Column: Deleting Track Records Would Set Dangerous PrecedentJune 22, 2017

Column: Deleting Track Records Would Set Dangerous PrecedentTrack and field’s longest-standing outdoor world record is in danger, but not from a contestant on the track.

In 1983, Jarmila Kratochvilova of the Czech Republic, then part of what was called Czechoslovakia, ran the 800 meters in 1 minute 53.28 seconds, a record that stands to this day. Kratochvilova was 32 at the time, an age when most short-distance runners are beyond their prime. That’s why a group of European track officials, in a move some are calling an attempt to “restore credibility” to their sport, recommended last month that the sport’s global governing body void all world records set before 2005. That was the year when track and field began storing blood and urine samples for use in sophisticated drug screenings.

Track and field has a long history of doping scandals that predates any discussion of the use of PEDs in popular U.S. sports. During the 1980s, sport in Eastern bloc countries, most famously East Germany, was used as propaganda to promote communism. Athletes were merely pawns in a tyrannical and corrupt political system. They had little choice but to participate in state-sponsored doping programs, even if they doubted the training methods of their coaches and government officials. To refuse was not only to risk a spot in the Olympics and other major international competitions, but the perks that came with winning and glorifying their nation – such as an apartment or car - would be unavailable to them.

The proposal to eliminate pre-2005 records would require the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to recognize only those records set by athletes who have undergone a strict regimen of drug testing. The proposal is problematic in a number of respects, not the least of which is its uniform and broad application that, if approved, will most certainly snare the innocent even if it exorcises the guilty. Although the legal system has adopted the concept of guilt by association – the driver of a getaway car can be convicted of felony murder if his associate kills someone during a bank robbery - it would be unfair to find an athlete guilty of “doping by association.”

Kratochvilova had a heavily muscled body for a female which raised immediate questions about whether her speed was achieved naturally or through the use of anabolic steroids. She has always attributed her physique and athletic success to her life as a farm girl, a fanatical training regimen - which is legendary in the track world - and large doses of Vitamin B12. If you’ve heard it all before, raise your hand.

While physical appearances and record breaking performances may cast suspicion in some quarters, track and field officials should be required to prove doping - beyond a shadow of a doubt – case by case, relying on incontrovertible evidence, prior to tampering with the record book. If the motion to delete records en masse is approved, legal challenges are inevitable. There is no proof that every record set before 2005 was aided by doping, just as there is no guarantee that every record achieved since then was unassisted by banned substances.

What if MLB decided to wipe out all baseball records between 1998, the year Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa engaged in their epic home run battle which resulted in both players breaking the single season record, and 2006, when the league and the Players Association instituted the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program? There’s no doubt that a number of players, perhaps a majority as Jose Canseco alleged in his book, were using banned substances during that period. But not every MLB player was juiced. Should their records be wiped off the books as well?

It may be unfair to athletes who played by the rules to allow tainted records to remain. But it’s also unethical to wipe out the records of those who played by the rules. The IAAF will vote on the European proposal in August. Here’s hoping they do the right thing and vote no.

Column: Sports Betting Is InevitableJune 15, 2017

Column: Sports Betting Is InevitableSports betting is coming to a place near you, perhaps sooner than you think. And that place may be as close as your hand.

Last month the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a draft of legislation designed to repeal the last vestiges of federal prohibitions on sports betting. If passed, the Gaming Accountability and Modernization Enhancement Act, or “GAME Act,” would give the Federal Trade Commission oversight authority to regulate sports gambling, including online gambling.

The GAME Act would repeal the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), the federal law that prohibits state-sponsored sports betting in all but four states - Delaware, Oregon, Nevada and Montana – which were grandfathered by PASPA.

In addition to PASPA, two other federal statutes, the Federal Wire Act and the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), deal with online sports betting. However, each of those statutes deals with the “business” aspects of online sports betting and do not target the individual bettor. Therefore, states – chief among them New Jersey – can and do allow residents to utilize the internet to place a sports bet without circumventing the provisions of UIGEA or the Wire Act.

Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., D-New Jersey, the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, is spearheading the GAME Act, which comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed New Jersey’s effort to eliminate the federal ban on sports gambling. The state has been attempting to bring legal, Las Vegas-style sports betting to its ailing casinos and racetracks for more than five years. New Jersey currently has a petition before the Supreme Court requesting review of a decision in a case that challenged PASPA. Other states, including Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, have introduced sports betting legislation this year in an effort to follow New Jersey’s lead.

Supporters of sports betting include the American Gaming Association (AGA), which represents the gambling industry. The organization is building a coalition to begin lobbying Congress to lift PASPA this year. AGA president and CEO Geoff Freeman has said "President Trump will have sports betting legislation on his desk during his term." However, the day before the GAME Act was unveiled, the United States Solicitor General's office filed a brief recommending that the Supreme Court decline to review the New Jersey case. The Court is expected to decide whether to accept the appeal by the end of June.

In a statement announcing the proposed legislation Pallone said, "Despite the federal gaming laws in place today, Americans are betting up to $400 billion a year on sporting events alone. It's time to recognize that the laws are outdated, and the GAME Act will modernize them by increasing transparency, integrity, and consumer protections."

Whether PASPA is overturned or not, two leagues will soon confront sports gambling head on. The NHL’s Las Vegas Golden Knights will begin play this fall and will be joined by the NFL’s Oakland Raiders in 2020 if construction on a $1.9 billion stadium is completed on time. Not only will bettors be able to place bets at casinos in Sin City, but fans attending the games will be able to legally place bets from their stadium seats using mobile phones, unless the leagues can persuade Nevada gaming officials to change existing policy. A conditional lease for the Raiders prohibits any “Gaming or Gambling” but does not block access to the mobile sports betting apps offered by the majority of Nevada’s regulated sportsbooks.

Gamblers have the ability to place legal sports bets in countries around the world and like it or not, sports betting in the U.S. is inevitable. There’s too much money involved - tax revenue for states and potential income to sports leagues and teams from their piece of the gambling pie - to ignore it any longer.

The only questions that remain are when it will happen, the revenue split to the parties, and what safeguards will be adopted as part of the authorization to bet on sports.

Column: Is The Cuban Influx In MLB Over?June 8, 2017

Column: Is The Cuban Influx In MLB Over?When Luis Robert, a 19-year old outfielder, signed a free agent contract with the Chicago White Sox last week he was touted in some circles as the last of a dying breed: A Cuban ballplayer signing for mega-bucks. That may or may not be true, but even if it is, don’t count on Robert being the last Cuban player signed by an MLB team.

MLB teams are perpetually in search of talent, the less expensive the better. Furthermore, the competition among clubs to sign the best players is fierce. No team wants to be looking up at 29 other teams in the standings or hearing from the media and their fans how the rest of the league is “smarter” than they are in evaluating talent. It’s because of that competition that over the past seven years teams have collectively guaranteed almost $800 million on mostly unproven Cuban players.

Chief among the big spenders are the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs and White Sox. The Dodgers alone have spent almost a quarter of that amount on the likes of Yasiel Puig, who may have been worth it, and Alex Guerrero and Erisbel Arruebarrena, who decidedly were not. The Red Sox lavished a $31.5 million bonus on Yoan Moncada, a 19-year old infielder who they flipped with other players to the White Sox last winter for starting pitcher Chris Sale. They weren’t as fortunate with the $72 million they lavished on outfielder Rusney Castillo, who has yet to distinguish himself in Triple A. In addition to spending $26 million on Robert, the White Sox gave Jose Abreu $68 million.

The bonuses to Moncada and Robert weren’t the only cash outlays required by the Red Sox and White Sox. Under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement, if an international player was under 23 years of age, MLB teams were allowed to exceed the amount they were allocated for international bonuses. However, doing so triggered a dollar-for-dollar penalty. That means Moncada actually cost the Red Sox $63 million and Robert will end up costing the White Sox $52 million because he was technically covered under the old CBA. Players older than 23 when they signed, like Abreu and Castillo, were not subject to the tax.

