Select Page

Sports Law
Wayne State University Law School
Benson, Jocelyn

 
What is the role of law with relation to sports
Need to protect a lot of individuals – athletes, fans, owners
 
Football
In 1905 18 football players were killed
President Roosevelt stepped in and made it a criminal act to play football and Harvard had just put in a concrete football stadium
Forward pass
Didn’t exist before this
One of the options was to make the football field wider, but they couldn’t make it wider
Now, Harvard had to explain why the forward pass would help the game.
 
NHL
New net sizes after the collective bargaining agreement
 
Changing the rules
Changing the rules for drugs and steroids
 
What is in the best interest of the sport?
We now have safety nets all over the rink to make sure that nobody gets hurt by the puck
But, many more baseballs go into the stands than pucks
Pistons brawl was not in the best interest of the sport from any standpoint
Law steps in
There are instances where they are trying to regulate how big the strike zone should be bc baseball games are ending too quickly and we want to lengthen it.
Completely different than the law stepping in for the pistons brawl
A lot of people may say that it makes sense to step in for this type of thing.
The rules are the law.
 
Role of the Commissioner
CEO of the sport
First choice in 1967, he wanted to be general counsel and he was rejected
Richard Nixon
The fans, owner, broadcasters, merchandisers, guys who work in the stadium, players go into what’s the best interest of the sport
Deal with all the different forces
Big 3: players, owners, fans
Amongst the players
There’s usually some sort of players union    
Like a regular union except that unlike a union where everybody accepts the K’s , here, player’s union set minimum salaries and let the agents negotiate up from there
Owners
Rules in baseball are different from football which are different from basketball and different from Hockey
What works in one doesn’t necessarily work for another
Football has been successful from an owners standpoint
From a players standpoint, their salaries are lower and they are beat up more
Hockey had the highest amount of revenue coming in for the players
MLB has the best salaries and the least risk of injury for players
In NBA most players don’t make that much and it’s very physically demanding.
Baseball
did we need Comerica park or was tiger stadium okay
Was Pontiac stadium okay for football or did we need ford field?
What about performance enhancing drugs and gambling?
Do they matter and do we care?
Commissioner looks at all the conflicting aspects
Drugs may be good…
Need to get fans back…
Legislature says something different…
What can commissioner legislate and what should they legislate?
When you have violence, you have a perception that changes how or who will come and watch the game.
Illegal drugs
Do we care that somebody has been taking coke?
Gambling       
Is it in the best interest of the sport that Pete Rose has been banned
What is truly the role of the commissioner in deciding what the best interest of the sport is
 
League à Commissioner at top
 
Authority and power of the commissioner
Protects the best interest of the sport as they see the best interest of the sport
Oversees the game
They are the CEO of this loose group
What is the source of his authority
Depends
Commissioner is chosen by the owners of the team.
We have a commissioner that’s set up through rules of the organization which have sometimes been created by the influence of the commissioner
Pg 57 of supp has major league baseball constitution
a)      to investigate any act suspected to be not in the best interest of the national game of baseball, with authority to summon persons and order production of documents
b)      to determine what remedial, punitive or preventive action is appropriate and take such action against the League, Club or Individual.
-similar to other leagues constitution
The commissioner has the authority to govern the sport because of the written constitution of the sport of a rule book.
What’s the best way for the commissioners to use their authority?
Set up a check and balance
Owner’s of the organization have the ability to oversee things
What kind of remedies should there be?
Arbitration
In the constitutions of the sport to give the appearance of due process.
Role of the arbitrator to review the decisions of the commissioner?
Assess whether the commissioner was within the scope of duty. NOT reviewing whether the decision was correct.
Scope of duty is defined by the constitution or rules to do what’s in the best interest of the sport.
But, the rules give a lot of leeway to the commissioner
Can look at precedent
What should be the role of the courts in reviewing the decisions of a private organization?
To what extent should public law, speaking through judges, venture to overturn private decisions made by private league, through their commissioners?
Should there be litigation? Is this a proper place for an arbitrator to be involved?
Article 16 §2 of major league baseball
All actions taken be accepted and complied with the clubs and not engage in litigation but resolve differences without litigation
 
Pete Rose v. Bart Giamatti (Approx. 1989)
Should he be suspended and if so for the lifetime?
Rumors that the manager, Pete Rose, is betting on baseball even those games involving his own team.
60 yr old major league baseball provides for rules against gambling in baseball when affiliated with MLB
Required a one year suspension for anyone betting on baseball and required lifetime ban for betting on a game involving one’s own team.
But, he’s always betting for the Reds to win
What’s the point of the rule
So that you don’t make the team lose on purpose
Commissioner Giamatti, hired a lawyer to investigate the allegation.
Case is removed to federal court
Is it right to ban the all time hit leader from the game, and not put someone like Pete Rose in the hall of fame when he’s truly part of history?
Authority of the commissioner compared to the manager of the team
Sports are different than other industries. They are not a corporation, they create their own rules.
What is right and wrong (public law), comes in and determines what these private institutions have created
The owners and managers of the Reds were to be under the authority of the commissioner and couldn’t make agreements with Rose due to the authority of Giamatti.
(The Reds tried to stop Giamatti from bringing suit because they said that he was biased towards Rose bc of his tax evasion. Court ruled that the Reds couldn’t stop the commissioner from bringing suit bc they too were under his authority due to the constitution of the MLB)
 
