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Showing posts with label soccer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label soccer. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Politics complicates football: Sympathy for ... Iran

As advertised, last week in Kraków, Poland, I had the great privilege to talk law, development, and the FIFA World Cup, with the group stage under way in Qatar.

Students and faculty of the American Law Scientific Circle (KNPA) and American Law Program at Jagiellonian University (Koło Naukowe Prawa Amerykańskiego TBSP UJ and Szkoła Prawa Amerykańskiego UJ), in collaboration with the Columbus Law School at the Catholic University of America, generously hosted me.  The talk kicked off a KNPA lecture series on "Law and Sustainability." My especial thanks to KNPA President Zuzanna Maszniew and her leadership team.

Photo © Zuzanna Maszniew, used with permission.
I was no John Oliver, to be sure, but I hope I stimulated thinking about the Gordian Knot of sport and politics and its implications for the Middle East and North Africa's place at the table.

Today, November 29, the United States will round out its play in the group stage in Qatar with a match against Iran, simultaneously with a high stakes stand-off between England and Wales. It's a big day, football fans.

Meanwhile, coming home to the States this week, I've been disappointed that Americans are not more in tune with the fascinating stories of geopolitics that are unfolding under the sporting tents of the Qatar World Cup. I admit, what's happening now in China dangles meritorious distraction. But with the USMNT facing Iran today, I want to mention one of the stories from Qatar that has gripped me.

In Iran's opening match with England last week, Iranian footballers refused to sing their own national anthem (BBC).  Stony faced, the players apparently chose to stand in silent solidarity with rights protestors against the government at home (N.Y. Times). Subsequently, Iranian authorities arrested a former national-team footballer known for occasional anti-regime sentiments (Guardian). At Iran's second match, the lads toed the line.

The anthem stunt was extraordinarily courageous. The players had to have known the disgrace they brought on the regime would have consequences when they go home, if not sooner.

Iranian footballers in 2018.
Mahdi Zare/Fars News Agency via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 4.0
More, though, I was struck by the reminder that people and their governments are not the same thing.

I'm a reasonably bright person, as people go, and I've seen a lot of the world. I come from an immigrant family myself. I grew up with a dear Iranian friend. Her stepmother taught me how to make tahchin, and her dad eagerly gave me his own well worn copy of All the Shah's Men. I shouldn't need to be reminded that people are just people, much the same around the world, just trying to make the best of things and find some joy where we can; and that it's wrong to ascribe the Machiavellian motives of states, whether others or our own, to their citizens. The protests now in China say the same.

Yet, I admit, I had followed the USMNT into the World Cup with something of a Cold War mentality, maybe because of the era when I grew up. Yellow ribbons, burning effigies, and "Death to America" chants all bounce around my long-term memory. I was determined that we and our Group B compatriots from England and Wales should beat Iran to make some kind of political point. A Miracle on Ice or Rocky IV situation.

The Iranian men's demonstration unsettled my unconscious prejudice. As a result, a part of me has been pulling for Iran in their last matches, even while, still, I had to favor the England squad, which features some of my beloved Manchester City stars, and Wales, which invokes Lasso-esque Wrexham affections. And even while, of course, I support my home USMNT today, there will be a part of me that wants to see the Iranian side make a pride-worthy showing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

With FIFA World Cup under way in Qatar, law students study sport and soft power, law and development

I'll be talking law, development, and the World Cup today in Kraków, Poland.

Thanks to the American Law Scientific Circle (KNPA) and American Law Program at Jagiellonian University (Koło Naukowe Prawa Amerykańskiego TBSP UJ and Szkoła Prawa Amerykańskiego UJ), in collaboration with the Columbus Law School at the Catholic University of America, for hosting me. This talk kicks off a KNPA lecture series on "Law and Sustainability" and begins at 3 p.m. CET at Pałac Larischa 203, Bracka 12.

I'll share some of the subject matter later.  Too much football to watch!

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Qatar World Cup opens Sunday; meanwhile, Netflix series stokes embers of FIFA corruption scandal

I visited CONMEBOL HQ in Asunción, Paraguay, in October.
The South American angle on the FIFA corruption scandal
was engagingly fictionalized in El Presidente in 2020.

(Photo by RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.)

The sport world is abuzz over the Netflix documentary series, FIFA Uncovered, dropped November 9, just weeks before the FIFA World Cup opener in Qatar.

Many in Qatar are crying foul by filmmaker Miles Coleman for dredging up the ugliness of the FIFA corruption scandal, the focus of this docuseries, right now. But in an interview with renowned MENA scholar James Dorsey, Coleman, who created This Is Football for Amazon Prime in 2019, said he had no motive other than historical documentation. The timing of the release, Coleman said, is to bring football fans up to speed on the facts, so they can have informed conversations around the Qatar World Cup.

FIFA was rocked by scandal in 2015 when investigators led by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) arrested top officials in Zurich and issued an avalanche of indictments. It was revealed then that corruption practically poisoned every part of world football governance, especially the bidding process for the world's top sporting event and its 2010 award to Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022.

Qatar narrowly edged out a bid from the United States in 2010, and disgraced FIFA President Sepp Blatter and his allies accused the United States of spite. Purportedly relieved of corrupt process, FIFA in 2018 awarded the 2026 World Cup to the joint bid of the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

When issues remain controverted, the docuseries presents all voices, Coleman told Dorsey. Indeed, the interviews are what makes the series worthwhile. Most of the story has been told already and well; I read and reviewed a number of books on the subject in the first pandemic summer. The docuseries, though, includes interviews with just about every key player, including Blatter himself, as well as Qatar bid chief H.E. Hassan Al Thawadi; "Qatar whistleblower" Phaedra Al-Majid, featured recently on Norwegian television; and Mary Lynn Blanks, romantic partner of corrupted American football official Chuck Blazer, who died in 2017.

