Showing posts with label NFL. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NFL. Show all posts

Monday, January 28, 2019

Who Dat lawsuit for 'negligence,' 'emotional anguish' is really a desperate mandamus plea

Controverted play in Rams vs. Saints conference championship game
(NFL image via GMA and Daily Show: fair use).
Full disclosure: I'm not a football (NFL) fan—rather a football (association) follower—but if I were, I would have a soft spot for the Saints, because I love New Orleans and married into a proud Louisiana family.

So it caught my attention when Roy Wood Jr. on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central, YouTube) asked whether in fact the "Saints Were Robbed," and then quoted from a lawsuit against Roger Goodell and the NFL claiming negligence and "emotional anguish."  I'm always intrigued by the scent of negligent infliction of emotional distress, which is a kind of chimera in American tort law.

The lawsuit, which can be downloaded from its attorney-author's website and was first reported by WDSU, is really a petition for mandamus, not a tort suit.  It does allege negligence on the part of Goodell and the NFL and asserts that they have the power under NFL rules to remedy the bad call of the Saints-Rams game.  As Roy Wood Jr. observed on The Daily Show, the petition dramatically alleges "emotional anguish" and "loss of enjoyment of life" by Saints fans.  It does not, however, assert any legal basis to order Goodell or the NFL to comply with their own rule book, even if that is what they would be doing by replaying all or part of the game.

On an SB Nation blog, an L.A. attorney and confessed Rams fan fairly if spitefully described the Who Dat petition as "one of the most frivolous lawsuits to be filed. Ever." Of course, Americans have a long tradition of working out sport frustrations in litigation—that I'm today a soccer fan is evidence of the struggle—so maybe professionalism should allow some latitude for that.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Documentary film critically examines 'Deflategate,' exposes science-for-hire industry, Big Sport marketing machine

At UMass Law School, from left to right: yours truly, sporting a Brady kit gifted by my Torts students, night class of 2018; author, commentator, and comedian Jerry Thornton, former NFL employee Scott Miller; Lemon Martini producer and UMass Law alumna Ami Clifford; and Julie Marron, acclaimed director of Happygram and Four Games in Fall.

The UMass Law School community had a special treat of an event last week: an invitation-only, friends-and-family pre-screening of the director’s cut of the forthcoming documentary, Four Games in Fall, from director Julie Marron and Lemon Martini Productions.  See the film’s home page and trailer here, or the trailer below.  The film is in essence a documentary about “Deflategate,” the 2015 scandal in the National Football League in which New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady was accused of orchestrating the under-inflation of footballs to rig games in his favor in the Patriots charge to Superbowl victory.

UMass Law alumna Ami Clifford is a producer of Four Games in Fall, putting her legal education to creative use making—as the tagline for Lemon Martini puts it—“social justice documentaries with a twist.”  Marron is an acclaimed Massachusetts director fresh off the roaring success of her 2015 documentary about mammograms and breast cancer, Happygram.  For a Q&A after the screening, Marron and Clifford were joined by documentary interviewees: Scott Miller, a New Yorker and former NFL employee; Jerry Thornton, WEEI radio personality and author of From Darkness to Dynasty: The First 40 Years of the New England Patriots; and Andrew E. Wilson, a marketing and management professor at St. Mary’s College of California.

Four Games in Fall did not disappoint.  Marron and Clifford explained in the Q&A that neither one of them had more than a passing interest in the NFL and the Patriots when they set out to make the documentary.  But they were attracted to exactly that aspect of the Deflategate scandal: that so many people without a vested interest in Patriots football, with nothing to gain by sticking their necks out, seemed to be taking an interest in the case.  Roughly as Clifford said it, when a lot of very smart people in the sciences, with at best ordinary interest in American football, started looking at the Deflategate case and the penalties exacted against Brady, and saying “something smells here,” she and Marron started paying attention.  They had no agenda, but Four Games in Fall definitely raises red flags—or, I guess, throws yellow ones—on what seems to be NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s hell-bent persecution of star-athlete and national celebrity Brady and football’s Superbowl-winningest team.

Therein lies the subtle brilliance of Four Games in Fall, which takes full advantage of the documentary format not only to examine Deflategate on its facts and merits, but to place the affair in a critical context from social, commercial, scientific, and legal perspectives.  Reminiscent of Morgan Spurlock’s classic Super Size Me, Four Games features Professor Wilson to explain marketing phenomena such as “anchoring” and “confirmation bias.”  Those concepts help to explain why the conventional wisdom about what actually happened in Deflategate runs so contrary to the facts.  Following the dollar, Marron furthermore examines the enormous market power of the NFL, which amplifies its messaging and suppresses contrary views from the audience and the players’ union.  In this vein, the film brings in the NFL’s reluctant engagement with the mounting evidence of CTE injury and critically exposes the "science for hire" industry.  Meanwhile, science--the real stuff--reveals the startling imprecision behind NFL rules such as ball-inflation standards.  Those standards are so faulty as not to account for on-field temperature in a sport played in late autumn and early winter.

