Archive for Legal Concerns

LEGAL CONCERNS: Can A HS Basketball Coach Be a Legal Guardian to Six of His Players?

This very unsettling story centering on Eastside HS boys basketball in Paterson NJ is just hard to believe.

But then again, perhaps in this day and age of amateur sports going off the tracks, maybe it isn’t.

That is, where there’s such pressure — and such a desire — to find and to develop top basketball prospects, perhaps what’s been happening at Eastside HS was inevitable. Even worse, chances are this kind of situation is not just happening in that school, but it’s probably happening all over the country.

Here are the very simple details. Eastside HS is currently 14-2, and is ranked 17th in New Jersey. It’s considered one of the premier powerhouse programs, and is in line for a top seeding for this year’s playoffs.

But according to some extraordinary reporting this past week from Matt Stanmyre and his colleague Steve Politi at Advanced Media.com, it turns out that the head coach at Eastside High – Juan Griles – has as many as 5 to 6 players living with him in his condo. Three of the players are from Puerto Rico….two or three are originally from Nigeria, including a kid who is a 7-footer. Griles says that he is legal guardian for several of the players, but so far has not produced any legal paperwork to document that.

And apparently all of these players, including Griles, live together in Griles’ relatively small 2-bedroom apartment. The kids attend Eastside, and play basketball on the varsity team.

DOES THIS SOUND EITHER RIGHT…OR FAIR?

If all of this is true, then this of course flies in the face of just about every possible sense of fairness that you can muster in HS basketball – especially public HS basketball.  We have become accustomed to private and parochial schools bringing kids in from all over the US, and from foreign countries. That’s routine. The students usually live with a host family, or in a dorm on the school’s campus. And their tuition, room, and board is paid either by their families or by the school.

But with public school, that’s a little different. Public schools depend on taxpayers to pay the bills, and obviously, it’s unusual to say the least that 6 kids from out of town are going to school and playing on the basketball team when their parents are not paying taxes for their education. In my mind, that’s probably where this investigation is going to start.

And of course, Coach Griles or his assistant Alberto Maldonado have to come up with some convincing evidence as to how they became legal guardians of these kids. In addition, who is paying for these kids’ food, health bills, clothing, and so on? And what role, if any, do their real parents have in all of this?

Matt Stanmyre was my guest on WFAN this AM, and the calls came quickly. Lots of listeners had real concerns about all of this, including how could this happen, who in the administration department at Eastside HS could allow this, what about all the other home-grown kids in the school who were displaced by these “imports” and so on. Most of all, callers were outraged by this blatant attempt to win at all costs.

Curiously, no one from Paterson, NJ called in. Perhaps they were too embarrassed by what has transpired, or perhaps this is something they have become accustomed to. Either way, it just seems – at least on the surface – to be outrageous. It’s as though the HS coach was recruiting top players from Puerto Rico and Africa to play on the local HS basketball team.

This investigation is going to continue over the next couple of weeks, so I’ll be eager for more details. The NJ HS playoffs don’t begin until the end of February. But in the interim, there are going to be lots and lots of questions.

Meanwhile, who are the real victims? To me, the real losers are going to be the 5-6 kids who were living with the coach. I’m sure the NJ HS Athletic Assn. will immediately ban them from playing any more games, and it will be curious if they will be suspended from school as well. Where do they live then? And what happens to their basketball dreams?

All in all, a real lose-lose for everyone involved.

 

LEGAL CONCERNS: Why are Artificial Turf Fields Falling Apart So Quickly?

Over the last couple of weeks, Matt Stanmyre and his colleague Chris Baxter of NJAdvanceMedia (NJ.com) unleashed a series of investigative columns examining why so many hundreds of HS, college, and local park and rec fields — all covered with beautiful lush green artificial turf – is seemingly falling apart within a year or two of being installed.

According to Matt  who was a guest on my show this AM —  FieldTurf, which is the company that sold the turf to hundreds of school districts all over the country, had originally made it clear to its clients that this “was the best stuff one could buy, that it should last at least 8-10 years, and more likely a lot longer than that.”

Problem is, in many, many cases, the strands of fake grass in the turf are fraying and unraveling within only a year or two of use. The turf is literally falling apart. And since these fields cost anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000, school districts are up in arms about this alarming development.

FieldTurf, which apparently, is the leading company in this industry, is already facing lawsuits from schools from as far away as California, and Matt mentioned on the show that the Newark (NJ) school district has started a class action suit because of the faulty fields. In its defense, FieldTurf says that a few years ago, when they became aware of this growing problem, they sued their supplier of the turf material, called Duraspine, and that the supplier and FieldTurf reached an out of court settlement because of the shoddy material.