Among the revelations, or at least confirmed suspicions, arising from the docuseries interviews is the fact, borne out by evidence besides his own testimony, that Blatter favored the United States rather than Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup. For all Blatter's failings, he was outmaneuvered by the colossal corruption machine that he helped to create. African Football Confederation President Issa Hayatou, a rival of Blatter's within FIFA, was key to securing the Qatari win. Hayatou was joined in his efforts by Jack Warner, president of the North, Central America and Caribbean Association, whose defection infuriated Blazer.

On Wednesday next week, November 23, at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, I will lead a discussion, "Law, Development, and the World Cup."  The program, in English, begins at 3 p.m. local time at Pałac Larischa 203, Bracka 12.

The World Cup opens Sunday night in Doha, Nov. 20, at 1100 US EST/1600 GMT, when Qatar hosts Ecuador in Group A. The United States MNT plays its Group B opener against Wales on Monday, Nov. 21, at 1400 US EST/1900 GMT. Poland plays its Group C opener against Mexico on Tuesday, Nov. 22, at 1100 US EST/1600 GMT/1700 CET.

Hat tip to Alessandro Balbo Forero, an alum of my Comparative Law class who wrote his final paper on football and Brexit, for alerting me to the drop of FIFA Uncovered. He's an Arsenal supporter, but nobody's perfect.

Here is the trailer for FIFA Uncovered:

And here is the Dorsey interview of Coleman:

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

UK orders commission to study women's football; rising TV prices warn of commercial monopolization

Karen Carney in 2019
(James Smed CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
The UK has announced "an in-depth review into the future of domestic women’s football" and appointed the decorated footballer and today commentator Karen Carney MBE to chair.

In the United States, this year marked the historic equal pay settlement for the blockbuster Women's National Team (USWNT). And in the UK, England hosted and won the 13th UEFA Women's Euro 2022, delayed two years by the pandemic, in a nail-biter over Germany.

Though to say women's football is coming into its own is an assertion decades late, just as it is decades early to say that women's football has at last been afforded parity with men's in social and commercial recognition.

The UK announced three points of focus for the review:

[1] Assessing the potential audience reach and growth of the game—by considering the value and visibility of women’s and girls’ football in England, including the potential to grow the fanbase for women’s football and whether current growth still supports home-grown talent and can be achieved without overstretching infrastructure.

[2] Examining the financial health of the game and its financial sustainability for the long term. This will include exploring opportunities and ways to support the commercialisation of the women’s game, broadcast revenue opportunities and the sponsorship of women’s football.

[3] Examining the structures within women’s football. This includes the affiliation with men’s teams, prize money, the need for women’s football to adhere to the administrative requirements of the men’s game; and assessing the adequacy, quality, accessibility and prevalence of the facilities available for women’s and girls’ football for the growth and sustainability of the game.

The UK does have already a system for youth development in women's football that looks sophisticated from the U.S. vantage point. Carney is a case in point. Even in the 1990s, Carney came up through the ranks of Birmingham City since age 11. She became one of England's top capped players, scoring 32 goals for the national side from 2005 to 2019.

After three years at Arsenal, in 2009, Carney moved to the United States to play for the Chicago Red Stars, a team then affiliated with the Women's Professional Soccer league (WPS). The WPS was a short-lived installment in the fits and starts of women's pro soccer in the United States. The league collapsed after scarcely a year. Carney returned to England in 2011 to play for five years again for Birmingham City, then three years for Chelsea.

Today, Carney comments on both men's and women's football for Sky Sports and Amazon Prime. The Chicago Red Stars play today as part of the National Women's Soccer League.

Sky, like NBC in the United States, is a division of Comcast. The anti-competitive bundlings of these interrelated companies is making it unaffordable for viewers in the UK and in the United States to follow a team. I'm not sure how long UK viewers and regulators will tolerate the exploitation. Some Latin American governments have been increasingly ruffled about commercial efforts to make access to football a privilege of the elite. I've speculated that in the United States, NBC is effectively killing the goose that laid the golden egg. U.S. viewers will never commit to world-class Premier League football if they're given access only to different teams and lower priority matches week to unpredictable week.

Unfortunately, commercial development of the women's game presents the same conundrum. Commercialization in the priorities of the Carney review is presented as an undisputed good. To be sure, that's where the money is, and it will take money to bring the women's game to gender parity.

At the same time, there is evidence already in the United States that commercial success, ironically, invites audience exclusivity and, thus, narrows public appeal. USWNT television rights presently lie with ESPN and Fox Sports, both divisions of Disney. But Disney+ viewers won't find the USWNT there, nor in the Disney+/ESPN+ bundle, as "+" seems to be a number less than (ESPN)2 and (ESPN)3.

In March, US Soccer awarded USWNT and men's team rights together in an eight-year deal to HBO Max and Turner properties, all divisions of AT&T by way of WarnerMedia. An HBO subscription doesn't come cheap, and different Turner channels require subscription to different bundles.

With media empires now controlling access to football on both sides of the Atlantic, fans' budgets will be stretched thin, and appetite for allegiances to new endeavors, such as expanded women's football, might prove difficult to stir. If the women's game is to be kept from becoming a victim of its own success, the goal of commercialization should be viewed with a discerning eye, wary of monopolization.

A call for evidence in support of the Carney review is expected from the UK Football Association in the coming weeks. HT @ lawyer Paul Maalo, writing for the Wiggin digital commerce team in London.

Monday, July 4, 2022

U.S. footballers celebrate equal pay settlement

Alex Morgan
(Jamie Smed CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
I was elated in April to hear of a proposed $24m settlement in the equal pay dispute brought by U.S. Women's Soccer.

I wrote about the matter in April 2021 and May 2020. There were ups and downs, and, frankly, things were not looking good for the plaintiffs.

However, the case is a lesson in persistence and the value of a public relations campaign running alongside a litigation. U.S. Soccer had the upper hand in the court of law, but was taking it on the chin in court of public opinion.

