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International Sports Law Blog

All major sports take a timeout

Sports in the United States have followed the lead of the European leagues and other international organizations by calling time out. This is in light of COVID-19 spreading to the U.S. This is the first time since World War I that professional sports have paused for more than a week, as they did after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Players infected

Sports adjusts to the coronavirus outbreak

There has been frightening news regarding the spread of Covid-19 (also known as the coronavirus). The death toll for this virus continues to climb in such far-flung locales as China, Iran and Italy with United States officials saying it is more of a matter of when the virus spreads here, instead of if the virus spreads here.

We are used to politicians and doctors talking about this disease, but its impact includes sporting events. This is not surprising if one considers the fact that tens-of-thousands of fans attend games, matches and tourneys around the globe.

IOC says Tokyo games to proceed

The International Olympic Committee announced in mid-February that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would proceed regardless of the coronavirus outbreak. At the time, China was the primary locale for this flu-like virus. It has since spread into Europe, the Middle East and North America. Major sporting events (soccer, golf, cycling, track and field, rugby, tennis, formula 1 racing, and others) have been canceled or held in empty stadiums in Europe mainly but elsewhere too. Ostensibly, this prevents thousands of people from congregating and spreading this highly contagious virus.

Sports are just one part of this virus's global impact. Some universities are already planning on moving all current classes online for the spring of 2020. Significant conventions like SXSW in Austin, Texas, announced its cancellation just days before it was scheduled to start. Moreover, U.S. citizens are concerned about going to polling places to vote in the presidential primaries.

Kobe Bryant's wife files wrongful death lawsuit

The tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash is likely one of the biggest tragedies of 2020. The final cause of the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter’s crash into a hillside in Calabasas (of Los Angeles) amid heavy fog is not official. Still, lawyers for Bryant’s wife filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the aircraft’s owners and the pilot’s estate. There was no evidence that there was a mechanical issue that caused the crash.

Vanessa Bryant filed a 27-count lawsuit on the day when friends, family and fans gathered at the Staples Center for an emotional memorial service for the basketball great and his daughter. The suit names Island Express Helicopters and Island Express Holdings Corp., which operated and owned the aircraft. It also names the pilot’s estate as a defendant.

NFL changes could mean more problems

One of the more interesting proposals in the ongoing collective bargaining discussions between the NFL and the NFLPA involves changes to the playoffs: principally, (i) an expanded 17-game season that would remove one of the preseason games; and (ii) expanding the playoffs to include 14 teams with only the number 1 seed getting a bye.

The owners have characterized these changes as a win-win for players, owners and fans alike. Critics, however, point out that there are some issues that would result from these proposed changes. 

Myles Garrett reinstated by the NFL

The football world stopped and took notice on November 14 when a brawl near the end of the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns broke out. At the center of the controversy was Browns' defensive end Myles Garrett removing quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet as they grappled. Garrett succeeded and then used the helmet as a weapon, hitting the quarterback in the head with the helmet. Garrett was suspended indefinitely after the game, missing the final six games of the season and fined $50,000.

Garrett (who is black) initially claimed that Rudolph (who is white) called him a racial slur. Rudolph denied the accusation and the NFL found no evidence during its investigation to support Garret’s story. Garrett had already been heavily fined for two roughing the passer infractions (one of which ended the season of the Jets’ quarterback) and other altercations.

NCAA and federal lawmakers' inaction leaves athletes in limbo

There was a sense of optimism when California passed its Fair Pay for Play law in October 2019. Other states quickly jumped into the debate regarding compensating college players, although no other state has followed California's lead of actually passing a law. The federal government is also looking at the issue, with a recent Senate hearing in early February.

The wheels of change turn very slowly for the NCAA, which includes membership of 1,100 colleges and universities as well as a half-million athletes. The U.S. Congress has seen very little bipartisan support of any kind and even less than usual in an election year, but sports seems to be something that both sides of the aisle are interested in working together on.

Fans at soccer match take anti-racist stand

There have been numerous accounts of European soccer fans exhibiting increasingly racist tendencies during matches. The continent’s teams at all levels feature players from all over the world, but foreign-born or dark-skinned players are singled out even by fans of the player's club. 

Clubs and leagues have wrung their hands over this issue, worrying about alienating the fan base while at least theoretically attempting to protect their players. The organizations and clubs’ solutions sometimes are so bad that it only seemed to make matters worse.

The Killer Inside Doc tells a dark tale of brain trauma

The new documentary series of former NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez is eye-opening on many levels. It tracks the rise, fall and eventual suicide in 2017 after his 2014 conviction for murdering Odin Lloyd. The film features interviews with teammates, journalists covering Hernandez, his defense lawyer as well as friends and family.

The major revelation after the suicide was the autopsy that found that Hernandez suffered from a severe case of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is caused by repeated injuries to the head often found in football players but also those involved in boxing, hockey, professional wrestling, rugby, and soccer. This neurodegenerative disease is now known to inhibit brain function and impulse control.

NCAA allows elite athletes to secure support for expenses and training

Financial compensation for athletes under the NCAA governance is now a reality thanks to California’s Fair Pay to Play Act, which prompted the NCAA to update its archaic policies in 2019. Ostensibly this means payment for athletes playing Division 1 football and basketball for their contributions to billion-dollar industries by enabling them to legally capitalize on their name, image and likeness for business endorsements and other opportunities. Athletes in other sports will likely do so as well, particularly those elite athletes who compete in Olympic and Paralympic sports while also representing universities.

New benefits for elite athletes

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