But noted Matt, there is allegedly some strong evidence that FieldTurf continued to sell its Duraspine fields to schools without even acknowledging that there had been a problem with the composition of the fields. That practice apparently has now caught the eye of key legislators in NJ who want to do a more thorough investigation and find out more about what’s going on with FieldTurf’s business practices and promises to its customers.

One caller this AM, Jim Madden, a councilman from New Providence, NJ, disagreed with all of this, and claimed that he and his community had been very satisfied with FieldTurf and that the turf had been long-lasting and there were no problems at all. But that call was clearly in the minority. As Matt and Chris’ research showed, there are numerous instances where these fields are just not living up to expectations in a very short period of time.

THE TELLTALE SIGNS

So what can you to investigate your son or daughter’s field? First, be aware that even though it looks fresh and lush from a distance, be sure to go down and actually inspect the turf up close. For those fields that have defective turf, you will note that your shoes or sneakers will be picking up blades of grass — just as though as you were walking through a yard of freshly-mowed grass. Needless to say, with an artificial turf field, that shouldn’t happen.

And note on the turf fields where there are lines that are painted in red, brown, white, or other colors. It’s been noted that the premature wear-and-tear of the field happens on the painted lines at an accelerated pace.

According to Matt, the general response to the series of articles has been astounding. If you like to read them, simply go to NJ.com/FieldTurf, or check out the links below.

Sweeping calls to hold FieldTurf accountable:

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2016/12/lawmakers_call_for_investigation_class-action_laws.html#incart_river_home

Newark schools file class-action lawsuit:

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2016/12/newark_schools_file_class-action_lawsuit_against_f.html#incart_river_home

School boards coordinate legal effort:

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2016/12/nj_schools_to_coordinate_legal_action_against_fiel.html

LEGAL CONCERNS: It’s Time to Review the HS Transfer Rules

If you happened to have heard last Sunday’s show or heard the podcast on WFAN.com, you will recall that we were talking about a most unusual situation in NJ regarding the Wayne Hills HS football team.

The team ended their regular season with a record of 8-1 and seeded number one in their regional playoffs.

But then less than two weeks ago, the team was suddenly informed by the NJSIAA, the state’s athletic governing body, that there was some sort of residency violation involving involving three brothers on the Wayne Hills team. The three kids happen to be stars on the Wayne Hills team. Even more astounding was that the tip came from the superintendent of the Wayne Hills school district.

Sure enough, within a matter of hours, the Wayne Hills team was suspended and forced to sacrifice all of its wins this year due to the infraction. And of course, no playoffs. In effect, Wayne Hills was done for this season.

The team and the parents of the kids on the football were understandably outraged. they protested, got a lawyer, and appealed to the NJ Commissioner of Education, who agreed that the family in question hadn’t been given due process to prove their case that the three brothers were legit, e.g that they were living legally within the school district. In short, the Wayne Hills football program got a temporary break. But they had to go through a formal decision process.

But it was until late Tuesday of this past week when that final hearing was heard and the Wayne Hills football was fully reinstated and allowed to go back and play football in the playoffs. You can just imagine the sense of relief for everybody in that school: the superintendent (who, by the way, was obliged to report any perceived rules violations, the athletic director, principal, coaches, and so on).

According to Patrick Lanni of NJ.com, who was covering this case, the key evidence turned on the fact the three brothers have been living in a one-bedroom apartment with their father for the last two years. It’s a rented apartment within the school district, and they had the paperwork to show that rent had been paid. And although it sounds more than a little cramped with four guys living in a one-bedroom, it was ruled to be legitimate.

No question this was a major hassle for everyone involved. But let’s take a step back. There was a time when HS students transferred because their entire family moved to a different town or locale. And the kids in the family enrolled in the local school. Or perhaps a family enrolled a child in a private or parochial because they wanted a different kind of education for their kid.

But let’s be candid. These days, I would venture that most of the transfers that occur are done by kids (with the full support of their parents) to find a better opportunity in order to showcase their athletic skills. In short, it’s less about the education and more about the athletic opportunities. Even worse, state governing bodies just don’t have the manpower to keep track of all these kids, many of whom not only transfer once but two or three times in their HS career.

ENOUGH ALREADY!

The time has come to sit down and to review and rewrite the transfer rules. In preparing for my show this week, I checked on the rules in California and Florida. Trust me, the rule books are incredibly opaque and difficult to read. And there are plenty of exceptions to each rule.

So here’s what I suggest we do:

Go back and rewrite the transfer rules so that anyone can understand them.

Sounds obvious, but in most states, you need a law degree to figure these rules out.

Put the responsibility on the school districts to check on all the athletes on their teams and make sure they are all legit. 

You can’t expect the state’s governing body to check on each and every transfer. But the school should. That would include the coaching staff, the guidance department, and the athletic department. Make the effort to make sure each kid is actually living full-time in the district. If you don’t, then you bear the full responsibility.