Once the international bonus cap was exceeded, teams were limited to a maximum of $300,000 per player for the next two years, which is why the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs and Dodgers were never in the running for Robert.

The new CBA, signed last year, imposed a ceiling on bonuses for international players under 25. In order to protect teams from themselves, they are no longer permitted to throw bonus money at free agents as if they are sitting at a card game – alternately raising the bid until only one team remains in the game. The league imposed a spending cap on international players – a maximum of $5.75 million per team, although teams are allowed to acquire an additional 75 percent of that figure via trades. Teams will now be able to spend a maximum of approximately $10 million on foreign players under 25. Few players, perhaps especially Cubans, will be willing to play at home for short money until they reach age 25.

The ideal situation for MLB teams is to include international players, including Cubans, in the June draft and combine the current draft bonus pool with the international bonus pool. However, the players’ union has yet to agree to such an arrangement. Unless they do, teams will continue to operate under two different systems, each with their own rules and bonus pools.

The influx of Cuban talent in MLB may slow, but it is far from over. On a baseball happy island, players will continue to develop and draw the attention of MLB teams, whose fascination with Cuban players is heightened due to their lack of competition against top-level competition. What’s in the past is the big money deals for players under the age of 25.

Column: Does MLB Have A Safety Issue?June 1, 2017

Column: Does MLB Have A Safety Issue?Major League Baseball may have a safety issue but contrary to what you’re probably thinking, this one isn’t due to the action on the field.

Much has been made over the recent spat of fan injuries resulting from foul balls and pieces of shattered bats flying into the stands. The most recent instance to garner headlines occurred on May 24 at Yankee Stadium during a game between the Yankees and Kansas City Royals. The Yankees’ Chris Carter broke his bat and the barrel flew into the stands, injuring a young boy sitting a few rows behind the third base dugout.

Two years ago MLB “urged,” but did not require, clubs to expand ballpark netting down each foul line a minimum of 70 feet from home plate. According to the league, all teams have complied with the recommendation and at least nine have extended the netting at least 20 feet further. The reasons why some teams are reluctant to extend netting beyond 70 feet, range from difficulties related to ballpark construction to fear that fans who want to snag a foul ball, and are willing to risk their safety to do so, will be turned off by the move.

If one lawmaker in New York City has his way, area ballparks may not have a choice in the matter. On May 8, Councilman Rafael L. Espinal Jr. of Brooklyn introduced legislation that would require ballparks with more than 5,000 seats to provide netting from home plate all the way down the left and right field lines to the foul poles. If passed, the bill would apply to the Yankees, Mets and their respective Class A Minor League affiliates on Staten Island and in Brooklyn. Currently, the netting at Yankee Stadium ends on the home plate side of the dugouts, which is why the young fan was injured on May 24.

While momentum seems to be building for additional ballpark netting, there’s another safety issue that may be even more controversial. A number of fans, 25 since 1969 according to an article in USA Today, have fallen to their deaths in MLB stadiums. That’s hardly an epidemic, considering the billions – literally – of fans who have attended MLB games in the past 48 years. But that’s small comfort to those who have lost a loved one as a result of injuries suffered in a ballpark fall.

The most recent death occurred as a result of a fall on May 16 when 42-year-old Rick Garrity tried to climb a railing on an upper deck ramp as he was exiting Wrigley Field in Chicago. Garrity suffered significant injuries in his fall and died the next day.

Garrity’s death and those that proceeded his have fostered a debate on the proper height of railings at MLB stadiums. Code requirements vary from one jurisdiction to another and also depend on the location within the facility. For example, minimum heights generally vary from 26 inches in seating areas to 42 inches in non-seating areas such as ramps. Furthermore, existing stadiums are generally “grandfathered,” meaning if they met the code minimums at the time they were constructed they are under no obligation to comply with higher standards contained in newer codes. Garrity fell over a 36- inch railing, which, although it met code requirements, is less than the 42-inch height recommended by a number of safety experts.

