Archive | November 23, 2014

Overly ambitious parents in youth sports

November 23, 2014

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By Robert Mazzarolo – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

In early November, Chief Justice Chris Hinkson, of the British Columbia Supreme Court, issued a restraining order against a mother of three. While restraining orders are not uncommon, this one was. The mother was ordered to stop contacting coaches and officials of the National Hockey League, Western Hockey League, and Kootenay Ice Hockey League, in which her two older sons were involved. The mother was sending hundreds of e-mails to her sons’ coaches and officials, outlining her disapproval with their handling of the boys in their hockey activities. Undoubtedly, this mother believed her sons were the next Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews of hockey, but no one else could see it.

Those of us who have experienced coaching, managing, or just being involved in youth athletics, can recall horror stories of parents who believed their child was the next Great One, if only their coach would realize it. I understand parents wanting their child to be treated equally by their coach. I even understand overly competitive parents pushing their children to achieve more. However what I do not understand is a parent believing as fact that their kid is going to be a star in professional sport. The odds are stacked against them.

Here’s why.

The two most popular team sports in Canada for youth athletes are hockey and soccer. Both sports have professional leagues in North America and in other countries around the world. Both have a well-defined pathway and structure, designed to assist young athletes who wish, presumably along with their parent’s wishes, to make it professionally in that sport. In the following analysis I will be making assumptions in order to simplify matters. However, all assumptions will benefit the young Canadian becoming a professional athlete in that sport. This analysis will only focus on young male athletes, as this data is more accessible and their opportunities in these sports are more lucrative.

First, let’s analyze hockey. According to Statistics Canada, in 2012 roughly 537,000 males, aged 17 and younger, were registered in minor hockey across Canada. The NHL consists of 30 franchises across North America. Assuming each franchise has a roster of 23 players and all roster spots are available for Canadians only (notwithstanding that the actual number of Canadians in the NHL is just over half of the total), there are a total of 690 roster spots available in the NHL. Taking the total roster spots available in the NHL (690), dividing it by the total number of registered male youth minor hockey players in Canada for 2012 (537,000), and then multiplying that number by 100 to get a percentage, your result is 0.128%. For each parent who believes their son is going to the NHL, the odds of that happening are 0.128%. Barely over one tenth of one percent!

Second, we’ll look at soccer. According to the Canadian Soccer Association, there are approximately 850,000 registered soccer players in Canada. 58% of players are male. The professional league in North America is Major League Soccer (MLS), which as of 2014 had 19 franchises. Let us assume that each franchise has 30 roster spots available and once again, they are reserved for Canadians only. Therefore, there are a total of 570 roster spots available in MLS. Using the same formula as we used for hockey (570 divided by 425,000 times 100), the result is 0.134%. As with hockey, each registered male soccer player in Canada has less than a 1% chance of playing professionally in MLS, let alone playing professionally in Europe or South America.

Truly, these numbers are astoundingly low and represent long odds for any young athlete hoping to be a professional athlete in either hockey or soccer. This even includes the key assumption of all roster spots are available only to Canadians which is clearly not the case here. If this assumption were removed, the odds fall dramatically. It is a wonder why any parent believes their son will become a professional athlete, especially in hockey or soccer. My message to all parents who have kids involved in sports is this: Relax, take a step back, and enjoy the excitement of your son and/or daughter competing, having fun, and learning invaluable life lessons while they participate in sports. They almost certainly will not become a professional athlete. Very little you do will change the odds of that happening and we certainly do not need any more restraining orders in sports.

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The saga of Adrian Peterson

November 23, 2014

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By Jeanine Ball – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

NFL star running back Adrian Peterson, who has been touted as one of the best players in the NFL will face a hearing on the fate of his future with the League this coming Monday.

In early September, allegations broke that Peterson abused his four year old son. His son was injured when hit by a wooden switch or stick, including bruising and cuts on his body. Peterson was indicted for reckless or negligent injury to a child. Last week he bargained for a plea deal to a lesser charge of misdemeanor assault. The terms of the plea included 80 hours of community service work, two years of “deferred adjudication” (which is similar to probation), a fine of $4,000, and a requirement to attend parenting classes.

Throughout the ordeal Peterson has been suspended from his team, the Minnesota Vikings, while still receiving his annual salary of $11.25 million.

