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The Blitz 2/16/2020

The Blitz

February 16, 2020

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


NFL Concussion Court Changes Direction on Settlement Funders

(Advocacy for Fairness in Sports-Sheilla Dingus 2/10/2020)  Summary: Quietly and curiously off the public docket, the Concussion Settlement Court revised its rules regarding third-party settlement advances…What was previously called “Rules Governing the Assignment of Claims” became “Rules Governing Third-Party Funder Voluntary Compromise Process.”

The most obvious difference in the documents is that in the “Voluntary Process” document, no mention whatsoever is made of Judge Brody’s December 2017 order prohibiting the assignment of claims.  In the original Rules, the order is referenced at least six times, and in the May 2019 revision, it’s referenced at least six times, as well.  Conversely, the Third Circuit Opinion is only noted in the new document and not any of its previous iterations including the minor revision following the Third Circuit ruling.  Read article…


NFL Asks High Court To Take Up ‘Sunday Ticket’ Suit

(Law360-Ryan Boysen 2/10/2020)  The NFL and DirecTV have asked the Supreme Court to take up a sprawling antitrust case alleging they conspired to gouge customers on the popular “Sunday Ticket” television package, with the pair arguing the Ninth Circuit made fundamental errors when it revived the suit last year

In a 54-page petition for a writ of certiorari filed Friday, the NFL and DirecTV said the Ninth Circuit’s August decision flies in the face of previous rulings by no less than five other appeals courts and could upset a broadcast model that’s led to “dramatic increases in fan interest and viewership,” not to mention revenues, over the past 25 years.

The NFL and DirecTV said the decision also widens an existing circuit split on the issue of whether “indirect purchasers” such as the bars, restaurants and others suing them have standing to include the NFL in the suit since they can’t show the league has any control over how much DirecTV chooses to charge for the extremely popular Sunday Ticket packages.  Continue reading…     Cert Petition


Baylor’s Suspension of 14 Baseball Players is College Sports’ ‘Stranger Thing’

(Advocacy for Fairness in Sports-Derek Helling 2/12/2020)  In the hit Netflix series, “Stranger Things”, there is an alternate dimension called the “Upside Down.” It’s a close copy of our known plane of reality but completely inhospitable for our species. In a similar way, NCAA-member institutions’ priorities have turned completely upside down. Baylor University’s handling of hazing by members of its baseball team is proof of such reversal.

Last Friday, Baylor announced it suspended 14 members of the team as a result of an internal investigation into a hazing incident that occurred about a year ago.   Continue reading…

US Men’s Team Calls Out US Soccer Ahead Of Pay Gap Trial

(Law360-Ryan Boysen 2/12/2020)  The U.S. Men’s National Soccer team union blasted the U.S. Soccer Federation in a scathing statement on Wednesday, accusing it of pushing a “false narrative” about its payment practices to muddy the waters ahead of a May trial in a closely watched gender pay discrimination suit.

The men’s union, the U.S. National Soccer Team Players Association, said U.S. Soccer has been “working very hard to sell a false narrative to the public and even members of Congress” in order to use that “false narrative as a weapon against” the U.S. Women’s National Team, which has been suing U.S. Soccer for more than a year over claims their players are paid less than the men despite achieving far greater success on the field.  Continue reading…    Statement


NFL Plan Says Doctor Payments Not Relevant In Disability Suit

(Law360-Zach Zagger 2/12/2020)  The retirement benefits plan for the NFL told a California federal judge on Tuesday it does not have to hand over records for how much it paid doctors who evaluated a former NFL player seeking total and permanent disability benefits despite allegations from the player and a finding by another federal judge that the doctors may be financially motivated to provide opinions against players.

The Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan argued in a joint letter to the judge laying out the parties’ positions that plan doctors are only conceivably motivated to provide favorable opinions when the plan administrator both funds the plan and decides claims for benefits.  Continue reading… See also: Who Hid the NFL Disability Doctors? (Advocacy for Fairness in Sports-Sheilla Dingus) and our Retired NFL Player Alert


How Does Michael Avenatti’s Conviction Impact the NCAA and NBA?

(Sports Illustrated-Michael McCann 2/14/2020)  Celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti was convicted by a Manhattan federal jury on Friday of attempting to extort up to $25 million from Nike. Avenatti, 48, was also convicted of honest services wire fraud. The fraud charge stems from Avenatti devising a scheme to deprive his client of the intangible right to Avenatti’s honest services.