Could a higher railing have prevented Garrity’s death? The Cubs say no, but Garrity’s family and proponents of higher railings argue that it may have deterred him from engaging in risky behavior.
Autopsies determined that most of the victims of ballpark falls were legally intoxicated and others likely committed suicide. Should MLB be responsible for protecting fans from themselves, especially when it interferes with sightlines and inconveniences the majority of the league’s fans?

Where does the responsibility of individuals end and the obligation of institutions like MLB begin?
The reality is safety measures can always be improved, but at what cost?

Column: Baseball Justice Dumb and DumberMay 25, 2017

Column: Baseball Justice Dumb and DumberPardon me if we’ve been here before, but baseball beanball wars are dumb and, for emphasis, dumber.

As we’ve said before, pitching inside is a recognized and effective tactic that’s both legal and accepted. Hitters who crowd the plate or lean over it as they swing should expect to be pitched inside. But what took place in back-to-back series between the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles earlier this season is unacceptable.

In the eighth inning of a 2-0 win by Baltimore on April 21, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado slid aggressively into second base and spiked the Red Sox’ Dustin Pedroia. If Machado intended to injure Pedroia, you could have fooled everyone in the ballpark, save some of Pedroia’s teammates as it turns out. When Machado saw what he had done, he seemed genuinely concerned about Pedroia’s condition and immediately attempted to help him.

Common sense says that should have been the end of the incident. Baseball player plays hard, tries to break up a potential double play and makes contact with his opponent who is trying to turn said double play. But Pedroia had to leave the game as a result of his injury and would ultimately sit out three more games. After the game, in response to a question about whether Machado’s slide was legal (it clearly was), Pedroia said he wasn’t “the baseball police.” But the next night it was clear two of Pedroia’s teammates took it upon themselves to play judge, jury and executioner.

Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez threw three pitches in a row dangerously inside to Machado in an obvious attempt to hit him, missing with each one. Later in the game, reliever Matt Barnes decided to finish what Rodriguez couldn’t, and threw a fastball behind Machado’s head. Machado wasn’t the only one upset by Barnes’ actions. Pedroia, sitting out the game as a result of the previous night’s spiking, was seen in the dugout mouthing in Machado’s direction, “It wasn’t me. I know that and you know that.” After the game Pedroia said the situation was “mishandled” in reference to his teammates throwing at Machado and went on to say, “I love Manny Machado.”

Barnes was ejected and later suspended four games for his obvious headhunting. Once again that should have put an end to what began as a non-incident, but that isn’t the mindset of a baseball clubhouse. Orioles closer Zach Britton decided to anoint himself an expert on leadership. He took a potshot at Pedroia’s reputation as the leader of the Red Sox by saying, “If he can’t control his teammates, then there’s a bigger issue over there.” Oops!

Fortunately, Pedroia played the role of elder statesman superbly. Prior to the next series between the two clubs, he reached out to one of Britton’s teammates in an effort to deescalate the situation. It apparently worked as Britton stated publicly that the whole thing was “over with.” But not all of Britton’s teammates were listening. Orioles starter Dylan Bundy plunked Mookie Betts, after first missing him with an inside pitch, in a you-hit-our-best-guy, we’ll hit yours tit-for-tat.

The next night Boston starter Chris Sale sailed a pitch behind Machado. Shockingly, Sale wasn’t ejected nor was he suspended by the league. But MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred had seen enough. In an unprecedented move, he told both clubs on a conference call that enough was enough, claiming it was a matter of player safety.

Is this the end of the feud? Don’t count on it. Rivalries are usually good for a sport but when they morph into the sporting equivalent of the Hatfields and McCoys, no one wins - not the players, the fans, or the sport itself.

A baseball in the hand of a pitcher is a weapon that can injure, alter a career, and potentially maim. There’s enough crime to deal with on our streets. The least we can expect is the playing field will be reserved for competition, not combat.

