Friday, May 23, 2014

Random Thoughts: Sports Blogging Edition

Its been a some time since I blogged about anything - sort of a combination of laziness and having other things to do.  Per usual, whenever there are a few stories I want to discuss, throw them together in a longer post. This time, I'm going to stick to sports - more from the law/policy angle than the sports fan angle.  Although, to get that out of the way - Raiders suck!  Anyway, here are my thoughts on a few sports stories:

Donald Sterling Is Selling the Clippers?

The recent reports - and I mean the reports as of this morning - indicate that Sterling has agreed to sell the Clippers, and that is wife is the one who be in charge of the sale. And yes, Sterling is married despite having several public relationships with other, younger, women.  Per Bill Simmons' twitter feed, the estimates for sale price is somewhere around $2 BILLION.  Given that Sterling bought the Clippers for $13 million, that's a hefty chunk of change for someone to get for any investment. 

Now here's where I'm somewhat surprised. Sterling is over 80 years old, not strapped for cash (already is a multibillionaire), and loves owning the Clippers. Like a lot of owners of sports teams, this is his toy. He gets to be one of 30 guys in the WORLD who own an NBA team. Indeed, the whole reason Sterling might $2 billion for the Clippers is precisely because an NBA ownership is so rare.  And its for that reason that to Sterling owning the Clippers was priceless. So, I thought that financial considerations would mean nothing to him. At the same time, the utility of owning the Clippers has probably been damaged by Sterling's pariah status. Still, I assumed that Sterling would believe that he could simply ride out the damage while suing the NBA.  I'm glad I was wrong.

College Athletics

Last night I had the opportunity to attend a fantastic panel discussion on the NCAA and college athletics, sponsored by the Enright Inn of Court - a lawyer's group here in San Diego.  On the panel was Ramogi Huma, President of the College Athletes Player Association (the guys who were behind the unionization at Northwestern), DJ Gay (point guard for some of SDSU's best basketball teams), Jason Carter - former player at Texas A&M and former NFLer, now head coach of La Jolla High, Jim Sterk - current Athletics Director of San Diego State University, and John Brockington - who played for Ohio State in the NFL for the Packers.  The question was, does the NCAA exploit collegiate athletes.

While I expected Mr. Huma to attack the NCAA (he did), and I expected Mr. Sterk to advocate for the NCAA (he also did), what surprised me was the depth of the disenchantment that DJ Gay and Jason Carter (both of whom were more recent athletes in college) had with the current system.  As Mr. Huma laid into the NCAA time and time again, Mr. Carter and Mr. Gay mostly agreed with him.  Meanwhile, Jim Sterk looked increasingly uncomfortable on the panel.  

It was also interesting to see that the experiences of John Brockington were completely different from the experiences of Mr. Huma, Mr. Carter, and Mr. Gay.  In his era, practices were limited, and guys would work over summers to earn pocket money for the upcoming year (like everyone else does).  But recently, of course, college athletes aren't allowed to have side jobs, and spend more and more time working out or practicing.  As a result, they can't take the majors they may want, and they can't be part of the campus life that makes college so special.

Of more interest was the demands of Mr. Huma - not direct cash payments, per se, but basic guarantees like injury coverage (post-collegiate career), that scholarships continue after the playing days are over (so athletes can finish their degrees after their eligibility is over), and allow players to reap benefits with their schools over the sale of their likenesses (right now, the NCAA maintains that it owns the rights to athletes' likenesses in perpetuity). 

Now again, Huma is supposed to be an advocate and push for reforms - that's his job - but what surprised me was again, how much guys like Gay and Carter agreed with what Huma said. If I had to guess, the resentment towards the NCAA runs deep.  

And, let's face it, the NCAA has done a lot to ensure resentment exists. NCAA athletes are paid in scholarships, but have schedules that limit their ability to get an education. Their room and board is taxed by the government, and doesn't cover all their food costs. All the while, collegiate athletics is a multiBILLION DOLLAR industry. If they get hurt, there's no guarantee that the school will honor the scholarship.  Even if it does, insurance only covers the athlete so long as he/she is in school.

The more I think on it, the more I think that there was no way Sterk had a chance yesterday.  The system is utterly broken.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Examining the First Amendment

Recently, there has been quite a bit of consternation about the First Amendment and the consequences of espousing unpopular views.  Simply put, a lot of what is said is nonsense, and the webcomic XKCD put it best in the following cartoon:

In other words, while the First Amendment preserves your right to be an asshole as far as the government is concerned, it does not prevent other people from putting up with your shit.  If you decide to openly flaunt a loaded firearm around some kids in Little League to show how much of a big man you are, you are an asshole.  If you tell your assistant (allegedly mistress) that she can't bring black men with her to you basketball games, you are an asshole.  If you insist on grazing your cattle on federal lands without ever paying (at great expense to taxpayers), or insist, at threat of gunpoint, that you can ride your ATV over sensitive Native American burial sites, you are an asshole.  And, if you espouse anti-gay remarks, don't be surprised if you are suddenly shunned because, after all, you are an asshole.

You might think, "hey, what about my free speech rights?" Well, let's look at the text of the First Amendment, m'kay?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Notably, the First Amendment prohibits Congressional action, which, by extension, prohibits action by the Executive Branch and the Judicial Branch (the other branches of government). Notice it doesn't affect State or Local governments - that's covered by the 14th Amendment.  Also notice that freedom of speech is listed after the freedom of religion.  Why is that?  Because we, as Americans, have the freedom of association.  We can choose to associate with whomever we want.  That right applies to people and corporations like HGTV and the NBA.

And by the way, a quick aside on Donald Sterling - a lot of people seem to be upset about the fact the Sterling was bounced out of the NBA for a private conversation where Mr. Sterling espoused racist views. While I can somewhat appreciate that concern, we need to remember the following: 1) Donald Sterling has acted on his racist views in his real estate business; and 2) the players were going to boycott the playoffs until Sterling was banned for life.  And guess what, NBA players have the right to do so because just as the Government can't attack Mr. Sterling for espousing racist views, it also can't force the NBA players to associate with him.  But don't cry for Sterling too much - he will litigate this forced sale of his franchise to the bitter end, and even if he loses, he is currently estimated to make over a BILLION dollars from the sale.

Thus, while every American has a God-given right to be an asshole without criminal repercussions, it is also the God-given right of every American to choose not to associate with assholes.  So, to those of you who would like to avoid becoming a pariah, I would offer the following advice: STOP BEING AN ASSHOLE.