The case is Morgan v. U.S. Soccer Federation (C.D. Cal. filed Mar. 8, 2019). A June 22 motion seeks court approval of the class action settlement. Named plaintiff Alex Morgan talked to MSNBC about the settlement last week.

UPDATE, July 4, at 1934 EDT: Watch today's CONCACAF match and tell me Alex Morgan should not be US Soccer's highest paid player!

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Sheriff FC tells two tales, because that's football, life

Selfie, today (RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
The Sheriff Football Club from Tiraspol in Transnistria, Moldova, defeated western European powerhouse Real Madrid, at home at the Bernabeu, in Champions League football last week.

Coincidentally, I've lately been sporting my "Sheriff" ball cap.  I wrote about Transnistria after my visit there, and to Sheriff's 12,000-seat stadium in Tiraspol, two years ago: "Breakaway state of Transnistria might model new Russian sphere of influence" (Dec. 16, 2019).

It's interesting to see how media outlets describe Sheriff's geographic home.  Most I've seen say "Moldova," which, I guess, is what you find if you look at a political map.  Wikipedia describes Tiraspol as "the capital of Transnistria, a breakaway state in Moldova."  Only in an Al Jazeera main headline did I see exclusive mention of Transnistria.  The subhede then started, "Football club from a pro-Russian separatist enclave in Moldova."

After I crossed into Transnistria and showed my papers to the heavily armed border guards to get my 24-hour visa in a flurry of stamps, I didn't feel like I was still in Moldova.

Most media outlets have not picked up the political thread on the upset story.  In one exception, Sheriff's road to Champions League glory is well contextualized by Gab Marcotti for ESPN FC.  He observed that none of the Sheriff players are Moldovan or Transnistrian—but before one "get[s] high and mighty about national identity, please consider that at the final whistle, there were exactly zero Spaniards on the pitch."

Is the Sheriff-over-Real-Madrid story "a 'fairy tale' or a sad reflection"? Marcotti wondered.  On the one hand, there is the peculiar joy of football as sometimes, or seeming, social leveler:

Let it be a reminder that ordinary players, on an ordinary Tuesday night, can walk into the temple of football and knock it down, like Samson back in the day. That's part of the appeal of this sport. It's low-scoring, it's mano-a-mano, and the gap between superstars and extras may be huge over time, but on any given day, it can be tiny and anything can happen.  

Marcotti drew on a Twitter thread from near-Tiraspol-born, ethnically Russian, now Baltimore, Md.-based sportswriter Slava Malamud to illustrate the other hand:

[Sheriff] have been Moldovan champions in 19 of the past 21 years, they have the country's only modern stadium and they're bankrolled by the Sheriff corporation, a conglomerate that includes Transnistria's only supermarket chain, gas station chain, telephone network, TV channels, publishing house and distillery. The owners have close ties to the local government, which, in turn, is funded and protected by Russia. This isn't just a company team; it's a company town in the company enclave of Transnistria, and you can't shake the feeling that this is what it takes for "fairy tales" like this to take place in the modern game.

Football is metaphor.  What happens on the pitch, especially when recounted by capable journalists, is contradiction, because contradiction is football, and football is life.  Sheriff is fairy tale and sad reflection.  In the same way that pride and frustration are fast friends.

Undefeated in the group stage, Sheriff now leads UEFA Champions League Group D with wins over Real Madrid and Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk.  Sheriff will face Inter Milan, in Milan, on October 19, again putting the fairy tale to the test.

(Below, BT Sport tweet from Sheriff's August win over Dinamo Zagreb to reach the Champions League (retweeted by Malamud)).

Saturday, August 21, 2021

American soccer traces roots to textile mills

In the first pandemic summer, I watched and adored the limited TV series, The English Game, which depicted the birth of modern soccer, or association football, in the context of industrialization and labor organization in the 19th century.

Fall River Rovers, 1917
For Boston.com, sports writer Hayden Bird now reveals a similar heritage for U.S. soccer in the communities of once abundant mills in my current home region, eastern Rhode Island and the Massachusetts south coast.  Bird explains in the piece:

[T]he early 20th century boom in American soccer is intertwined with the textile industry. The exponential growth of mills in the late 19th century (following the decline of the whaling industry) led to large scale immigration as skilled laborers were funneled in....

Answering the call were people who already had textile experience: those from Lancashire and the valley of Clyde. These regions, as historian Roger Allaway points out, “in addition to being the heart of the English textile industry also was the area of England in which association football [soccer] had most taken root among working class people in those same years."

And because of this, "textiles brought immigration and immigration brought football."

Bird's coverage embedded this video, which YouTuber soccermavn describes as "[p]erhaps the oldest extant professional U.S. soccer footage—snippets from the 1924 U.S. Open Cup final, played on March 30, 1924" in St. Louis, where the Vesper Buick hosted the Fall River, Mass., Marksmen.  The Marksmen prevailed 4-2.

The article is Hayden Bird, American Menace: When Fall River Ruled U.S. Soccer, Boston.com (June 21, 2018).  Hat tip @voteunion (Aaron Wazlavek), J.D.  See also Dan Vaughn, The Ghosts of Fall River, Protagonist Soccer (Oct. 29, 2018).

Monday, April 12, 2021

From soccer pitch to memoir, and now to White House, Rapinoe shines in USWNT equal pay crusade

Rapinoe speaks at the White House (from White House video).
Today a federal district court in California is expected to approve a partial settlement over working conditions in the equal pay battle between the U.S. Women's National Team and U.S. Soccer.  The settlement leaves the central issue of equal pay in play in the case.

As Tokyo seeks "to blunt" its fourth wave of coronavirus, public support and flat-out feasibility fade for pulling off the 2020 Olympic Games even in the summer of 2021.  An Olympic omission will downplay the news of late March that the U.S. Men's National Team failed to qualify for the Olympics upon a loss to Honduras.  Meanwhile the U.S. Women's National Team (USWNT) has been training up for another record-shattering international appearance.