Column: Do Taxes Affect Winning In Professional Sports?May 18, 2017

Column: Do Taxes Affect Winning In Professional Sports?
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
Attributed to many.

The phrase quoted above is often used to describe the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster a weak argument. Which brings us to Erik Hembre, Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Dr. Hembre grew up in the great state of Minnesota rooting for his favorite team, the NBA’s Timberwolves. The ‘Wolves entered the NBA in 1989 and since their inaugural season they have the worst record in the entire league. The ‘Wolves aren’t the only professional sports franchise in Minnesota without a championship. Neither the NHL Wild – or their predecessors, the Stars – nor the NFL Vikings have ever won their league title. The only exception is MLB’s Twins who won World Series titles in 1987 and 1991.

As an Assistant Professor, Dr. Hembre, like all junior members in academia, is required to conduct research in order to obtain tenure, the equivalent of lifetime employment. For one of his research projects Hembre concocted a theory that goes like this: His favorite team has never won a league title; Minnesota has one of the highest marginal tax rates in the country at 9.85 percent; ergo, the Timberwolves’ failure to win an NBA title is due to the high income tax rates assessed in Minnesota.

Then Hembre set out to prove his theory by - you guessed it - using statistics. He gathered data on the outcomes of every professional sports game over the past 40 years as well as data on state and local tax rates each team member faces. Then he attempted to compute how much taxes predict winning for each league in every year while attempting to control for other factors such as population, income, franchise age and weather.

If that all sounds confusing, it’s SOP – standard operating procedure - in the hallowed halls of academia. But as Shakespeare said in Hamlet, therein lies the rub. There are two types of research: The kind that will earn you tenure and the kind you can use. The former, by definition, is useless. Hembre’s results, that higher tax rates consistently predict worse team performance in not only the NBA but in every major league team sport - MLB, the NHL and the NFL – are not only unsupportable, they make no sense. And we don’t need statistics to prove it. A little common sense and a quick glance at the record books will suffice.

California has the highest marginal tax rate in the country at 13.3 percent. But that exorbitant rate didn’t prevent the Los Angeles Lakers from winning 11 NBA titles since 1968-69, the first year after they moved from – oops! – Minneapolis. Nor did it prevent the San Francisco Giants from winning three World Series in the past seven years; or the San Francisco 49ers from winning five Super Bowls since 1989. Not to be overlooked are other California professional sports teams – the Anaheim Ducks, San Diego Chargers, Oakland A’s and Raiders, Los Angeles Dodgers, Kings and Rams, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and Golden State Warriors - that have won league titles, in some cases, multiple titles.

Hembre ignores another fact: The law requires athletes to pay taxes in the state where their income is earned, not necessarily the state of their residence. Athletes on Minnesota teams pay tax on half their salary to foreign states, some with higher tax rates than Minnesota, some lower.
Here’s a novel theory: Winning has more to do with team ownership, management, coaching and talent than it does with lower tax rates.

As a card-carrying member of academia, I’m not here to bash a fellow academician. In fact, I’m not embarrassed to say that Dr. Hembre has probably forgotten more about statistics than I’ll ever know. What I do know is that statistics are no substitute for facts and common sense. In the absence of both, statistics become nothing but lies.

Column: MLB Franchise Values Continue To RiseMay 11, 2017

Column: MLB Franchise Values Continue To Rise “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
Mark Twain, 1897

For years, polls and pundits have suggested that baseball’s popularity – and economic vitality - is dwindling, especially when compared to football. Based on the most recent estimated MLB franchise values published by Forbes, nothing could be further from the truth.

Thirty years ago 23% of sports fans named baseball as their favorite sport, compared to 24% who chose football. According to the most recent Harris Poll published last year, football trumps baseball by 18 percentage points, 33 percent to 15 percent. However, the poll results only tell one story and the numbers are hardly a reflection of the financial state of MLB.