Issues of race, domestic violence, and the intense scrutiny on professional athletes have brought this story to a fevered pitch on social media.

Peterson has had a chaotic year. His two year old son was murdered in October of 2013. Peterson returned to play just days later. Since the indictment for abuse of his four year old son in September, his arrest was considered after he admitted to “smoking a little weed.”

Now he has pled guilty. What does this mean for his future in the NFL?

The NFL guidelines for domestic violence were amended in August following the Ray Rice scandal. A six game suspension is now the punishment for a first offence (it was previously just two games). The player’s union on Peterson’s behalf is arguing for immediate reinstatement. Neither option seems a just solution under the circumstances.

Peterson offered some justification for his actions towards his son as Peterson used disciplinary techniques used on him as a child growing up in Texas. His mother has defended his actions and has emphasized they were acts that were motivated by love. She has been quoted as saying, “When you whip those you love, it’s not about abuse, it’s about love. You want to make them understand that they did wrong.” Regardless of his personal history, causing harm to a child contravened both United States federal and international Law. A $4,000 fine to an individual making a salary of $11.25 million and some hours of community service and probation time is not a significant penalty considering the circumstances of the offender.

Likewise, a six game suspension may serve a purpose in terms of deterrence, but the time involved is insufficient to allow substantive recovery or reconciliation for Peterson with his family. A leave of absence from his team and the NFL would give him time to receive counselling and increase the chance for him to restore a healthy relationship with his son and focus on parenting out of the media glare. Continuing to play in the NFL is not a context that will allow Peterson to rehabilitate from these personal issues.

In order to move towards positive outcomes, the discussion should shift to a focus on healing at a number of levels. Seemingly forgotten in the hysteria around Peterson’s punishment is that a four year old boy was physically and emotionally abused and that concern for his rehabilitation – not those of his famous father back into the NFL – should come first.

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Concussion Lawsuits: Is settling fair for the players?

November 23, 2014

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By Ryan Monty – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student

A recent concussion lawsuit filed against the Barrie Colts of the Canadian Hockey League reminds us that no contact sports league in North America, professional or otherwise, are immune to these legal proceedings. John Chartrand, a former player for the Colts, claims the medical staff of the team was negligent in clearing him to play even though he suffered a concussion in a car accident only days earlier. Although Chartrand’s original injuries occurred off the ice, it is still relevant in questioning the medical procedures and the culpability of the team and league when assessing the risks of allowing an athlete to return to play after suffering a head injury.

What amount of liability should the leagues governing these sports accept? One argument is that the players accept the inherent risks when playing contact sports like hockey. Any injuries or long-term side effects are their responsibility to deal with because it was their choice to participate. However, others argue the leagues were aware of the risks, and had more information regarding the long-term repercussions of head injuries than what was available to the players, making the teams culpable for allowing players who had recently sustained a concussion to return to play too soon. They also claim the leagues had the money to prevent players from suffering these on-field injuries but ultimately failed to do so. The National Football League settled a lawsuit with 1,400 former players for nearly $1 billion but as the case was not decided by a court, there isn’t an answer to what the duty of care is owed, if any, by the leagues and teams to their players, if they breached their standard of care, and what amount of compensation would be fair.

Some of the NFL players in the deal mentioned above are opting out because they believe the amount is insufficient. The process is also being stalled by players who are launching legal action against the deal itself in the hopes of preventing it from going through. As reported by USA TODAY, this has pitted the lawyer for the players, Craig Mitlick, against former players like Sean Morey. Mitlick believes that Morey, and players like him, are being greedy and hurting the other plaintiffs by delaying money that would fund their much needed medical treatments, while Morey feels the deal is not enough and is benefitting third parties, like the lawyers involved, too much. It is impossible for us to know who is right without the proceedings of a trial, but with the sheer amount of players seeking compensation, and the still relatively unknown extent of the long-term damages of concussions, the potential that former players accepting a deal from the leagues which is less than fair is increasingly more probable.

There is also the question of why no star players have been involved in any of these suits. Surely the settlement amount would be significantly higher with more high profile players attached. The highest profile athlete to date would have been Dan Marino, the former superstar quarterback of the Miami Dolphins. He was attached to a lawsuit against the NFL, along with 14 other players, but ultimately decided, days after the suit was made public, to remove his name from the list of plaintiffs, claiming it was a big misunderstanding.