Put real teeth into punishing the kid’s parents. 

No HS kid is going to transfer into another school without his or her parents’ support. If it appears that the parent is simply trying to advance their kid’s athletic career AND the parent is working through loopholes with a transfer, punish the parent! Levy a major fine or consider some other kind of serious penalty. Remember, if their kid is caught in a lie, then the entire team is reprimanded harshly. Let that hard punishment start with the parent.

Is this easy?

No, of course not. But as more and more sports parents try and position their kid for a college scholarship by changing HS via a transfer, it’s time to cut through all the clutter and make the system functional and fair for everyone.

LEGAL CONCERNS: Residency Rules in School Districts Need to be Crystal Clear

What in the world is going on with the Wayne Hills HS football program over in NJ?

For those of you in NJ who already follow HS football, chances are you already know the story. But for everyone else, let me see if I can summarize this briefly.

The Wayne Hills football team — which is a large high school and a perennial powerhouse in the state – finished their regular season with a record of 8-1, and were seeded number one in their New Jersey HS playoff bracket in North 1, Group 4.

Three of their better players happen to be brothers – the Hayak brothers – and they had transferred from St. Joe’s to Wayne Hills in the fall of 2015 – over a year ago. They claim that they filed the appropriate residency paperwork with the school district before they played for Wayne Hills last year. That’s what you’re supposed to do when transferring, and the three boys did in fact play.

Fast forward to this season. Wayne Hills goes 8-1, and the three brothers are an integral part of the team’s success.

But earlier this week, an investigation by the NJ Scholastic Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), based on a tip that came from the Wayne Hills school superintendent, it was concluded by the NJSIAA that these kids had violated the residency rules and were immediately ruled ineligible.  You should know that in NJ, the superintendent is obliged to report any suspected wrongdoing to the NJSIAA, which is what the superintendent did.

You should also know that the superintendent also overseas Wayne Valley in HS in the same town, and Wayne Valley and Wayne Hills are bitter rivals. As one caller suggested this AM, there are strong rumors that somebody from Wayne Valley blew the whistle on the three Wayne Hills players.

Regardless, the NJSIAA edict had an immediate and devastating impact. Because the three football players were ruled to be ineligible, that meant all the victories this year were now thrown out and the entire season was to be forfeited. And of course, with no wins, there are no playoffs.

Outraged, the parents of the Wayne Hills football team challenged this ruling through legal action, and on Thursday, just a couple of days after their season had been forfeited, the ruling was overturned by the Commissioner of Education in NJ.

Why? The Commissioner of Education in NJ said that the kids and their family weren’t given enough of an opportunity to make their case — in effect, there was a lack of due process here, and thus the forfeits were suspended – at least temporarily.

As a result, Wayne Hills returns to playing football, plays its first playoff game on Nov. 19th assuming that this new ruling isn’t overturned in the next week or so. That final ruling will be handed down this coming Tuesday, once the Hayak family has a chance to show their residency paperwork.

As you might imagine, there is lots and lots of emotion on this unusual case. Video shows angry parents yelling and screaming at school officials. And of course, those parents feel vindicated that they got the initial ruling overturned.

But still, we’ll have to wait and see what happens next.

As Patrick Lanni, sports writer for NJ.com said on my show this AM, there are all sorts of other impacts this mess with Wayne Hills is having. For one, all the other HS teams in the playoffs have had to immediately do a re-set on their game preparation because the teams they thought they were playing have now all changed. And that could all change again depending what happens this coming week when a final decision is handed down.

SOME QUESTIONS REMAIN

Every state has its own rules and regulations regarding athletes who transfer. But in the sports hot bed of NJ, in my opinion, there tend to be all sorts of questions and loopholes, and questions remain:

Why not make the residency rules as tight as possible, so that athletes are less tempted to make a move.

There needs to an effective way in which to check on these athletes to make sure they are, in fact, living legally within the school district.

There needs clarification on rules regarding kids living with a divorced parent in town….or if they are living in town with a member of an extended family, such as an uncle….or a legal guardian…or whether the kid is living in a rented apartment so he or she can attend that school.

And in this case, why is this challenge to these three brothers being brought up now? The facts are clear they have been in Wayne Hills all of this year and last year as well, and nobody protested. Shouldn’t there be some sort of statute of limitations on this?

In any event, theoretically, all of this will be resolved this coming Tuesday afternoon. Stay tuned….we live in interesting times.

 

LEGAL CONCERNS: Athletes from Outside the School District Pay Tuition Fees to Transfer in and Play Right Away: And It’s All Legal

I have covered a lot of unusual developments in amateur sports over the years, but this one really made me sit back and think.