Rapinoe, 2019 (Jamie Smed CC BY 2.0)
The USWNT has not fared as well in court as on the pitch.  On the equal-pay front, the USWNT complainants suffered a major setback in a trial court decision in May 2020.  I wrote then that the court's conclusion was defensible on the law, if arguable on the rationale and tormenting for its rank unfairness.  The complainants plan to appeal.

One is left to marvel at U.S. Soccer's shameless persistence of what I can only imagine is a cold commitment to the bottom line.  At some point, the bad PR for the sport in America must become too costly even in the commercial calculation.  And with the winds having shifted in Washington, the women wisely have opened up other fronts in the war.

A soccer legend in her own time and a hero of mine, USWNT captain Megan Rapinoe has been on a tear lately on the PR-and-lobbying circuit.  On March 24, she joined the J'Bidens at the White House to commemorate "Equal Pay Day."

The White House visit had added significance because Rapinoe feuded with Donald Trump while he was on office—see commentary in 2019 by Sue Bird, Rapinoe's then girlfriend, now betrothed—and Rapinoe said she would not go to the White House even if invited.  In March, President Joe Biden ordered resuscitation of the White House Gender Policy Council, and Rapinoe gave the White House visit a positive reviewNewsweek observed that Rapinoe received a White House invite before Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Here is Rapinoe's statement at the White House.  Watch the whole event at YouTube; Rapinoe's four minutes followed statements by USWNT teammate Midge Purce and First Lady Jill Biden.  

Rapinoe got her money's worth out of her ticket to Washington, because she also testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which was "examining the long-term economic impacts of gender inequality."  Her affirmative statement, below, ran only about two and a half minutes.  With experts representing NGOs also testifying, Rapinoe participated in the questions and answers afterward; the full-length video of the committee hearing is posted online (image from House video).

Rapinoe wound up her testimony with the USWNT rallying cry, "LFG."  She has since remained ready to fight when the situation calls for it, recently, as Comic Sands put it, "eviscerat[ing an] NBA star who criticized female athletes 'complaining' about pay gap."  An HBO Max-CNN Films documentary on the USWNT, titled "LFG" (teaser), is set for release later this year.

All the while, Rapinoe has let no artificial turf grow under her feet.  At the day job on Saturday, she scored for the USWNT to pull out a draw against Sweden and preserve the women's undefeated streak.

Rapinoe published a memoir, One Life, in the fall.

LFG.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Ted Lasso heads to UK, will coach AFC Richmond

From The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Oct. 6, 2020)
A new Apple TV+ show has Saturday Night Live alum Jason Sudekis playing southern-drawl-wielding American football coach "Ted Lasso," as he is recruited to coach an English Premier League (PL) soccer squad.

Lasso's fictitious team in the Ted Lasso comedy series is "AFC Richmond," but Sudekis wore an authentic Manchester City FC (my team) hoodie for his interview with Trevor Noah on last night's Daily Show.

Financially regrettably, this show compels my wife and me to re-subscribe to Apple TV+.  We shelved the channel, pending new content, after we finished the highly gratifying For All Mankind (blog), and after I finished the sufficiently compelling if after all tritely pedantic Morning Show (both shows 2019, second seasons forthcoming).

Ted Lasso is a co-creation of Scrubs (2001-2010) creator Bill Lawrence, which scores dispositively in my playbook, though I don't think Lawrence has since re-created that Scrubs magic.  Ted Lasso is a spin-off, or spin-up, of NBC Sports promotional shorts imagining Lasso's appointment as head coach of Tottenhan Hotspur.

 

Incidentally, I'm a consistent critic of NBC's intellectual-property monopoly over PL broadcast rights in the United States.  NBC carves up the PL season so that one would have to subscribe to an impossible, and impossibly expensive, range of commonly owned services to follow a favorite team.  Americans would never tolerate such exploitation of American football broadcast rights.  NBC and the PL are greedily short-sighted, because inculcating loyalty to a single side is essential to sell British soccer to the American viewer in the long term.  It remains to be seen how UK regulators would react were NBC, since merging with Sky, to dare to try such such shenanigans there, where team loyalty is a multi-generational sacrament.  Other sports-loving countries won't have it.

Sports comedy is supremely watchable when it's well executed.  I thoroughly enjoyed Hank Azaria's Brockmire (2017-2020), though I have not watched baseball in many years.  And who can forget comedy-drama Sports Night (1998-2000)?  The West Wing (1999-2006) is too often credited for Aaron Sorkin's introduction of fast cuts and fast-paced dialog into small-screen canon, but it was on Sports Night that he pioneered the art.

The Sudekis interview appeared on The Daily Show just a day after Trevor Noah opened with some Premier League humor (cue to 1:13), noting Aston Villa's defeat of both Manchester United and Liverpool, the latter 7-2.  Noah is a Liverpool supporter.

Here is the trailer for Ted Lasso.


Thursday, September 3, 2020

My Summer Book Report (2020)

Coronavirus propelled UMass into financial crisis in the spring, and, as a result, law faculty summer research stipends evaporated.  With that change in incentives to compound coronavirus travel restrictions, I found myself with more than the usual time to catch up on reading this summer.  I'm going to try to keep my observations here brief; drop me a line if you want to talk more detail.  (All links are to Amazon.)

Books About Soccer


When I signed off from the blog in May, I wrote about starting two books from Australia, Whatever It Takes: The Inside Story of the FIFA Way and The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe.  The former remains for me the definitive story of the fall of FIFA and corruption of global soccer.  Whatever It Takes was written by whistleblower Bonita Mersiades, once an Australian football executive.  I met her at Play the Game and immediately became a big fan.  I filled out the FIFA story with David Conn's Fall of the House of FIFA: The Multi-Million Dollar Corruption at the Heart of Global Soccer and Ken Besinger's Red Card: How the U.S. Blew the Whistle on the World's Biggest Sports Scandal.  Conn's book gave a thorough global picture, but I didn't enjoy its journalistic perspective as much as Mersiades's animated firsthand account.  Red Card was a compelling take on the story from the U.S. law enforcement perspective; it's a good read for students of U.S. criminal justice.  I especially appreciated it in coincidental tandem with the thoroughly enjoyable TV series El Presidente on Amazon.