Against this backdrop, Brady’s case winds through the courts, where yet another story unfolds: the un-level playing field of pervasive arbitration agreements, affecting even NFL players, and the Second Circuit’s judicial-typical capitulation to boilerplate contract at the arguable expense of fundamental fairness.  Brady dropped his case before trying to press on to the U.S. Supreme Court, disappointing many observers, including, at that time, he confessed, Thornton.   But the film and the panelists explained a number of reasons why it made no sense to continue.  Brady’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, which did not bolster the QB’s will to litigate.  Yet just as importantly, Brady’s legal team must have realized that its case, implicating NFL players and their union in opposition to the enormous power of the NFL, was sui generis.  It did not make for the kind of broad-implication inquiry that the Supreme Court would likely want to see before exercising discretionary review.  In truth, the many NFL players who are not stars do face physical hardships out of proportion to their remuneration and job security, just like an average factory Joe.  At the same time, NFL players are not Willy Loman, and the NFL is not--quite--E Corp.

Nevertheless, Deflategate, informed by Four Games in Fall, leaves a bad taste in the mouth.  We do, as Americans, seek to identify personally with our sporting heroes, however aspirational the comparison.  Tom Brady’s retiring temperament (supermodel spouse notwithstanding) and boyish charm have the feel of an underdog American David who took on the NFL corporate Goliath and lost.  Whether one agrees or not with the physical and social scientists who populate the frames of Four Games in Fall, it’s hard to conclude on the legal end that Brady and the Patriots got a fair shake.  And with so many of us worker bees—tied up in arbitration contracts we did not meaningfully agree to and don’t really want, beholden to the disproportionate and opaque oligopolistic power of mammoth corporations for just about everything we do, including our employment and especially lately our healthcare—Brady’s loss unexpectedly hits home with all the punch of a 300-pound offensive tackle.

Our hero should have vanquished Goliath and failed.  If Tom Brady can’t beat the monster, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Four Games in Fall is setting off soon for the festival circuit and will come to consumers through one media channel or another shortly thereafter.  See it.  You don’t have to be a fan of American football; I’m not.  This film is about so much more.

 Four Games in Fall trailer.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The NFL and the Dramatic Arts

Last week, in The Death of Civil Justice, I mentioned Hackbart v. Cincinnati Bengals, Inc., 435 F. Supp. 352 (D. Colo. 1977), rev’d & remanded, 601 F.2d 516 (10th Cir. 1979), in which U.S. District Judge Matsch wrestled with the Tenth Circuit over the role of the courts in oversight of on-field sport misconduct (think cousin problem, Deflate-gate).  Hackbart involved a strike on the body of Dale Hackbart (later an advocate for male breast cancer awareness) by opponent Charles "Boobie" Clark (since deceased) in a Bengals-Broncos clash in the early 1970s.  Judge Matsch would have left the matter within regulation by the sport, but the Tenth Circuit thought that the common law of recklessness afforded a backstop in tort to ensure that the rules of civilized society do follow the players onto the field in some fashion, as an Illinois appellate court once put it.

Well just this weekend a similar, yet curiously different, after-the-whistle scenario unfolded in an American football game between Florida Gators (I know you were watching, Prof. Andrew McClurg)
wide receiver Brandon Powell and Tennessee Vols defensive back Rashaan Gaulden.  Sideline cameras were not on them at the time, but aerial footage shows what appears to be Powell throwing a punch at Gaulden and (intentionally?) not connecting, and Gaulden hitting the ground (show?).  The refs took the incident seriously enough that after much deliberation, they ejected Powell. 

CBS commentators were initially harsh on Powell, angry and forlorn as he walked to the locker room just before a commercial break.  But after the break, they had changed their tune and apologized to him, turning their venom on the refs.  One commentator took the opportunity to impugn soccer (really necessary?) with reference to Gaulden's dramatic performance, and another invoked Greg Louganis in an awkward metaphor for "taking a dive."  The commentary itself makes the clip worth watching, and at least at the time of this writing, it's available here: "Flop of the Year."

The case is easier than Hackbart's, as he suffered debilitating injury that contributed to the end of his athletic career.  The problem in Hackbart was one of consent: What exactly does an NFL player consent to?  It can't be that the consent analysis requires a player to consent to the precise nature of collision that might occur in every play.  But it can't be either that a player does not consent to a scope of possible violence, going even beyond the rules of the game but within the contemplation of penalty assessment.  Consent must be to some hard-to-define cloud of possible eventualities, not too specific, not too broad, and none too pleasant.

Consent could come in to play in arguable assault--causing apprehension in another without resulting contact--just as well as battery.  But assault, if even that was Gaulden's intent, does not seem so urgently to invite the courts to second-guess governance within the sport, as a policy matter.

Anyway that's just a thought experiment, as no one is suing anyone.  Players are at least that tough.  And concussion-gate notwithstanding, football self-regulation has come a long way since Billy "The Gun" Van Goff.