Suppose I told you that in the state of NJ, there are a bunch of talented HS basketball players who decided to transfer from their current HS to a different school district, then enroll in that school, and then play on the basketball team right away.

Sound inviting? All you need to do is pay that new school district’s individual student’s tuition fee – a fee which is routinely thousands of dollars less expensive than a comparable parochial or private school in that area of NJ.

Heck, some public high schools in NJ which have terrific academics and athletics, who I guess are looking for more students, even advertise this opportunity on their website!

Let me be more specific.

Point Beach HS in central NJ is a very small public HS with only 400 kids in the entire HS. Yet over the last few years, their boys’ basketball team has produced numerous Div I players….big kids who are 6’7, 6’8, 6’9  or so. So you must be thinking, “Wow, they must have great drinking water in Point Beach to produce basketball players who are so tall and talented.”

But the truth is, the star basketball players at Point Beach don’t necessarily live there. Many of them reside elsewhere, but their parents pay an annual tuition fee of $7,700 a year so that their son can go to Point Beach HS and play on the boys’ basketball team.

In recent years, Point Beach basketball has suddenly become a launching pad for Division I players. Kids have gone to ND, Iowa, Rhode Island, Florida Atlantic, and so on. Only one of those Div I players actually grew up in town in Point Beach. The rest are all imports.

What about the local kids who DO live in that school district and who have grown up hoping to play for the HS varsity team? Well, the harsh reality is that most of them get to HS and then realize that they have no chance of getting much playing time on the varsity team.

The long-time parents in the town are understandably outraged; after all, their kids’ dreams of playing HS hoops are crushed by these out-of-towners. But here’s the kicker: this is all perfectly legal.

HOW CAN THIS BE LEGAL?

Suppose this happened to your son or daughter in your local HS? They work hard and finally get a chance to try out for the varsity team, only to see on the first day a bunch of new kids who are bigger and stronger and who are also trying out? The head coach knows that at the varsity level, it’s about winning. And so, he goes with the best players, even if they are new to the school district. Case closed.

As some of my callers said this AM, “There are no guarantees in HS sports. Just because you think you have a good shot at being a starter, there’s no guarantee of that – especially if some new kids enroll.”

Matt Stanmyre is a sports writer with NJ Advance Media and NJ.com broke this story a couple of weeks, and the response have been strong. Some commiserate with the local kids and their parents, and voice outrage about these kids coming into school. Others say that’s just another example of how youth sports and priorities have changed in recent years.

Others wonder how in the world these Div-I prospects end up at such a small HS.Rumors swirl as to whether Nick Catania, the talented head coach at Point Beach, is recruiting these top athletes on the sly. According to sportswriter Stanmyre, Catania vehemently denies all of this, and says these players simply find him and that the small school — which has top academics — suits their needs. Regardless, there is no evidence that Coach Catania is recruiting. But clearly the word has gotten out.

SO WHAT’S THE COST?

To attend Point Beach HS as an out of district student, the annual tuition is $7,700. That’s still a lot of cash, but it’s a lot less than going to a top parochial school in NJ where the tuition is $16,000 a year. And private schools can run $30,000 or more a year.

Furthermore, Point Beach is not the public school that allows this. There are others,  good ones like Northern Highlands HS in northern NJ, where the application form to enroll is on the school’s website. The tuition fee at Northern Highlands runs about $13,400 a year.

Matt also told me there’s a public HS called Eastern Regional HS in southern NJ which is renowned for its field hockey program. Apparently, top HS field hockey players routinely enroll there as tuition transfers to play there.

I wonder how the other field hockey coaches who compete against Eastern Regional feel about a perennial powerhouse which basically allows top players to go to school there from anywhere in the state.

From the brief research that I have done, apparently it’s up to the individual school district to decide whether they want to allow HS students to transfer in by paying tuition. I know in New York State, where I live, some top high schools like Horace Greeley HS in Chappaqua and Bryam Hills in Armonk don’t allow transfers. Other schools, I have heard, do allow transfer athletes.

But if the school board decides not to allow this, then the issue becomes moot.

BUT WHAT ABOUT FLORIDA?

Meanwhile, there is legislation under way in the Sunshine State that goes one step further. A law is being proposed there that any HS student in Florida can attend any Florida HS he or she wants….and doesn’t have to pay a tuition fee. Plus you can play on the HS sport team right away.

Florida HS coaches are outraged. They see this move as bringing a sense of free agency to HS kids. That is, talented athletes will be tempted to jump to another high school for any number of reasons: better coaching, better facilities, better conduit to college coaches, and who knows, maybe some extra perks under the table.

Sounds hard to believe, but this is being considered in Florida as I write this. Such a move just sounds it could backfire in a big, big way.