According to Forbes, the average value of an MLB franchise is $1.537 billion, up a whopping 19 percent from last year’s figure. The increase can be attributed to local television deals, higher profitability and the escalating value of Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM), the league’s internet and technology arm. While MLB’s average franchise value lags the NFL’s figure of $2.388 billion, it exceeds the NBA average of $1.355 billion and almost triples the average NHL franchise value of $517 million. Not bad for an allegedly dying sport.

Last year, the 30 MLB teams posted a record average operating profit of $34 million, up 52% from the 2015 season. One reason for the increased profitability is revenue increased more than twice as much as player payroll – 7.5 percent to 3.5 percent. Player costs constitute roughly half of a team’s total expenses. Based on Forbes’ estimates, five teams had operating losses in 2016 but that’s hardly grounds for concern. Each of those teams could finish in the black this year.

MLB’s overall revenue is expected to exceed $10 billion this year but still has room to grow, particularly on the local level. A number of teams will be negotiating new television deals and if recent agreements are any indication, the new rights fees will double the current payments. That’s good news for the entire sport, especially the high revenue clubs who may see a reduction in their revenue sharing bills.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) increased the luxury tax threshold, which will allow clubs to increase their Major League payroll before paying a tax on the amount above the base. Other changes in the CBA will protect teams from themselves by imposing limits on international signing bonuses.

MLBAM, owned equally by MLB’s 30 teams, is perhaps the biggest driver of the increased franchise value. The entity was formed in 2000 with a contribution of $2.5 million from each club, paid in over a period of three years. MLB sold a portion of their internet business to Disney, but what remains is now worth an estimated $15.5 billion says Forbes. That means MLBAM contributes approximately half-a-billion dollars in value to each MLB team.

Lest you wonder if MLB is still a good investment, the Miami Marlins have a deal in place to sell the franchise to a group headed by Derek Jeter and former Florida governor Jeb Bush for $1.3 billion dollars. Not a bad return on an original investment of $12 million in the Montreal Expos made by Marlins majority owner Jeffrey Loria. Significantly, Forbes recently valued the Marlins at $940 million, which means if the sale is consummated at the agreed upon price, it will be a 38 percent premium to Forbes’ estimated franchise value. That may seem high for a team that loses money – according to Forbes – but Jeter and Bush are way too smart to pay that price if they don’t expect to make a profit. Such undervaluation is typical of Forbes which undervalued the Red Sox and Dodgers in the past.

Baseball spends a lot of time defending itself from allegations of being too old, too slow, and too tradition bound. While baseball is not without its issues, perhaps it’s time to ignore the naysayers and recognize the financial health of the game.

Column: Dale Jr.'s Retirement A Huge Blow To NASCARMay 4, 2017

Column: Dale Jr.'s Retirement A Huge Blow To NASCARThe day after one member of the media opined that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was “stuck in neutral” in his comeback from concussions, the NASCAR icon suddenly announced his retirement, effective at the end of the season.

Last week’s stunning announcement was hardly the kind of news NASCAR needed. Junior will be the fourth top name to retire from the sport in the past three years – Jeff Gordon in 2015, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards last year, and now Earnhardt, Jr. The sport can hardly afford to lose such star power at this critical time. NASCAR is suffering from a double barrel of disappointing business news, experiencing declining attendance at the track and diminishing television ratings over the past three years. Losing Junior, a 14-time winner of the most popular driver award and two-time winner of the Daytona 500, has led to predictions of doom and gloom for the sport.

Such dire predictions are understandable. Earnhardt, Jr. is a third-generation driver. His father, Dale, Sr., won seven NASCAR championships, tied with Richard Petty for most all-time. His grandfather Ralph raced from 1955-66 and although he never won an official race in the top tier of the sport, he did have 16 top 10 finishes. Both were selected to NASCARS's list of 50 best drivers. And while Junior hasn’t come close to duplicating his father’s success, he is arguably the most popular driver in NASCAR history.