American League Baseball Club of NewYork (Yankees) v. Johnson (1919)
He pitches for the red sox and decides that he would rather go fishing
He walked off the field and went fishing the next day
The commissioner/president (Johnson) isn’t happy with this
Team owner wants to sell the pitcher to the Yankees bc he’s mad at him
The commissioner/president doesn’t like the owners response and wants to suspend him
The difference what the team’s rights were (selling the guy) as compared to the power of the commissioner
The commissioner ends up suspending Mays for deserting his club and breaking contract.
Yankees sued Johnson for suspending Mays.
The commissioner asserts §20 that the president can suspend a player
“The president in the performance of his duties, shall have the power to impose fines or penalties, in the way of suspension or otherwise, upon any manager or player who, in his opinion, has been guilty of conduct detrimental to the general welfare of the game.”
That can easily be interpreted as conduct detrimental to the game
Club looks at §24 – right to regulate its own affairs
“Each club belonging to this league shall have the right to regulate its own affairs, to establish its own rules, and to discipline, punish, suspend or expel its manager, players, or other employees, and these powers shall not be limited to cases of dishonest play or open insubordination, but shall include in all questions of carelessness, indifference, or other conduct of the player that may be regarded by the club as prejudicial to its interest, but not in conflict with any provision of the National Agreement or this constitution.
Holding
Permanent injunction against the Mays’ suspension.
Suspension of a player not only interferes with his individual K, but may also interfere with the reputation and collective ability of the club
When it comes to contracts, the commissioner has less power in stepping in.
President only has the right and duties to regulate the actual playing of the game on the field
Mays did not commit an overt act on the field
Not within the scope of the commissioners powers.
Victory for individual team rights based on constitution as it was written in 1919
 
Milwaukee Am. Assn. v. Landis (1931)
First try to get the former president to become commissioner, and then he decides to go to the supreme court as chief justice
They get a 38 yr old federal judge, Landis, to be commissioner
Did anti-trust work for the league, and wants some sweeping powers for commissioner (like Rose, unlike Mays case above)
He has them rewrite the constitution bc there was conflict (like Mays) and he wants to resolve these
He now has authority to resolve dispute
He wants to be benevolent despot
He says he can run baseball in the best interest of the sport
Expressly provided that nothing contained in the code shall exclude acts det

w the basic rudiments of due process of law.
 
What are the limits of the commissioner’s authority and are there any?
Court suggests that it’s limited where what he does contravenes the laws of the land or the charters or bylaws of the association or if due process or law is violated.
Can’t just go against something that’s explicitly stated
Under Pete Rose, he was saying that procedures weren’t followed, should that have been decided differently?
 
Atlanta National League Baseball Club and Ted Turner v. Bowie Kuhn  (1977)
Dealt with commissioner’s authority to discipline owners and employees of the member teams.
New collective bargaining agreement with an elaborate free agency system following Kuhn case above.
Players with six years of service in the major leagues could declare their intention to become free agents before the end of October.
Commissioner Kuhn says you can’t have any dealings with potential free agents before the reentry draft.
Atlanta braves’ general manager made improper contact with Matthews of the San Francisco Giants.
Kuhn comes in and says that he has tampered with Matthews prior to him becoming a free agent and fines them 5K and took away their first pick in the winter amateur draft.
This has violated express major league rule that says you can’t tamper
After the above, Ted Turner tells the owner of the Giants that the Braves are going to go as high as possible to go after Matthews
Braves end up signing Matthew
Kuhn suspended Turner from baseball for one year and deprived Atlanta of its first round pick instead of disapproving Matthew’s K.
Turner and Braves go to court to get Kuhn’s ruling overturned.
Why is there any doubt at all in the commissioner’s authority to act in this case?
Conflict between authority of the commissioner and the collective bargaining agreement (free agency)
If you look at constitution as it’s written now §5 article 2…
The commissioner can act in best interest of baseball, but if we as a union agree otherwise through collective bargaining, that supersedes the major league baseball rule
Holding
Kuhn still wins despite §5 article 2
Collective bargaining agreement didn’t supersede the no tampering rule.
Struggle between collective bargaining and the powers of the commissioner.
The limit on the commissioner’s power is when he is deciding something that is arbitrary or wrong or if it’s an abuse of discretion
Court reverses the disciplinary action of taking away first pick in the draft bc it wasn’t one of the specific commissioner sanctions mentioned in Article II §3.
Upheld Turner’s suspension
Kuhn acts in a couple of different ways
Article 1 §3 sections are exclusive as opposed to “may include” despite the fact that it says this (Now article 2)
If the commissioner wants to add new penalties the agreement should be altered to reflect this addition in authority.
 
Rules of the commissioner
The baseball constitution has been rewritten. We now include different things in what is in the best interest of baseball
Article 2 §3
Changes between 1921 and 2000 when the new constitution is instituted
Should the commissioner be limited like Shandler and Frick or benevolent despot?
Why is the role of the commissioner so important?
 
1) To what extent should public law (courts) overturn or review decisions of private leagues who are speaking through their commissioners? Is that the role of the court system?
 
2) Why are these all baseball cases?
 
 
Look at the commissioner’s authority
 
What’s in the best interest of the sport and what’s the best interest of the sport according to the commissioner isn’t always the same
 
Commissioner’s authority
What should the role of the commissioner be when you’re talking about a gambling issue
Drug use
Legal and illegal drugs
Performance enhancing and masking drugs
Alcohol and tobacco are okay