LEGAL CONCERNS: Making Our Playing Fields Level for ALL Athletes

When Game Officials Overlook Youth Leaguers’ Cultural, Ethnic, or Religious Identities

 By Doug Abrams

When the Flagstaff (Ariz.) High School Eagles girls basketball team faced Greenway High School earlier this month, the Eagles wore their hair in traditional Navajo buns during pregame warmup. Flagstaff is near the Navajo reservation, a sizeable percentage of the student body are from the tribe, and the girls wore the buns to honor their heritage. Before tipoff, the referee prohibited the buns as a potential safety hazard because they were done with yarn. The girls complied and removed them.

Reuters reported that Flagstaff’s principal was “livid” at the referee’s decision, and that the Navajo Nation’s president called it “blatant discrimination.” The Arizona Interscholastic Association, which administers the state’s high school sports, said that the referee had applied the rules in good faith without intending an insult. But the Association apologized and announced that players may wear Navajo buns in future games. The Association has promised to continue exploring issues related to cultural sensitivity.

We have been down this road before. First a game official decides that a youth player, coach, or team may not participate while wearing a cultural, ethnic, or religious symbol, or while speaking a language other than English. Without suggesting that anyone had ever played dirty, the official cites player safety or competitive parity. When the referee’s decision becomes public, the league or the sport’s national or local governing body rescinds the decision and apologizes.

Consider these prior incidents:

Lakeville, Massachusetts (2005)  

In the third inning of a Little League semifinal state tournament game, a Methuen (Mass.) assistant coach instructed his 14-year-old pitcher in Spanish to try to pick off a runner at second base.  The press reported that Methuen’s pitcher and catcher did not speak English fluently.

The umpire stopped the game, instructed the assistant coach to speak only English, and threatened to eject any player or coach he heard speaking Spanish. Methuen’s manager called the umpire’s instruction “sickening,” but he continued the game when the tournament director on the scene backed the umpire.

“It appears,” a Little League spokesman told the Associated Press afterwards, that “the umpire was concerned that the coach or manager may have been using a language other than English . . . to communicate potentially ‘illegal’ instructions to his players.” The umpire reportedly also thought that speaking a foreign language might give Methuen an unfair advantage.

Little League International, whose rule book comes in both English and Spanish, distanced itself from the umpire’s decision and instructed state officials to remove him from further games in the state tournament.

Cooper City, Florida (2012)

 Two referees ejected a volunteer youth soccer coach from a game for instructing some of his 14-18-year-old players in Spanish. The coach had refused to heed the refs’ instructions to speak only English.  The ejected coach later said that various referees had also tried to discourage players from speaking Spanish to one another during games. As in Lakeville a few years earlier, league officials disavowed any English-only rule within a few days.

Aurora, Colorado (2014)

The Overland High School Trailblazers opened their girls varsity soccer season short one player. The referees sidelined the Muslim player with a pre-game ruling that her hijab, a headscarf worn by Muslim women as a sign of modesty and devotion, created a “danger.”

Trailblazer coaches and teammates, and other voices on social media, criticized the ruling, and the Trailblazers stood with their sidelined teammate. Most were not Muslims, but all sent a powerful message by wearing hijabs in their next game two days later. The referees let them play, and no injuries were reported.

Central to American Life

I do not know the motives of the officials in Flagstaff or in any of the earlier games reported here. Game officials have a tough job and may deserve the benefit of the doubt in some cases, but reason remains for suspicion that prejudice may sometime play a role in expressed concerns for safety or competitive parity. It seems more than an uncomfortable coincidence that in matters of conscience or respect, reports of youth leaguers regulated by officials tend to involve members of cultural, ethnic, or religious minorities who seem “different.”

Incidents such as the ones described here should remind us that sports provides valuable opportunities for youngsters of various backgrounds to participate in mainstream national culture. Because sports remains central to American life, the impulse to include, rather than exclude, children marks youth leagues at their finest.

Seeking to induce children to disavow their heritage or religion, or to speak a language they have not yet mastered, serves no worthwhile purpose because arbitrarily excluding children from wholesome activities serves no worthwhile purpose. When youngsters from diverse cultures play hard and clean and contribute to the team, sports programs serve the community best by displaying tolerance and respect for individual differences. Tolerance includes rules applications that demonstrate respect without conferring competitive advantage or otherwise changing the essential character of the game or competition.

Youth sports incidents such as the one that arose earlier this month in Flagstaff may not happen often, but they happen. If these incidents have a silver lining, it is that suspected prejudice exposed to public view usually does not withstand the light of day.

These incidents suggest the wisdom of proactive measures. To the extent possible, league rules should address reasonably foreseeable sensitive issues that are likely to have particular impact on cultural, ethnic, or religious minorities. The Arizona Interscholastic Association promises to promises to pay closer attention to sensitivity issues, as it should. So should other leagues and governing bodies nationwide.