By John Maynard, The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe is a tribute to the best players of Indigenous Australian ancestry and their experiences and undersung impact on soccer in Australia.  Joshua Nadel's Fútbol: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America does similar work for that continent, colored with somewhat more attention paid to the interaction of soccer and Latin America's tumultuous independence movements and subsequent political upheavals in the twentieth century.  In African Soccerscapes: How a Continent Changed the World Game, Peter Alegi also takes a continental approach, but thoughtfully traces players through the post-colonial interdependencies of African socioeconomic development and big-business European sport.

Simon Critchley in What We Think About When We Think About Soccer and Tamir Bar-On in The World Through Soccer: The Cultural Impact of a Global Sport both endeavor to make the social sciences of sport palatable for average people such as me.  Perhaps neither rises to the gold standard of David Goldblatt or Franklin Foer, but both books are rewarding, congenial reads and make worthy contributions to the literature.  Bar-On's is the more academically rigorous, but Critchley made philosophy fun for my freshman fluency.

My unexpected favorite of these books in the cultural studies vein was The Away Game: The Epic Search for Soccer's Next Superstars.  Sebastian Abbot takes the reader inside the world of the football talent scout and training camps, especially the lives of young African players thrust against the high stakes of the sport business in Europe and the Middle East.  I didn't know how much I didn't know, and the reality of this under-acknowledged netherworld is unsettling.  The painful truth is that the contemporary colonialist harvest of African talent is hideous, and, yet, it can't so wholly and easily be written off as exploitation.  It's complicated.

Books About Free Speech

I read many books about free speech, and I've loosely divided them into three categories here.  The broadest ranging works in this "general" set are Timothy Garton Ash's Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World, Lee Bollinger and Geoffrey Stone's The Free Speech Century, and Floyd Abrams's The Soul of the First Amendment.  Ash's book is described by a reviewer as "encyclopedic."  It is; it's otherwise difficult to categorize and difficult for me to grasp the scope of his knowledge and insight.  With a trans-Atlantic perspective, he grapples with the adaptation of free speech norms to our globalized world.  The Bollinger-Stone collection is at times interesting.  One might ought pick and choose from the contents; it would serve best as a course-supplement reader.  The Abrams book is a paean to free speech, not terribly original but eminently quotable.

Samantha Barbas's Newsworthy, Eric Robinson's Reckless Disregard, and Jeff Kosseff's Twenty-Six Words are legal biographies, respectively of Time, Inc. v. Hill (U.S. 1967) (false light privacy tort), St. Amant v. Thompson (U.S. 1968) ("actual malice" as recklessness "plus"), and Communications Decency Act section 230 (1996) (ISP immunity).  Each is a solid legal history with important contemporary implications.  Robert McWhirter offers a well organized and beautifully illustrated history of the First Amendment, appropriate to scholars of all ages, in The First Amendment: An Illustrated History.

The unexpected best of this set was Mark Tushnet, Alan Chen, and Joseph Blocher's Free Speech Beyond Words: The Surprising Reach of the First Amendment.  I had not expected to be so captivated by this work that dares to investigate a question typically glossed over: why, and to what extent, should non-speech, such as art and conduct, be protected by the legal freedom of speech.  This interdisciplinary analysis unpacks a problem that runs as deep as the very nature of the human being as a social animal.

Books About Hate Speech and Free Speech on Campus


This second set of free speech books I classify as about campus speech, though the books about hate speech plainly have broader application.  A range of perspectives is to be found here.  I am persuaded to the more absolutist view of Nadine Strossen, who has capably maintained and defended a consistent position over decades, even as academia and neo-liberal thought have left her increasingly out in the cold.  She sticks to her guns in Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship.  Anthony Lewis's book in the same vein is disappointing.  I'm a big fan of Lewis's insightful Make No Law (1991), the seminal biography of New York Times v. Sullivan (U.S. 1964).  Unlike that book, this rather facile treatment, Freedom from the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment, could have been written by a research assistant.  

In Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech, Keith Whittington builds the best possible case for universities to care about free speech.  I fear, however, that he gives today's university too much credit for not already being overrun and ruled by bean counters.  Sigal Ben-Porath has the most academic offering of these with her Free Speech on Campus.  But I was frustrated by her refusal to take a firm position consistent with the title of the book, free speech, as if she were afraid of tarnishing left-wing bona fides for failure of sufficient sensitivity.  Finally, the entertaining Mick Hume, a hardened alum of the U.K. newsroom, thinks about trigger warnings what Lou Grant would have thought about them, and he isn't afraid to tell you about it in Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech?  Spoiler alert: yes.

Other Speech Reads


This last set of free speech books I'm calling "free speech-related."  David Rieff's In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memories and Its Ironies is one of the most memorable books of my summer.  I read it because I am endlessly intrigued by the right-to-be-forgotten issue and the problem of cultural memory emphasized by institutions such as the stunning Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, Chile.  Rieff turned upside down and shook an interrogation out of everything I thought I knew about the subject, leaving me with a highly uncomfortable uncertainty about what we should remember as a global human society, and whether we're anyway invariably doomed to forget all the right stuff.  I also picked up (used) Carol Fichtelman's Right to be Forgotten: Legal Research Guide.  It's essentially a bibliography and good for its 2018 publication date, but already in 2020, at about $15, I overpaid.  I'm not sure why WS Hein decided to bind and sell what should be a free online resource.

