2020)  — The US Soccer Federation continues to spend money on maintaining its misogyny and protecting its privilege instead of using those same funds to compensate the members of the United States Women’s National Team equitably. The latest incarnation of that is a petition for summary judgment from federal District Judge R. Gary Klausner.

The plaintiffs in the complaint followed suit, also seeking summary judgment from Klausner. While it could be a surprise if Klausner grants either petition, whichever side he would issue a ruling in favor of would still have work to do.  Continue reading…

US Women’s Soccer Team Seeks $66.7M In Gender Pay Suit

(Law360-Craig Clough 02/20/2020) — Players on the U.S. Women’s National Team have urged a California federal judge to grant them a win in their gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, disclosing they are seeking over $66.7 million in damages and arguing now-public collective bargaining agreements prove a disparity in pay.  The players’ motion for partial summary judgment on Thursday argued for a full victory on their liability claims for Equal Pay Act and Title VII violations, asking that only damages be left on the table for an upcoming jury trial in May.
The collective bargaining agreements of the men’s and women’s national soccer teams were included in a long list of filings made by both sides on Thursday, with U.S. Soccer also filing a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it did not pay higher wages to the Men’s National Team and that the two teams do not perform equal work.  Continue reading…  | The “long list of documents,” 140 in all can be accessed on the Advocacy for Fairness in Sports Docket.

3 The untimely deaths of Kobe and Gianna Bryant and their companions left the sports world reeling in grief.  As Vanessa Bryant bravely delivered a tribute to her husband and daughter, her attorneys were seeking accountability through filing a wrongful death suit against the helicopter operator.  Nathan Fenno of LA Times was the first to report.

Vanessa Bryant files wrongful death suit against helicopter operator in Kobe Bryant crash

(LA Times-Nathan Fenno 02/24/2020) –As mourners gathered at Staples Center on Monday for a memorial service to celebrate the lives of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, attorneys for Vanessa Bryant filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company that operated the helicopter that crashed last month and claimed the lives of her husband, daughter and seven other people.

The complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Island Express Helicopters and Island Express Holding Corp. alleged that pilot Ara Zobayan, who also died in the crash in Calabasas, failed “to use ordinary care in piloting the subject aircraft” and was “negligent.”  Continue reading… |Lawsuit

As sports law enthusiasts have come to expect, Michael McCann delivered a superb analysis of the legal aspects that will come into focus.

The Key Legal Issues in Vanessa Bryant’s Lawsuit Against Helicopter Operator

(Sports Illustrated-Michael McCann 02/24/2020) — As mourners attended a memorial service for her late husband and late daughter at the Staples Center on Monday, Vanessa Bryant commenced a wrongful death lawsuit against the company that operated the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter, which crashed and killed Kobe Bryant, 13-year-old Gianna Bryant and seven others in Calabasas last month… The employment relationship between Zobayan and Island Express is important for the litigation. Bryant contends that Island Express is vicariously liable for Zobayan’s alleged negligence. In the employment context, vicarious liability refers to a finding that an employer is negligent for the wrongful acts of an employee.  Continue reading…


Deal or No Deal?

The NFL/NFLPA CBA conundrum was cued to remain the top story for 2 second consecutive week, but we think you’ll agree that the ramifications of the coronavirus on sports is the biggest story in the sporting world at present. 

Nevertheless, as things heat up with a very divided NFLPA and a League that is intent on setting a rushing record before the league year even starts, We’ve devoted a special issue of The Blitz to the best articles and info on the CBA from the past week. 

NFL/NFLPA Special Edition Blitz


If canceled this would be the first shut-down of a major sporting event in the United States due to disease since the 1919 Stanley Cup Final was canceled because of an outbreak of Spanish Flu.

NCAA preparing for possible coronavirus impact on March Madness

(The Hill-Justine Coleman 02-27-2020)  —  The NCAA is preparing for the potential spread of coronavirus in the U.S. and how that could affect its annual March Madness basketball tournament.

The NCAA said Thursday that its Sport Science Institute distributed memos to member schools referring them to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) resources ahead of the tournament, which is slated to begin March 17.  Continue reading…

Due to coronavirus concern, college players group wants NCAA to consider keeping fans away from basketball tournament  —  (USA Today-Scot Gleeson 02/29/2020)

It’s pretty easy to see where USOPC’s priorities lie.

Team USA Tells Athletes to Proceed as Planned for Tokyo Olympics  —  (Bloomberg-Eben Novy-Williams February 24, 2020)

If the Olympics even take place, that is…

Will the Olympics be cancelled? The sports events coronavirus threatens  —  (The Guardian 02/28/2020) The article contains a list of international sporting events canceled at present.

Also noteworthy:

Appeals court sides with Matt Jones in lawsuit filed by NCAA referee  (WDRB-Louisville, Ky 02/27/2020)

Athletes’ Attorneys Awarded $33M In NCAA Pay Suit  (Law360-Mike Curley 02/25/2020) |  Order

Nike Calls Trademark Ad Ban ‘Restraint On Speech’  (Law360-Bill Donahue 02/25/2020)   |  Brief

Class Attys Want 35% Cut Of $2.25M TCPA Deal With Lightning  (Law360-Carolina Bolado 02/24/2020)  |  Motion

As NCAA Handwrings, Female Athletes See Opportunities From Looser Endorsement Rules  (Wall Street Journal-Louise Radnofsky 02/24/2020)

Astros on cheating suit: Rule-breaking part of sports, team better on the road  (The Athletic-Daniel Kaplan 02/24/2020)

Analyzing the “More Than An Athlete” Lawsuit Against LeBron James’ Uninterrupted  (Sports Illustrated-Michael McCann 02/24/2020)   |  Lawsuit

How NFL TV rights are expected to shake out for the rest of the decade, according to sources  (CNBC-Alex Sherman 02/23/2020)

Brother Of NFL’s Urlacher, 9 More Charged In Gambling Ring  (Law360-Lauraann Wood 02/21/2020)

Chinese Olympian Gets 8-Year Ban Over Doping Violation  (Law360-Mike Curley 02/28/2020)

Lawsuit says former Ohio University football player from Cleveland sexually assaulted woman, school didn’t act when learning about it  ( Heisig 02/28/2020)

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