These issues are not always predictable. Referee certification classes and clinics, which generally are already required, should discuss tolerance and respect with game officials who will administer largely discretionary standards such as safety and competitive parity. Avoidable embarrassment, even followed by apology, serves no one in youth sports well.

 

Sources: Reuters, Arizona Basketball Team Wins Reversal of Navajo Hair Bun Ban, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-arizona-navajo-hairbuns-idUSKCN0VE2MM  (Feb. 5, 2016); Aurelio Moreno, Coach Speaks Spanish, Is Tossed: Cooper City Soccer League Says It Has No Such Rule, Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Dec. 21, 2012;  Assoc. Press, Ump Bans Mass. Team From Speaking Spanish, USA Today, July 29, 2005; Mark Zeigler, Ump Out – Told Massachusetts Little Leaguers: English Only, San Diego Union-Tribune, July 30, 2005; Douglas E. Abrams, Youth Sports Heroes of the Month: Overland High School (Aurora, Colo.) Girls Soccer Team,

http://www.momsteam.com/blog/douglas-abrams-jd/youth-sports-heroes-month-overland-high-school-aurora-colo-girls-soccer-team#ixzz3zbryfsVa (Mar. 31, 2014).

LEGAL CONCERNS: Are We Witnessing the End of Pop Warner Football?

Pop Warner Football has been an American tradition since at least the early 1950’s. Literally millions of kids and several generations of young athletes have learned how to play and enjoy tackle football from playing Pop Warner ball.

But as the scene shifts these days in sports, we may see the end of Pop Warner football soon. Let me explain why.

In 2011, a 13-year-old Pop Warner football player attempted to make a tackle, and he tried to do so by leading with his helmet. Sadly, the boy broke his neck on the play, and he’s now a quadriplegic.  A major lawsuit ensued, brought by the injured boy’s family against Pop Warner. As you might imagine, his medical bills for the rest of his life are going to be astronomical.

The thrust of the lawsuit is that the Pop Warner youth coaches really weren’t trained as to how to teach proper tackling techniques to younger kids. Or as was revealed in this case, the youth coaches hadn’t been paying attention to the coaching videotapes that Pop Warner provides. And that, of course, is most discouraging, to say the least.

Remember that most Pop Warner coaches do something entirely else for a living than coach kids in sports. That being said, it’s fully expected that the coaches will view the training tapes and other coaching materials so that the coaches can teach kids the basics and fundamentals of how to play the game. In this case, it was admitted that the coaches had not done their homework.

HOW MANY LAWSUITS?

Even worse, it turns out that the Pop Warner organization only carries $ 2 million in insurance liability coverage. The boy’s medical bills are going to start around $10 million and will go up. That’s not good news for Pop Warner and its insurance carrier. Yes, they may settle out of court with this young man, but this kind of financial stress is not going to bode well for the long-time football organization. Pop Warner also is looking at a lawsuit from the family of a deceased 25-year-old who killed himself. His family is claiming that the boy became seriously depressed from suffering too many concussions when he played Pop Warner ball. An autopsy revealed a good deal of CTE in the man’s brain.

In addition, as enrollment in youth football has declined suddenly in recent years, it turns out that Pop Warner as an organization has been losing money.  That’s not good news either.

What will happen to Pop Warner? It’s still too early to say. But bear in mind that this an outfit that has simply tried to bring fun into the lives of millions of young football players, and of course, the organization is not about generating profit. Yes, of course, these individuals who have brought suit against Pop Warner have every right to do so.

But as our society continues to be increasingly litigious, it’s just a matter of time before more and more lawsuits are filed against other youth sports organizations. And that could spell the end of these “for fun” operations.

 

 

 

 

LEGAL CONCERNS: Should A College Football Player With A Liver Transplant Be Allowed to Play Again?

How badly does your kid want to play football?

I mean, would want your son want to truly risk his life to play the sport he loves?

And no….I’m not talking about suffering a concussion and the aftermath from repeated concussions.

I’m talking about a most unusual case of a Towson University football player named Gavin Class who almost died in August, 2013, during a fall practice session. He suffered a serious case of heat stroke and ruined his liver.

Class collapsed on the field, his body temperature rose to a stunning 108 degrees, and to save his life, he had to undergo 14 surgeries, including a full liver transplant.

And yet, not only has Gavin gotten better over the subsequent months, he is now dead set on playing college football again.

Perhaps “dead” set is a poor choice of words.

In any event, he’s ready to play football again this fall — except that Towson University stepped in and said no – I’m sorry – but you can’t play. Playing Division I football is just too dangerous for your health.

But here’s where the case becomes different….