Adcreep: The Case Against Modern Marketing is a book I picked up at a Law and Society conference a couple of years back.  I'm interested in the implications for commercial speech, and Mark Bartholomew amply demonstrates the how and why of something we're all instinctively aware of: that we as individual consumers are hopelessly outmatched in today's sophisticated commercial marketplace of ideas.  Finally, I read through an unusual item that's been on my to-do list for a while: John Greenewald Jr.'s Beyond UFO Secrecy.  Wait wait, before you come to confiscate my tin foil hat: I read this book because of its acclaim in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) community.  Much of the book's leaves are dedicated to the reproduction of produced government documents blackened with redactions, which is fun and interesting for the FOIA enthusiast.  You will get your ink's worth and your conspiracy suspicions stoked.

Other Reads

Tom Wolfe achieves his usual excellence in The Kingdom of Speech, which compelled me to break my blog hiatus in late summer.  The Curve: A Novel, about life at the "Manhattan Law School," by Jeremy Blackman and Cameron Stracher, was a delightful self-indulgence in fiction, though if you've ever worked in academics, it'll have you recollecting the truths that are stranger than....  In contrast, Kent Newmyer, The Treason Trial of Aaron Burr is hardcore nonfiction, if excellent supplemental reading for the Hamilton devotee: a biography of one of the most important legal cases in U.S. history that somehow usually manages only the scarcest mention in constitutional legal studies.  Equally serious about its social science, Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny tells both the nonfiction history of said bears and the story of their masters, the latter amid a psychoanalysis of dark reaches in the collective human mental condition.  More than once a Polish friend has recommended Witold Szabłowski's book when I struggled to understand something about eastern European thinking.  And ... yeah, I see it now.  Con Job: How Democrats Gave Us Crime ... I know will seem an odd pick for those who know me; I don't usually take my partisanship without at least a teaspoon of Splenda.  I admit to interest in how Crystal Wright, self-described "Conservative Black Chick" came to be who she is.  As I suspected, disillusionment is not a partisan affliction in America, and we ignore it at our peril.

Most memorable of this set was Mikey Walsh's haunting Gypsy Boy: My Secret Life in the World of the Romany Gypsies.  It had been on my to-do list for years, and I never quite felt up to the heartrending drama.  It's not unlike Hillbilly Elegy.  Walsh evinces a grudging appreciation of his Romany heritage and teaches the reader a great deal about its proud traditions, alongside its shames.  The journey was at times painful, but overall enriching.

I only got about halfway through my summer reading to-do list, so more books await.  For now, though, I need to get back to figuring out how to teach 1L Torts online.  Happy reading.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

While U.S. Congress ponders Big Tech oligopoly, Uruguay Supreme Court upholds TV football for all

While our powers-that-be in Congress wring their hands over trying to reconcile allegiance to our corporate overlords with antitrust in the tech sector, a court decision in Uruguay is worth noting.  The Supreme Court of Justice in the country of La Celeste held constitutional a law that compels the free live broadcast of some national soccer and basketball games.

Uruguay v. Costa Rica in World Cup 2014
(Danilo Borges/Portal da Copa CC BY 3.0 BR)

The ruling, sentencia no. 244 de 17 de agosto 2020 (search "244/2020" here), doesn't cover many games.  Explaining the case in 2019, a representative of the appellant Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) told El Observador (Uruguay) that the law would cost the franchise only some of nine Uruguay football qualifiers in four years. AUF still insisted that its economic interests were meaningfully and unconstitutionally diminished by the imposition.

Notwthstanding the limited reach of the ruling, the Court's willingness to abrogate private economic rights to further the public interest is significant.  Accepting the rationale for the law, the Court wrote, "Recuerda y resalta la Corte que la selección uruguaya de fútbol, en función de las hazañas deportivas y copas obtenidas en campeonatos mundiales y juegos olímpicos, forma parte de la identidad nacional y es tópico actual y recurrente en la ciudadanía." ("The Court recalls and emphasizes that the Uruguayan football team, as a function of its sporting achievements and championships won in the World Cup and Olympic Games, forms part of the national identity and is a current and continuing subject among the people.")

The ruling, on article 39 of the Ley de Medios, No. 19307, is one in a series from Uruguayan high courts (e.g., Observacom, Aug. 15) in recent months examining constitutional challenges to a far-ranging 2015 package of populist telecommunication reforms.  Civil rights advocates have hailed the courts' rulings for upholding the constitutional framework of the media law overall.  But business challengers have succeeded in blocking some restrictions, such as a limitation on subscriber numbers for cable TV providers, as unduly burdensome of commercial freedom.  For further example of the mixed results, the Court upheld article 40, which licenses Televisión Nacional de Uruguay to broadcast a game if no other broadcaster bought the rights.  But the Court struck down a subparagraph of article 39 that gave the executive authority to convert matches to free TV by resolution recognizing the public interest.

The telecommunication reforms have been championed by "center-right" Uruguay President Luis Lacalle Pou, who came to power in March 2020 after a hard-fought election and contested run-off.  Upon a campaign theme of "Uruguay seguro, transparente y de oportunidades," President Lacalle Pou promised to push back against left-leaning policies of the previous fifteen years with a raft of reforms aimed at slashing spending, controlling crime, combating corruption, and realigning foreign policy.  Whether or not he could have delivered, he has been, like leaders around the world, hampered by the coronavirus crisis.

Hat tip at Observacom Executive Director Gustavo Gómez (Twitter) for reporting on the case.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Report from a Social Distance Week 8: Speaking of Football, Magic, and Beer ...

Del's is a Rhode Island tradition.  (Photo by Lady Ducayne CC BY-NC 2.0.)
This will be my last weekly report for a while.  I've tried to make it extra savory.  My law school cut summer compensation, so my lemonade from lemons will be much less screen time in the next three months.  These eight "Reports from Quarantine" / "Reports from a Social Distance" have been a lot of fun to write, and I'm grateful for the positive feedback you've sent, dear reader.  Nevertheless, it feels like work anytime a laptop is staring back at you.