How much of Junior’s popularity is related to his father’s untimely death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 is the subject of conjecture. What isn’t speculative is that Junior has a down-home, everyman/woman demeanor that appeals to broad segments of NASCAR’s fan base. He comes across as approachable, polite, sometimes shy and always respectful – of the sport, other drivers and the fans. Junior Nation, as his legion of followers is known, returns that respect every time he takes the track. When he wins, as he has done 26 times in NASCAR’s top circuit, the roar from the crowd is deafening.

Those 26 wins don’t put Junior in the top-20 list of winningest drivers in NASCAR history, but no one has had a greater impact on the sport over the past 15 years. ESPN ranked Earnhardt, Jr. as the most famous auto racing driver in the world. Junior also topped all NASCAR drivers on MVPindex’s 2016 social media power rankings. He has more than 5.2 million followers across his three main social media platforms – Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Although Earnhardt, Jr. has gotten off to a slow start this year, he claims to be fully recovered from the effects of his second concussion in four years that sidelined him for the last 18 races of the 2016 season. A combination of equipment failures and bad luck on the track have him mired in 24th place in driver points entering the Richmond race, the ninth race of the season. His willingness to speak openly about the effects those concussions had on him – not only on his career, which was in jeopardy, but his life – captured the attention of the entire nation. That openness has done more for concussion awareness than any lawsuit could have accomplished.

In the short term, Earnhardt, Jr’s announcement could provide a boost for NASCAR. Fans who want one last glimpse of Junior in a race car could boost attendance at the track and also increase television ratings for the remainder of the season.

Despite his retirement from racing, Junior is unlikely to fade away from NASCAR entirely. He co-owns a team in the Xfinity Series, NASCAR’s second level, with his sister/ manager Kelley and his car owner, Rick Hendrick. Junior could also join the network of his choice in the television booth on race day.

Whatever the future holds for the 42-year old Earnhardt, Jr., he will continue to play an important role in the sport he has always called home and to which he has contributed so much.

Column: Muirfield Agrees To Admit Women MembersApril 27, 2017

Column: Muirfield Agrees To Admit Women MembersMuirfield Golf Club in Scotland, which has hosted 16 previous British Open Championships, recently voted to admit women for the first time in the club’s 273-year history.

It was the second time in the past 10 months that Muirfield’s members voted on the issue of female members. The prior vote failed to garner the necessary two-thirds majority, failing by a margin of 64 percent to 36 percent. Last month’s vote was supported by more than 80 percent of the members. Women had been allowed to play the course on certain days as guests of current members, similar to male non-members.

The final tally may have been based more on pragmatism and economics than a belief in equality of the sexes. After last year’s motion was defeated, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, which organizes the British Open Championship, announced that it would exclude Muirfield from consideration as a site for the tournament. That decision would have cost Muirfield money, prestige and media coverage.

Despite the outcome of this year’s vote, don’t hold your breath waiting for the first female member to be approved. Although the change takes effect immediately, it could be two years and perhaps longer before a woman becomes a member. There is a long waiting list for membership and potential members must be proposed by current ones, which means those opposed to the admission of women will have another opportunity to voice their disapproval.

Muirfield became the fourth golf club in the past two years to change their membership rules in order to remain in the rotation to host the British Open. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews was the first to open its membership to women in 2014. Royal St. George’s Golf Club followed suit in 2015 and last year, Royal Troon Golf Club agreed to end its male-only policy. After the Muirfield vote the Royal and Ancient Golf Club announced that the Club would again be included in the rotation for the British Open. However, because sites are announced years in advance, the first chance for Muirfield to host the tournament is in 2022.

If co-ed golf clubs is your definition of progress on equal rights, count me as nonplussed. I don’t play golf, never have and hope I never do. To paraphrase a quote erroneously attributed to Mark Twain, I tend to view playing golf as a good walk spoiled. However, my golf-playing friends, male and female, feel otherwise. But they view the game differently. My male friends tend to take the game seriously, regardless of their ability, unlike my female friends most of whom view golf as a social activity or merely as physical exercise. And the overwhelming majority of both sexes prefer to play golf in the company of their gender, with the exception of spouses. If either sex prefers to play with their own gender, who am I to pass judgment on that decision?