A Case of Medical Disability Discimination

Class, who is listed as 6-4, 255 pounds and who has lost 60 pounds from a couple of years ago, ended up suing Towson saying that he’s being discriminated against because of his medical disability – remember, he’s had a liver transplant when he collapsed two years ago, and that qualifies as a medical disability.

This past week, a US District Judge in Maryland agreed with the young football player, and said yes, that the university had discriminated against him. The federal judge ruled that Class could indeed join the team and enter into the hot August practices.

All this being said, the court did allow the school to file an appeal in the next few days, and Towson has said that it will definitely do that.

Bear in mind that Class has to follow some strenuous medical precautions in order to play and to stay safe, including having to wear high-tech protective abdominal padding to protect his liver, and before each practice and game, he has to swallow a “thermometer pill” in order to allow a trainer to wave a hand-held monitor over his stomach for three to five seconds every 5-10 minutes to check on his body temperature.

The kid and his family have to pay for these extra medical precautions, and that’s okay with them. Overall, the judge ruled that according to the medical evidence presented to him in the case, Class would be okay to play with no fear of heatstroke.

During the trial, Class relied heavily on the testimony from medical doctors and experts from the Korey Stringer Institute. As you may recall, Korey Stringer was a star lineman for the Minnesota Vikings before suffering heat stroke and dying. This Institute, named in his honor, focuses on all issues regarding heat stroke.

In their opinion, the kid should be cleared to play football again, even though common sense would SEEM to say just the opposite. The federal judge agreed with their expertise in this matter, and in fact, as law professor Doug Abrams commented on the show this AM: “It seems that the university’s attorneys did not bring up much in the way of conflicting medical opinions. In fact, in the judge’s ruling, he even cited the lack of conflicting medical evidence. Without that balance of so-called medical opinion, the judge almost felt compelled to rely solely on the plaintiff’s evidence.”
Professor Abrams adds more: “And when Towson appeals this to a higher court, they will not be allowed to introduce new opinions or testimony. The higher court can only review what was discussed and presented in the lower court. In other words, Towson doesn’t get a ‘do-over’.”

That adds even greater strength to the sharp reality that Towson will not win this case, and that Class will play again.

What Do You Do if You’re the Coach?

The callers this AM were firmly and sharply divided on this. Several said that the young man has every right to pursue his dream of playing football, and who are we to judge him? Others stayed with the view of common sense, e.g. “How can any sane coach allow a kid with a liver transplant and who almost died two years ago to go out and play again? He’s lucky to be alive.”

Doug and I discussed the awkward spot the coach and his staff will find themselves in. How do you handle a kid like this, knowing that every time you send him into a full-contact practice or game he may get hit and die on the field? Is that fair to the coach? How about to his teammates? And even the opposing players?

In addition, the Towson staff can not simply not play the kid or just cut him. That would be a clear violation of the judge’s ruling, and as such, they have to treat Class like they treat any other player on the team.

I honestly can’t recall any kind of case like this from ever before, but it was clear from the callers on WFAN this AM that people were getting heated and emotional about this.

You should also know that Class’ family is most supportive of him and his desire to play. Other parents may take an exact opposite of this, but Jon Class, the kid’s father, has been quoted in the media as to how proud he is.

And of course there’s a lot to be proud of – Gavin Class survived a devastating injury and lived to talk about, despite liver replacement and more than a dozen operations.From that perspective, he’s to be saluted and applauded.

But personally, if it were me and my son, I just don’t know if I would let him take that risk again of playing football. There are other ways to pursue one’s passion in football, such as becoming a coach or scout or sportscaster. And he is to be praised for recuperating and becoming healthy again.

But to knowingly risk one’s life in a violent sport like football? I just don’t think it’s worth the risk.

LEGAL CONCERNS: More and More Coaches Are Filing Defamation Lawsuits Against Parents

For many years, it’s been noted that upset sports parents have become so angry with their kid’s coach that the parents have filed a lawsuit against the coach.

Most of these lawsuits are deemed by the courts as being frivolous, but the reality is that when a HS or travel team coach is sued, the defendant still has to secure an attorney to fight the charges, which cost time, money, and emotional expense. More importantly, these lawsuits become a matter of the public record, so that everyone in the local community now knows that a parent was so angry with a coach’s actions or behavior regarding the parent’s son or daughter that they are now taking the coach.

In short, it casts a long shadow on the coach’s reputation.

In recent years, coaches have been sued in cases like these:

> A father, who felt his son was headed to the NBA, sued the HS basketball coach when his son tried out but was cut from the HS team. The Dad sued for millions.

> A parent sued a travel team softball coach when the coach taught the daughter a pitching motion which turned out to be illegal. The girl lost a college scholarship, and the father sued the travel coach for $700,000.

> Another Dad, whose son was the leading scorer in a travel hockey program for 16-year-olds, was so angry that his son was not named as the league MVP, that he sued.

