Archive | December, 2013

Richie Incognito and Bullying in Professional Sports

December 2, 2013

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By Chris Ross – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

Bullying has always been a part of growing up. From the time children are in kindergarten, there are bullies and there are victims. Bullying is something that we expect to fade away as we get older and supposedly mature into grown-ups. However, at least in the National Football League, locker room bullying appears to be a widespread issue that is getting national attention due to some unfortunate circumstances.

Three weeks ago, Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Richie Incognito was suspended by the team indefinitely while the NFL investigates a situation involving Incognito and his second year African-American teammate Jonathan Martin. At the end of October, Martin went AWOL and left the team following a joke played on him by his teammates in the team cafeteria and has yet to return the team. According to reports, the reason for Martin’s departure was bullying and hazing from teammates, allegedly lead by his “best friend” on the team, Richie Incognito.

The most damning piece of evidence against Incognito is the transcript of a voicemail he left on Martin’s phone. The voicemail said: “Hey, wassaup, you half n—– piece of s—. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] s— in your f—— mouth. [I’m going to] slap your f—— mouth. [I’m going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. F— you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”

Jonathan Martin has since hired high profile sports attorney David Cornwell to represent him going forward. Cornwell alleges that Martin has been subject to a “malicious physical attack,” his sister threatened, and “daily vulgar comments” from Miami teammates. Cornwell claims that the treatment his client was forced to endure was harassment that went far beyond the traditional locker room hazing.

The Incognito-Martin situation is very difficult to judge accurately because there are so many questions yet to be answered. While Incognito has handed over text message communications with Martin indicating that Martin was not holding Incognito responsible, it is possible he simply sent those out of fear of retribution from Incognito. There is so much that we do not know about the situation and until all the information from the NFL investigation comes out, it is probably best to withhold judgement on either player.

Right or wrong, hazing of varying magnitudes has always been a part of sports culture, whether it be at the high school, college or professional level. Nevertheless, the legal implications of this case could have a profound effect on the unique locker room culture of professional sports and the fine line that athletes walk between harmless hazing and hurtful bullying.

According to ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson, Florida law provides the basis for a civil lawsuit that would assess monetary damages against Incognito. Incognito’s use of the N-word and his threats “to kill” could qualify Martin for money damages for anyone who “has been intimated or threatened on the basis of race or color.” Florida law provides triple damages and would allow Martin to collect his legal fees from Incognito. Given Incognito’s expected earnings in the future and a possible end to Martin’s career, Munson asserts that Martin could collect as much as $15 million.

Furthermore, the fact that the Miami Dolphins organization may have known about this situation, and there are reports alleging they may have even encouraged it, could allow Martin to hold them liable as well. High profile attorney Gloria Allred has said that if the Dolphins knew of the racial or sexual harassment of Martin and failed to take action or even condoned it, they would be in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and potentially be liable for emotional damages to Martin resulting from discrimination.

While the facts of this eye-opening situation are still murky at best, there is no doubt that professional franchises around North America have taken notice. In the November 18 issue of Sports Illustrated, editor Jon Wertheim wrote that the story is “pitting the NFL’s macho old guard against the anti-bullying movement” and that we “might be surprised at who’s winning handily.”

The locker room culture, a culture that is said to be incomprehensible to an outsider, may be forced to drastically change as a result of the Incognito-Martin fallout. Although it will be interesting to see if Richie Incognito and/or the Miami Dolphins are held legally accountable for this incident in some manner, the amount of negative attention this story has received, in both the sports and legal world, should be a catalyst to transforming the way in which locker rooms across professional sports operate.

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The Future of Video Review in the NHL

December 2, 2013

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By Chelsea Dubeau – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

In a recent hockey game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Dallas Stars, Henrik Sedin scored what would have been a game-tying goal. The referee waived off the goal, citing “incidental” goaltender interference by Daniel Sedin in the crease. Television replays quickly revealed that there was no contact between the players. The disallowed goal proved to be the difference in the game, as the Stars held on to win by a score of 2-1.

In his post-game interviews, Canucks coach John Tortorella expressed his discontent with the referees not reviewing the judge. The Dallas goalie, Kari Lehtonen, also agreed with this sentiment, stating, “I wish they would maybe use some video replay or something just to make them right.”

Video review is currently only available in a game in situations of a disputed goal or to verify time. Rule 38.1(ii) of the Official Rules states that video review can be utilized when the goal judge is “requested to do so by the Referees.”

The National Hockey League is one of many leagues that utilize instant replay for decision-making, in addition to the on-field officials. However, the NHL is often criticized for the restrictions on the use of this technology.

Two possible ways in which the NHL could expand video replay is through allowing review of more than just scoring plays, or introducing the ability to challenge a call.

The National Basketball Association allows video review for situations such as the correct scoring of a shot, determining if a player has stayed within bounds, determining penalties during player altercations, and whether to call a flagrant foul. Review is still conducted at the discretion of the on-field official, and the final decision remains with the Crew Chief.

Major League Baseball has a similar system to the NHL, in which the Chief Umpire makes the executive decision whether to review a play. However, a player or coach may argue for a play to be reviewed. The MLB rules also do not restrict video review to scoring plays. It can also be utilized to determine whether a ball has left the playing field, or if there was interference from a spectator.

The NHL could introduce a similar expanded system of when a referee can review a play. There could be the ability to review whether icing applied or whether the faceoff should remain in the offensive zone. There could be the ability to review penalties that assessed during more serious situations, such as in overtime of playoff games. The referee could review which team last handled the puck before it went out of play, leading to a possible delay of game penalty.