It’s difficult to get a firm count of the male-only golf clubs in the U.S. but the number is less than two dozen. However, single gender golf clubs aren’t limited to the male sex. The British Isles are populated with numerous golf clubs that exclude male members. There are also women-only golf clubs in the U.S. and Canada. If women prefer to play golf exclusively with members of their own gender, is that discrimination? How about book clubs, motorcycle clubs, gyms or any other single-sex (male or female) private association of members – is that discrimination?

The oft heard argument that women should not be excluded from private golf clubs because it denies them access to power is a fable debunked long ago. Research confirms that men primarily talk about golf on the golf course, not business.

There is real discrimination between the sexes - in Title IX enforcement, job and pay equality, and a whole host of other areas - that begs attention. The goal of eliminating single-sex golf clubs is much ado about nothing.

Column: NFL Concussion Case Shows Lawyers At Their WorstApril 20, 2017

Column: NFL Concussion Case Shows Lawyers At Their Worst “This case has done nothing but show lawyers at their worst"
Attorney Jason Luckasevic

Even on their good days attorneys have been known to act, well, not so good. Luckasevic had to be upset to utter such a strong indictment of the legal profession.

Luckasevic was referring to the actions of attorneys who are involved in the NFL concussion case, a class action lawsuit that was settled, sort of, in August of 2013. However, none of the plaintiffs in the suit, which was really a combination of hundreds of lawsuits, have yet to see a dime from the settlement and it may be years before they do.

Initially, Judge Anita Brody who is overseeing the case had a number of concerns with the settlement. Those concerns were finally resolved earlier this year although Brody has retained jurisdiction over the case, which is not unusual in class action lawsuits. Now the plaintiffs and their families are facing additional hurdles raised by attorneys who are seeking a share of a $112.5 million legal fund created by the NFL; lawyers attempting to poach clients from fellow attorneys; and attorneys threatening to sue their own clients to insure they receive their retainer fees - upwards of 40 percent of the amount recovered – in addition to their portion of the legal fund. The first lawsuit against the NFL for brain injuries stemming from playing football was filed by Luckasevic and two other attorneys in 2011, meaning the case has been in the court system for eight years. Hundreds of lawsuits brought by thousands of former players and their families soon followed. After years of public denials by the NFL, motions and cross motions filed by both parties, and the discovery of documents that suggested the NFL may have hidden medical information from the players, the parties agreed to a billion dollar settlement. The money was intended to compensate former players and the families of deceased players for a range of injuries stemming from concussions suffered during their playing days.

Players who suffered the most debilitating injuries – ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or other severe cognitive impairment – could receive awards up to $5 million each; families of players who were diagnosed with CTE after their deaths are eligible to receive up to $4 million; and payments to players suffering from dementia are capped at $3 million. The settlement also set aside money for medical exams and research.

The settlement was controversial from the day it was announced. Critics were concerned that the amount was insufficient to cover all the damage the game had done to former players. Others were displeased that the NFL was not required to admit complicity in hiding medical information that tied concussions to the players’ neurological issues. Furthermore, multiple significant awards – in the $3-5 million range – would prevent the fund from compensating all the affected players.

In addition to the amounts former players and their families were entitled to the NFL agreed to contribute $112.5 million towards players’ legal fees. The fund has proven to be confusing and the subject of disagreement. Many plaintiffs were under the impression it would cover all their attorney fees. However, a majority of the plaintiffs previously signed contingent fee agreements – typical in such lawsuits - which entitles their attorneys to a 25-40 percent cut of any amount they recover. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to figure out that 40 percent of any amount leaves only 60 percent for the intended recipient. Couple that with the fact a number of attorneys will be double-dipping as recipients of contingent fees and payments from the legal fund, and it’s safe to say the legal profession has had better days.

The legal system was designed in part to protect the little guys from the big guys – those who are better financed and better lawyered. But in this case Luckasevic is right: The only thing certain about the NFL concussion suit is that it shows lawyers at their worst.

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