You get the idea. And there are thousands of other cases like these.

But now, a new wrinkle has popped up. More and more coaches are retaliating, and are filing their own lawsuits against parents who, the coaches feel, have gone too far and have defamed or besmirched the coach’s reputation.

COACHES WHO HAVE BEEN DEFAMED BY PARENTS

My guest this AM, law professor Doug Abrams, made it clear that to win a defamation claim, one needs to distinguish between opinion and fact. That is, if I say to my neighbor, “I think my daughter’s lacrosse coach isn’t very good,” well, that’s an opinion, and I’m entitled to my opinion as exercised by my right of freedom of speech. Opinions are not going to support a defamation case.

But if I say, “My daughter’s lacrosse coach routinely grabs girls by the neck in practice, and then pulls hard on their ponytails,” that’s a statement of fact. And if that factual proclamation is not true, then a coach can bring a cause for defamation. In other words, you can express personal opinions, but once you start making false statements, you could be in real trouble.

In a recent case in Minnesota, a HS hockey coach sued a mother whose son had been cut by the coach. Apparently, she had made numerous statements about the coach and his coaching methods that were not true. Outraged, the HS coach filed suit against her, which led to an out-of-court settlement in his favor, including a public apology from the Mom.

This is happening more and more around the country, and Doug and I discussed, this kind of “suing back” might add a chilling effect to parents who feel tempted to file a lawsuit against a coach. Remember, coaches at most public schools work on an annual contract, and if they feel they have been wronged, these retaliatory lawsuits can help clean their reputation and allow them to keep their coaching position.

TRYING TO KEEP THE PEACE

Speaking of which, one of the key factors in all of this is the role of the school AD and school board. Clearly they need to step up and defend their coaches from these kinds of charges, but it is always wise for the AD to investigate any serious complaints, especially if they come from a lot of parents.

As Doug points out, it’s one thing if a single parent complains about a coach and their kid being cut….but if a number of parents complain about the coach for the way he humiliates the kids in practice, then that’s a good indicator for the AD to step up and see what’s going on in the practice sessions.

In the meantime, it’s just very sad that we’re reached a point in American sports where parents AND coaches feel they have to resort to taking legal action instead of sitting down and simply communicating to resolve any issues.

 

LEGAL CONCERNS: Catholic Diocese Tells Male Wrestlers to Automatically Forfeit if They Have a Female Opponent

So…does Title IX not apply to religious high schools?

I ask that, because last week, it was revealed that in the Roman Catholic diocese in Harrisburg, PA, male wrestlers have been instructed to NOT compete against any female opponents. In other words, in an interscholastic competition, if a girl is the opponent, the male wrestler is supposed to automatically decline to compete and forfeit the match.

Although this sounds like a policy from the days  long before Title IX was enacted, which basically guaranteed equality in sports for all boys and girls, the truth is that, by all accounts, the Catholic school district has the right to determine its own policies regarding its student-athletes. In this case, the religious powers-that-be felt that in a particularly physical sport like wrestling, it was not in keeping with the school’s mission to find boys and girls placed in an “immodest” state of such prolonged contact.

I want to point out that the diocese DID NOT make a case that boys were superior to girls as athletes, or any thing along those lines. That was not the purpose of this mandate. Rather, it was done to stay within the confines of the school’s religious objectives.

Regardless, we received a number of calls this AM on this topic, I believe the diocese made this statement because just about a year ago, a middle-school girl in Pennsylvania who had hoped to compete as a wrestler found herself suing her (public) school district for that right. Not surprisingly, she prevailed, and she went onto compete as a wrestler, and from what I can tell, just about all of her opponents were boys.

But again, this was in a public school district, and the school district is bound by the laws of equality, most of them prescribed by Title IX. I can only presume that the diocese then moved in and made its proclamation that its male students can not wrestle against girls.

Ironically, towards the end of the show, a caller named Danielle Coughlin added that she had wrestled in HS, and that in fact,she had won the Massachusetts state championship (boys and girls) just a couple of years ago. She said that it had always been a dream of hers, that she knew she would have to compete against boys, and that she felt she had gone beyond being “a girl who wrestled” to being seen as a top competitor. Indeed, her senior year she compiled a record of 29-6 in the 106 weight class.

Again, I am sure that the Harrisburg diocese has its reasons for telling its male wrestlers to forfeit against females, but I do wonder if, in the long run, that’s really the best policy for all concerned. I recognize that for many boys, it may be somewhat humiliating to lose to a girl even in this day and age, but let’s look to Danielle’s success as a wrestler.

And let’s also look to Mo’ne Davis from the Philadelphia LL this August. Lots of boys struck out against her. I gather if she played for a team that came up against a Catholic team from Harrisburg, that team would automatically forfeit? Hmm…