Though still experiencing a record-cold spring, the temperature here is at last topping 60°F (15.5°C) as many days as not.  My sprained ankle seems healed, thanks to my Instagram medical team, so I'm looking forward to more time out of the house.  We're reopening in Rhode Island, but there's not yet any timeline for phase 2, much less phase 3.  As I wrote yesterday, people's patience is wearing thin even here in staid New England.  Here's hoping that falling infection numbers bear out our anxious economic plan.

This has been my week 8 since coming home from Africa, and week 8 at home.  Literally, at home.

What I'm Reading

Mary Sidhwani, How to Find the True Self Within: Secrets of Relieving Stress and Anxiety (2019).  I'm not the self-help sort.  But my aunt wrote this book.  I can't imagine a more fitting title to kick off my time away from work.  I'm only as far as the introduction, and I'm keeping an open mind.  Audio chapters are available also.  Dr. Sidhwani is the compassionate soul behind the Women's Therapeutic Health Center, based in Ellicott City, Maryland.

John Maynard, The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe (2019).  This unusual nonfiction selection was a gift—name drop ahead 🤭—from Bonita Mersiades, whom I met last year at Play the Game, and of whom I became an instant admirer.  Mersiades is known in world sport circles as "the Australian whistleblower" for exposing FIFA corruption in soliciting nations' World Cup bids years before the 2015 indictments made whistleblowing fashionable.  She suffered enormously for the perceived betrayal, persecuted both professionally and personally.  Watch her talk about it at Play the Game, or read my account of the session.  A powerful personality already schooled in fighting the establishment as an executive in women's sport, Mersiades was not so easily deterred.  She wrote her own book, aptly titled Whatever It Takes: The Inside Story of the FIFA Way (2018); started her own boutique publishing house, Fair Play; and became a renowned commentator on the global business of football.

Knowing my interest in comparatism and sport and society, including research on Australian indigenous media, Mersiades gifted me the 2019 Maynard release.  John Maynard hails from a Worimi Aboriginal community on coastal New South Wales. He is a professor of indigenous history at the University of Newcastle in Callaghan.  Maynard's cultural-comparative work has set Aboriginal politics alongside African American and Native American policy problems.  He's also an avid football fan, and this book is a definitive biography of soccer and Aboriginal society.  The 2019 book from Fair Play is actually a revised update of an out-of-print 2012 original.  If you're a football fan, or you want to buy a gift for one, check out Fair Play's many other titles, too.  They include histories of Aston Villa, Liverpool, and Everton, as well as other socio-cultural studies of Asia and Brazil.

The 12 Minor Prophets.  With our church, we continue our year-long reading program, moving on to the intriguing teachings of the 12 minor prophets.  As usual, the BibleProject has fabulous drawing videos, starting with Hosea, Joel, Amos, and Obadiah.  Worship services are continuing online for now, and, as always, all are welcome, 0930 EDT on Sundays.

What I'm Watching

The English Game (2020).  This limited series was developed for Netflix by none other than Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey).  Its six episodes are sometimes in a clumsy rush to deliver its upstairs-downstairs social message.  Overall, though, this story about the origins of association football (soccer) in late-1870s England makes for a thoroughly rewarding work of television.  The series uses football, today the world's game, as a lens through which to view evolving society.  The show brings within its scope not only thinning social strata, but emerging women's and labor rights.  Football itself was at a pivotal point of development at this time, transitioning from elite pastime to professional play, and introducing a more sophisticated form of passing play, recognized as the norm today, relative to a simple strategy of dribbling attack.

The story of a working-class mill team making an unprecedented run to steal the FA cup from elite-establishment collegiate players is very loosely based on real events.  Read more at the publication of your choice: Daily Mail, Digital Spy, Esquire, Express, i news, Mirror, Radio Times, The Spectator, or The TelegraphKevin Guthrie is stately as earnest Scottish footballer Fergus Suter; Guthrie was Abernathy in Fantastic Beasts.

The Great (2020).  I watched the first few episodes of HBO's Catherine the Great with the resplendent Helen Mirren, who received a Golden Globe nomination for the lead role.  I've been embarrassed to admit that I found the show too slow and didn't finish it.  Now comes Hulu's The Great to tell me, it's OK, and to make Catherine's remarkable story so much more delightfully digestible.  This dark comedy features Elle Fanning (Maleficent's Princess Aurora and Dakota Fanning's sister) as Catherine and Nicholas Hoult (X-Men's Beast, the big screen's J.R.R. Tolkien, and the most recent Watership Down's Fiver) as Peter III.

At times laugh-out-loud funny and taking great liberties with history—TV Catherine only arrives in Russia for her wedding to the already-emperor, whereas the real Princess Sophia had been brought to court decades earlier—the story is, as the show's title card disclaims, "occasionally true"—as in portraying Count Orlov, played ably furtively by Sacha Dhawan (Doctor Who's latest Master), as an enlightened co-conspirator in Catherine's inevitable coup. The magnificent sets meant to emulate 18th-century Russian imperial opulence include one real Italian palace and several English castles and houses.  Be warned, there are brief and highly fictionalized portrayals of violence against animals.

The Politician s1 (2019).  This creation from Glee trio Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan was much hyped, but ... weird.  I was interested enough to watch it all the way through.  But Glee it is not.  The Politician lives somewhere amid a wicked ménage à trois of Napolean Dynamite, My So-Called Life, and Alex P. KeatonDear Evan Hansen's defining stage star Ben Platt snagged a Golden Globe nomination for the lead role, and he's terrific.  But the story of a socially awkward teen hell-bent on winning his high school presidency as a ticket-punch on his life-road to the White House is more aimless in the execution than the funny trailers suggest. Season two is expected in June; I'll probably skip it.

