Sports in Court: All of America's Games Tied Up in Legal Battles

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Sports in Court: All of America's Games Tied Up in Legal Battles
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
A federal court selected jurors yesterday in the perjury trial against Roger Clemens (far left). When did American sports get so litigious?

I once read in Rick Reilly's Sports From Hell that New Zealand was the most litigious country on the planet. Then I glanced at our sports landscape.

This just in: we've overtaken the Kiwis.

Don't laugh. Nearly every major pastime is up to its mouth guards in court filings. Count 'em:

The NFL and NBA are grappling lockouts.

Major League Baseball has the Roger Clemens case, Frank McCourt's bankruptcy blunder and its own labor considerations come Dec. 11.

College football has two: the Mike McAdoo proceedings and a Department of Justice probe into the BCS.

The government is still looking under every rock and whistleblower and Lance Armstrong seat cover for evidence of PEDs.

Only recently did FIFA wrap up an investigation into conspiracy allegations engulfing president Sepp Blatter.

truTV could run Baseball Tonight's "Touch 'em All" segment, there's so many.

You've heard most, if not all, of these bullet points before. Doubtful you cared, though. Understandable because sports are supposed to be escapes—not burials under the finer nuances of labor union law. It can get exhausting.

Do you care about the court proceedings in American sports, even your favorites?

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But that also means it matters. The outcomes of these proceedings could easily rattle our sportsphere irreparably.

There's the obvious, like the likelihood football and basketball could go on indefinite hiatuses. That's looking less grim with the NFL, with word of players and owners' commitments to toil through the weekend and Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan's vacation. Womp, womp for him. Yay for Hall of Fame Game ticket holders.

Unless the lockout runs past July 22, when camps open. Then (you guessed it!) more litigation like this.

As for basketball, the cast of 28 Weeks Later looks more civil than these parties. That could take a while.

There are facts—just none that are any fun. 

Did you know if the players move forward with an anti-trust suit against ownership, they could be entitled to damages three times the worth of the current $9 billion revenue pot and once filed, that action is irreversible? For accounting majors out there, yes, that would put the NFL in a Grand Canyon filled with Big 4 financial institutions-sized hole.

The league would fold.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Lance Armstrong (above) has been the face of the resistance against cancer and hopelessness. Forget his reputation--what might finding out he used PEDs do to our national morale?

And I'll bet you haven't heard what's facing college football, if the BCS—the only thing grounding any team in any conference not named the SEC or Big 10—loses its tax exemptions. Think back to last summer, when college football Armageddon loomed. Now wipe any Bruce Willis rescue from feasibility.

That's the realignment we'd be talking.

Let this be a lesson: Any guise of sports as games is gone. Sports were always like companies, in almost every sense. But now they can hang with corporations' legal blotter at the beginning of every annual report, too.

Other unveilings: If Clemens isn't found guilty of Congressional perjury, the Mitchell report loses value like a trading card of Detroit's auto industry with beat-up corners. If a jury can't pin steroids on the trophy of the investigation—Clemens was the biggest name of the 88 players implicated; and, at 82 times, the most mentioned—was a federal investigation really worth any more than Jose Canseco's word?

The government could make amends with the Dr. Anthony Galea investigation, which is expected to leak the names of golfers (hmm...,) football and baseball players he treated with smuggled drugs from Canada and paint the steroid portrait with an even broader brush.

But it makes you wonder whether The Man should dip his hands into sports at all.

Other emotions stir, like gut-gripping misfortune. Could you imagine if Armstrong, the white knight of sports' dirtiest game, is found a doper? Forget what it means for cycling. That any biker could mock the World's Strongest Man for not cheating (and thus, not trying) is enough.

Which court proceeding do you think most important?

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This man spearheaded the world's battle against desperation. He still beat cancer, sure. But then again, the Million Little Pieces guy didn't make up everything, and look at what his story (doesn't) mean anymore.

At least there are some characters, like the punchline in Prada, Frank McCourt. Gotta laugh at the sight of a power-walking, 5-foot, 8-inch sports derelict with less restraint than a teenage girl with Daddy's credit card, as he patrols an empty Dodgers Stadium that isn't really his any more—only between the hours of 3 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., when it's safe.

But even McCourt is no legal joke. If he sues Bud Selig and baseball for blocking the FOX deal, he'll insist that his spending habits aren't different than any other owner's—prompting a court subpoena of everyone's books, effectively throwing the only system without contention between owners and players into conflict.

If that happens, wrap yourself in a Snuggie. It's gonna be a long, sportsless winter.

Scary thought. Almost as scary as what might happen if the NCAA's enforcement power was degraded any more.

Except for that's a distinct possibility with the McAdoo case, a challenge of college sports government's authority that could give it less say than the UN. If McAdoo—a UNC student-athlete booted from school and stripped of a final year of eligibility because he accepted (wait for it...) improper benefits and committed (here it comes!) academic misconduct—wins, it would create legal precedent for any man scorned to serve the NCAA with papers to win back eligibility and damages.

And we're not even on paying players.

Yet. Can't wait, for college football and basketball unionizing, labor deal negotiating, 18-year-olds picketing—the works.

And you thought the McDonald's coffee case was bad.

Ain't got nothin' on American sports.

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