Avenatti faces a maximum sentence of 42 years in prison, though as a first-time offender he’ll receive a far shorter sentence. Still, Avenatti faces the prospect of spending the next chapter of his life behind bars…McCann covers the spectrum of actors in this bizarre drama, spanning from Avenatti’s distinguished career as a litigator and role as a popular political commentator and how the jury came to decide that he’d crossed the line between zealous advocacy and extortion.  He also examines the implication for Nike, the NCAA and even the NBA.  Continue reading…

For further reading, Stewart Bishop of Law360 provided consistently good coverage throughout the trial.  Several prior stores are linked from this one: Avenatti Found Guilty Of Extorting Nike.  For those interested, Advocacy for Fairness in Sports has obtained most of the final court documents, and those can be found on our Docket feature.  Earlier documents, including those alleging Mark Geragos’ role and Avenatti’s quashed attempt to subpoena his counterpart, can be found on our Document Cloud listing.


Sources: NFLPA holding conference calls to discuss CBA negotiations

(ESPN-Dan Graziano 2/13/2020)  The NFLPA is holding a series of membership-wide conference calls Thursday and Friday to update players around the league on the state of collective bargaining negotiations with the NFL, sources told ESPN.

The sources said Thursday that there are eight calls scheduled — one for each NFL division — and call-in information was distributed to every player in the league, not just the 32 team player representatives.  Continue reading…

The rights of college athletes continue as a major story and likely will continue to be for the foreseeable future.  The three stories linked here bring you up to date on the most significant developments of the week.

NCAA Continues Evasive Stance on Compensating Student-Athletes
Congress Says NCAA Needs Change, but Mark Emmert Doesn’t Have the Answers

(Sports Illustrated-Ross Dellenger 2/11/2020)  Nearly a dozen lawmakers from the nation’s most powerful legislative body grilled Emmert on the NIL debate over player compensation.   For years, Mark Emmert has been a target for criticism from a wide swath of groups. Fans, media, players and even some school administrators have lambasted the NCAA president for the financial inequality that exists in college sports.

Add to the list of critics United States senators.

During a historic hearing Tuesday on Capitol Hill, nearly a dozen lawmakers from the nation’s most powerful legislative body grilled Emmert on a topic expected to cause seismic shifts in the landscape of college athletics.  Continue reading…

Athletes Tell 9th Circ. NCAA Rules Should Be Struck Down

(Law360-Zach Zagger 2/13/2020)  College football and basketball players challenging the NCAA’s amateurism rules as unlawful restraints under antitrust law told the Ninth Circuit that a lower court had it right when it determined that the rules are anticompetitive, but should have struck them down entirely instead of preserving most of the system…”Faced with unlawful agreements restraining trade, a trial court’s responsibility is to remove them — not to replace them with a different combination of restraints that the court finds less unreasonable,” the athletes said.  Continue reading…   The Plaintiffs-Appellees Reply Brief on Cross-Appeal is one of many recent filings you can find on the Advocacy for Fairness in Sports Docket.

NJ Senate OKs College Athlete Pay With Eye On NCAA

(Law360-Bill Wichert 2/10/2020)  The New Jersey Senate on Monday approved legislation that would permit college athletes in the Garden State to sign endorsement deals, but some lawmakers expressed concerns about there being a patchwork of state regulations instead of a uniform system across the country.  Continue reading…

(Editor’s note: This article was initially incorrectly attributed to a different Law360 writer, who pointed out the error.  Our apologies to Mr. Wichert.)

2 The Astros’ cheating scandal is turning out to be one of those gifts that keeps on giving.

Can a Pitcher Successfully Sue Astros for Sign Stealing?

(Sports Illustrated-Michael McCann 2/11/2020)  The Houston Astros’ electronic sign-stealing scheme gave their batters a profound and unfair advantage during parts of the 2017 and 2018 seasons: They knew which pitches were coming. Last month, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred stripped the Astros of draft picks, issued suspensions and imposed a $5 million fine…  We can add a new chapter to the sign-stealing scandal’s legal fallout: Former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Mike Bolsinger is suing the Astros for ruining his major league career.

On Monday the 32-year-old right-hander filed a complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Houston Astros LLC, the limited liability company led by billionaire Jim Crane. This LLC has other investors including, Bolsinger asserts, residents of Los Angeles.

Bolsinger, who pitched for Japan’s Chiba Lotte Marines over the last two seasons, demands a jury trial. He seeks an unspecified amount of monetary compensation from the Astros to reflect the Blue Jays’ effectively firing him and his inability to secure another MLB contract.  Continue reading… 

In his own words…a powerful essay by Mike Bolsinger
The Astros’ cheating derailed my career. So I’m suing.