Good Eats Reloaded s1-s2 (2018-2020).  Devoted fans of the 14-season Food Network phenomenon that was Good Eats (1999-2012), we went twice to see cinematographer-turned-food-guru Alton Brown share his scientific approach to the culinary art on stage, in 2014 and 2016.  At the latter show, Brown caused an eruption of audience elation upon a cryptic clue that Good Eats might be coming back.  It has, and season 15, retitled Good Eats: The Return, is now free to view in 13 episodes at the Food Network online.  In the interim, Brown made two seasons of Good Eats Reloaded, the second coming out weekly now from the Cooking Channel, available there and on other platforms.  At first I did not want to watch Reloaded, because they looked like just rebroadcasts of the old show.  I was wrong; they're much more.

Hosted by Brown, Good Eats Reloaded is an often hilarious, sometimes MST3K-like look back at Good Eats highlights with plenty of new content.  Contemporary Brown mercilessly mocks his younger self, often breaking away to tell us, for example, how he cooks a burger now, with decades' more experience, or that he no longer uses rolling pin rings because, what seemed like a good idea at the time, they broke soon after the show was filmed.  Sometimes there are all new recipes; he cuts out early from s1e01 Steak Your Claim: The Reload to show us how to make my favorite Korean comfort food, bibimbap.  But, I say, leave out the fish sauce 😝 for the authentic urban-Seoul variant.  Speaking of eats ....

What I'm Eating

Lasagna.  My wife made her incomparable vegetable lasagna (pictured before the oven) for Mother's Day.  Get off my case.  I made breakfast.  She likes to cook.  It's her escape.  Heaven knows she deserves to escape.

Antoni's baked turkey mac'n'cheese.  Furthermore for Mother's Day, we had a family Zoom on my wife's side, wherein everyone made mac'n'cheese comfort food, feat. ground turkey, from Antoni's cookbook, Antoni in the Kitchen.  (That was just one of three Mother's Day Zoom calls.)  The product was tasty, but heavy.

Crepe cake.  Another self-sacrifice 😉 in the #SaveOurRestaurants campaign, we went back to neighbor-owned Crepelicious for its signature, 14-layer, green-tea crepe cake.  Speaking of heavy...

I'll lose weight after lockdown.  Promise.

What I'm Drinking

Mardi Gras King Cake.  My last order from Community Coffee brought Mardi Gras King Cake to my door.  It tastes almost sweet on its own, flavored as it is with cinnamon and vanilla.  It recalls my wife's king cake from March and reminds us of our beloved New Orleans, an especially welcome nostalgia since the cancellation of this summer's AALL conference there.

Koloa Estate.  We took an interlude from Community to visit the far side of the continent with medium-roast Koloa Estate from Kauai Coffee.  Kauai brands often get a bad rap because they're not 100% Hawaiian grown.  You're forgiven if the package led you to think otherwise.  Still, if you don't overpay, it's a solid coffee, for a blend, with some of that nutty flavor that characterizes beans grown in Pacific Rim soil.

Sharish Blue Magic Gin.  I brought this gin back from Lisbon.  Its name is the Arabic name of its home town, Monsaraz, in the southeastern Alentejo region of Portugal, and the unusual whale-fin bottle shape pays homage to the region's easterly hills.  Sharish is made by António Cuco, who, according to various accounts, was an unemployed teacher when he started experimenting with distillation in his home pressure cooker in 2013, set to head a multimillion-euro operation in a few short years.

Sharish's defining feature is its brilliant blue color, more indigo in brighter light and undiluted density, and its "magic" is that this color turns to pink in the presence of tonic.  I experimented, and it was fun. The blue color comes from the flower of the blue pea blossom, clitoria ternatea, in fact named for its, uh, feminine shape.  Tonic really does change the color, not just dilute it, shifting the acidity balance to alkaline, like when we played with pH paper in grade-school science class.  When the novelty wears off, a gin with a rewarding and summery flavor remains.  Sharish leads with its fruits, raspberry and strawberry, and they're backed up by a palette of Alentejo-grown botanicals: angelica, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and licorice, besides the blue pea and juniper.  Sharish goes down so pleasantly, even straight, that its 40% ABV sneaks up on you.

Clitoria ternatea is not a European native, and this is not the only gin that uses it.  The flower goes by many names around the world, including butterfly pea and Asian pigeonwings.  It's an Asian native and has long been known in Asian cuisine, notably Thai blue rice.  The flowers give Empress 1908 gin an indigo hue and a savour overlapping with Sharish.  Made in British Columbia and shipped worldwide, Empress is easier to find in North America, though I think a rung below Sharish in finish.

French 75.  I wanted to make a special cocktail for my wife for Mother's Day.  The French 75, a champagne-and-gin mix, was the signature favorite of Count Arnaud Cazenave in 20th-century New Orleans, according to the John DeMers book, Arnaud's, that I wrote about two weeks ago.  I used a Bon Appetit recipe, a French champagne, and New Amsterdam gin.  My French 75 made me feel like a high-class continental cultural import.  I was so carried away that I briefly joined the neighbor's bichon frisé in looking down (figuratively) on our lab mix.

Death by King CakeI ventured to the "essential" liquor warehouse to bring my wife two new beers to try for Mother's Day.  We love whites and sours.  Both of these were indulgent treats.  Death by King Cake let us end the day the way we started it.  From Colorado-based Oskar Brewing, King Cake is a 6.5% ABV white porter brewed with vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cacao nibs, orange peel, and pecans.  Oskar promises Death by Coconut coming soon, an Irish-style porter in the same "series."

Key Lime Pie Sour.  Of all the food and bev I've tried around the world, I remember vividly my first frozen-key-lime-pie-slice-dipped-in-chocolate-on-a-stick in Key West, Florida.  That was the moment I realized that humanity had achieved Roman Empire-level gluttony on a global scale, and that our fall is inevitable, probably coming sooner than later, but that it would be a helluva ride down.  This is that in a beer.  From New Hampshire-based Smuttynose Brewing Co., there's an adorable seal visage on the back of the can. 6.3% ABV.

It was a Zoom Mother's Day


Stay thirsty, my friends!

Eating and Drinking images by RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0 with no claim to underlying works
Zoom captures by RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 with no claim of data protection waiver