Is it possible that higher paid athletes aren’t exposed to the same level of risk as other players? Unlikely. It’s more plausible that they do not want to alienate the game that made them rich, along with the fact that many former elite players, Marino included, end up working for the league or teams after retiring which makes the preservation of a positive relationship essential. This is where I believe the fallacy lies – the players, who are suffering from quantifiable damage, are either left with taking less than they should, or forced to suffer through the pain, holding out for a better deal because the players are not a unified group. There is no solidarity between the lower tier athletes and the elites, and until there is, or until one of these suits finally goes to trial, the players might not get the compensation they deserve.

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No Rhyme or Reason to Gender Discrimination in Sport

November 23, 2014

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By Danika Heighes – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student

Gender discrimination is rampant in sports. Men’s sports are better funded, have more lucrative prizes, greater broadcasting and a greater fan base than women’s sports. This is undeniable and indisputable at both the amateur and professional level both nationally and internationally. However, the international sports community generally does not engage in techniques to combat this gender discrimination. Instead, it is often justified by various sports organizations as a natural by-product of the “higher” intensity of men’s sports.

At 7 pm on November 8th, 2014, Canada and the USA commenced the gold medal game in the 4 Nations Cup, a prestigious women’s hockey tournament which was held in Kamloops, BC, Canada. Also, at 7 pm on November 8th, 2014, the Vancouver Canucks played the Los Angeles Kings in a regular season game in the NHL. Although the Canadian women’s team won the gold medal game in this international tournament, the following day, I heard more about the Canucks 5-1 loss to the Kings. In addition, I would be willing to place a wager that the NHL game was more heavily broadcast as well. For some reason, even in the town that hosted this women’s hockey event, it was less important than a regular season men’s hockey game featuring the nearest team. For whatever reason, the women’s sport fades into the background, and is outshone by its male counterpart. This is the least of the discrimination faced by women in sports.

Currently in Canada, several women’s soccer players have launched a court case against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) stating that their Section 15(1) right to equality under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, has been breached. FIFA and CSA have agreed that the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup will be played on artificial turf rather than grass, while the men’s tournaments have only ever been played on grass. According to the women’s soccer players they are being discriminated against, which prima facie, looks to be an accurate allegation, since the international governing body for football/soccer would never have allowed the men’s premier tournament to be played on a new substance on an experimental basis. Nevertheless, FIFA and CSA deny that this decision is meant to discriminate against the women’s tournament.

These are simply two examples of women’s sports facing discrimination in different ways. There are numerous other examples of gender discrimination in the arena of sports that are even more blatant or subtle, yet the international sports community remains unconcerned. Contrast this complacent treatment of gender discrimination in sport to the outrage of the international sports community at the discrimination of a female spectator at a men’s volleyball game in Iran.

On November 2nd, 2014, an Iranian court sentenced a British-Iranian woman, Ghoncheh Ghavami, to a year in prison in Iran, for spreading propaganda against the system. Ghavami, along with several other people attended a peaceful protest calling for equality outside a volleyball stadium and were allegedly beaten and arrested by police. Specifically, the protest demanded that women be allowed to watch a men’s volleyball match between Iran and Italy in June. In essence she will spend a year in prison for being a woman who wished to watch a men’s volleyball game in an oppressive and patriarchal country.

The international sports community is indignant at this excessive gender discrimination, and rightly so. In fact, volleyball’s governing body (FIVB) has called for Ghavami’s release and has written a letter to the President of Iran. Clearly, the sports community is quick to condemn a patriarchal middle-eastern country for its arbitrary cultural custom of disallowing women from watching men’s sporting events, especially in light of the particularly egregious prison sentence this woman is facing. However, they previously did not take issue with this Iranian custom until this incident.

Quite frankly, it seems that the common practice of the international sports community is to turn a blind eye to gender discrimination until it actively pokes them in the eye. Perhaps this incident will incite the international community to look more closely at gender discrimination within their own sporting organizations. Or perhaps, there will be more and more litigation brought forward by individual players in women’s sports alleging gender discrimination on the basis that it violates Article 2 of the Universal Declaration Human Rights, or similar national legislation.

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