The rules could simply be expanded to review any plays related to scoring, not just the actual goal itself. The ability to review on-ice calls could eliminate erroneous calls of goaltender interference, such as the incident that occurred with Daniel Sedin. It could also be applicable to an official that misses stopping play due to an offside player, which then leads to a scoring chance and eventual goal.

The other option available to the NHL is to consider the ability to challenge a play.

While MLB is looking to introduce a manager’s challenge during the 2014 season, there are many other leagues that are currently utilizing this rule.

Some tennis bodies, including the Grand Slam Committee, allow players to make up to three challenges during a set.

In the National Football League, coaches are allowed to challenge an official’s decision, at least twice per game. However, they are not allowed to challenge subjective calls, such as most penalties. Challenges for too many men and illegal passes are allowed.

The NHL would have to consider many questions in regards to the introduction of a challenge. Could individual players challenge, such as in tennis? Would the team captain be able to propose review? Or would the discretion remain with the on-ice official, such as in the NBA?

If challenges were introduced, what would be limitations on the timing or amount?  Would it be restricted to each period, or each game? Would it depend on the extent of the game played, and reset later in the game, such as in the MLB? What types of calls could be challenged? Would it still be restricted to scoring? Would penalties be off limits due to their nature as judgement calls, similar to the NFL? How would the video review be conducted? Would everything still be sent to the ‘war room’ in Toronto, or could the on-ice officials review calls themselves, similar to the NBA? How would the challenge rules change if the game is in overtime, or if it was during the playoffs?

These are only a few of many questions that would need to be considered before a new system could be implemented.

Last year, sporting news outlets were reporting that topic of discussion at a General Manager’s meeting was the possibility of a coach’s challenge. While no rule changes occurred this season, as other sports move towards the integration more video replay, the NHL may be more inclined to follow suit.

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UFC vs The Big Apple

December 2, 2013

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By Mac Green – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

New York is known as a sporting state with nine professional teams that compete in the National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Soccer. New York City’s Madison Square Garden also has one of the most celebrated histories of combat sports.MSG hosted eight of Joe Louis’s title defenses (1938-1951) and was the site of “the battle of the century” between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali (1971).For these reasons, it is obvious why the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) would want to promote a fight in New York.And yet New York is the only state out of the 48 others that have Athletic Commissions that are still upholding their ban on professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) sporting events.

In 1997, New York passed a law that effectively banned professional combative sports by introducing s.5 in the Regulations of Boxing, Wrestling and Sparring.In the Regulations, combative sport is defined as “any professional match or exhibition other than boxing, sparring, wrestling or martial arts wherein the contestants deliver, or are not forbidden by the applicable rules thereof from delivering kicks, punches or blows of any kind to the body of an opponent or opponents.” However, this legislation also seems to have left the door open for MMA to be legalized in the future by giving the New York Athletic Commission the power to “promulgate regulation which would establish a process to allow for the inclusion or removal of martial arts organizations.

The UFC was founded in 1993 with the goal of identifying the most effective martial art by having experts of unique disciplines compete in a cage fight. Unfortunately, in the beginning it was more of a spectacle than a sport only having three rules initially: no biting, eye gouging or groin strikes.

Although the UFC began in 1993, the modern era of the sport and evolution from spectacle to legitimacy began when the current owners, Zuffa LLC, bought it in 2001. Zuffa bought the UFC for only $2 million because the original owners were on the verge of declaring bankruptcy. Seven year later, the UFC was on the front page of Forbes magazine and the company was valued at nearly $1 billion.  Zuffa has also made huge contributions towards legitimizing the sport by instituting 33 new rules that govern combat within the cage.They have also fostered a worldwide expansion of the sport including a push for the education of the referees, doctors and fans. As a direct result of the sport’s legitimacy, the quality of athletes has also increased drawing in National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) Division I wrestlers, ex-NFL players and Olympians. MMA has been referred to as the fastest growing sport in the world and has risen from obscurity to global powerhouse in just 20 years.

The UFC filed a lawsuit against New York at the end of 2011 because they claimed that the combative sport ban was unconstitutional based on seven different arguments. The UFC named Attorney General Eric Schneider and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. as defendants.The state filed a general motion for dismissal in response. 

Just over one month ago, Judge Kimba M. Wood of the Southern Federal District Court in Manhattan ruled that the UFC’s lawsuit would not be dismissed. Although this is a symbolic victory for the UFC, Wood J only accepted one of the seven arguments submitted. One of the arguments that Wood J dismissed was that the ban of combative sports breached peoples’ 1st Amendment right to “expressive conduct.” However, the UFC may still appeal the dismissal of this argument.

The argument that was upheld by Wood J was that the ban is unconstitutionally vague under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. He agreed that the state’s interpretation of the combative sports ban has varied significantly over the years in their comments and briefs, which gives weight to the UFC’s allegations of vagueness.

The COO of the UFC stated that these “inconsistency has cost the UFC considerable time and expense, but more importantly it has deprived MMA’s countless New York fans of the opportunity to have a new law on MMA, one that legalizes the sport and regulates it in a safe way, as all other states have done. New York’s law is outdated, written at a time when MMA was a very different sport.”

In my opinion, because the government has changed their interpretation of what the legislation actually means several times it should be struck down due to vagueness. And New York should finally pass MMA regulations so they can continue to foster their celebrated sports history. 

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