(Washington Post 2/14/2020)  “We’ve dealt with it, we’ve said we’re sorry, we’re moving forward,” Houston Astros owner Jim Crane said on Thursday at the team’s spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Pardon me, but I disagree. The team hasn’t adequately dealt with its cheating during the 2017 season, when Houston won the World Series, and just announcing that you’re moving forward doesn’t mean you can leave behind the damage you’ve done. That’s why this week I filed a lawsuit against the Astros.  Continue reading…

1 Editor’s Note: This isn’t a story that typically would wind up as the #1 story on a sports law list, but it does involve an athlete and the law.  Barb Ickes does an incredible job of storytelling in bringing 19-year-old swimmer Jaylan Butler’s ordeal of police brutality to life as well as its effect on his teammates and coaches who helplessly witnessed the scene.  Highly recommended reading.

Traveling teen athlete mistakenly taken down by local police. ACLU has filed a lawsuit

(Dispatch Argus-Barb Ickes 2/11/2020)    Stepping off a bus at an East Moline rest stop, the out-of-town college student had no idea what was about to hit him.

Jaylan Butler and his teammates from the Eastern Illinois University swim team were at the end of a long day. After competing in a conference championship swim meet in South Dakota, they spent the bulk of Feb. 24, 2019, traveling back to Charleston, Ill., in a rented coach with their school logo plastered on the sides.


Though it was hot inside the bus, the temperature outside was in the teens as the hour approached 8 p.m. Butler, wearing his EIU team jacket, was heading back onto the bus when his coach suggested he take a selfie in front of Illinois’ “BUCKLE UP, IT’S THE LAW” sign. The team had been taking pictures throughout the trip and posting them to social media to update parents and others on their location.

“As I took the picture, there was a line of police officers … they came to a screeching stop in front of me,” Butler said. “At that moment, I only knew a couple things to do that my dad always told me.”  Continue reading…

It was a very busy week for sports law and extremely hard to narrow down a top ten. Recent filings for many of these cases as well as others can be found in our new feature, The Docket in addition to the numerous case files in our Document Cloud Project.  Here are some other notable cases that just missed the countdown.

Could Mason Rudolph-Myles Garrett Dispute End Up in Court?   (Sports Illustrated-Michael McCann 2/15/2020)

Iced out: Elite youth hockey coaches at Assabet Valley suspended after abuse complaints  (Boston Globe, Bob Hohler 2/15/2020)

What Did Your Favorite League Spend on Federal Lobbying in 2019?  (Sports Illustrated-Emma Baccellieri 2/14/2020)

Lawsuit filed to block transgender runners from racing in girls’ competitions    (Running Magazine-Ben Snider-McGrath 2/13/2020)

Ex–Ohio State Wrestler Says Rep. Jim Jordan Asked Him to Deny Abuse Allegations   (Sports Illustrated-Avery Yang, Michael McCann 2/12/2020)

Redskins’ Adrian Peterson in arbitration with Morgan Stanley in latest money dustup   (The Athletic-Daniel Kaplan 2/12/2020)  Bonus reading–Advice to help athletes avoid these pitfalls: Pressures, Opportunities, and Rationalizations: Why Financial Advisors Defraud Pro Athletes (Advocacy for Fairness in Sports-David Byrne)

Raptors President Punched Guard At NBA Finals, Suit Says   (Law360-Mike Curley 2/10/2020)    Complaint

Ga. Justices Put Olympic Athlete’s $2M Crash Award In Doubt   (Law360-Peter Kang 2/10/2020)

Will there be lawyers?  It seems likely.

Panthers PSL owners feeling insulted by losing their seats as stadium makes way for MLS   (Charlotte Observer-Alaina Getezenberg 2/7/2020)

Bonus Reading–A very impactful essay on the hypocrisy of IOC Rule 50
political olympics

A fist of freedom or a fist of iron? Rule 50 and the Olympic paradox

(Sports Integrity Initiative-Stanis Elsborg 2/14/2020)  IOC President Thomas Bach made it very clear in his New Year’s speech that politics should be kept out of the Olympics to protect the event’s neutrality. However, it is a paradox that IOC’s characterisation of politicisation only seems to apply to athletes and not the host nations?  But what does the IOC mean by politicisation of sport? This article takes a historic look at opening ceremonies at the Olympic Games and disputed athlete actions to show how politicisation in IOC-terminology differs depending on whether you are an athlete or the host nation that pays to arrange the Olympic spectacle.  Continue reading…

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