Sports Attorney Robert J. Romano will be a guest on FOX Sports Radio, Friday, November 7, 2014, from 7 am until 11 am, to discuss NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell testifying at Ray Rice’s Appeal Hearing.

The Federal Department of Education has recently initiated a Title IX investigation into the manner in which Florida State conducted its inquiry of the alleged sexual assault involving Jameis Winston and a female Florida State student back in December 2012. As a result of the DOE investigation, Florida State, who has previously stated that the matter was closed, has decided that Jameis Winston will now face a disciplinary hearing to determine whether he violated FSU’s code of conduct in relation to the incident.images

Jameis Winston, who, as its quarterback, led FSU to an undefeated season and national championship last season, was never charged with a crime when a state investigation into the matter ended in late 2013.

That being said, Jameis Winston has now been notified by a letter received from Florida State that “he might be charged with one of four violations of FSU’s student conduct code regarding sexual conduct.” Included in the letter, Florida State detailed a timeline of its handling of the case, breaking its silence on the matter that dates back to December 2012.

Per the school’s student conduct policy, Winston has five days to schedule “an information hearing” wherein he will be presented with his rights and learn more about the forthcoming conduct hearing. The conduct hearing will also determine whether or not Winston will be actually charged with breaching the school’s code of conduct. If he is found to have violated the student conduct policy he can be disciplined, with such discipline ranging from a verbal reprimand to expulsion.

Three individuals independent of the university have been selected by the Florida State to hear the case, though both Jameis Winston and his accuser will be able to “strike one of the people from hearing the case.”

The attorney for the accuser commented that the university going with a third party is a “highly unusual process,” but it does address “some concerns” about the school’s ability to effectively and fairly come to a decision amid months of intense media scrutiny.

As I opened up my Sports Law class to the Graduate Students at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, last evening, one of my most inquisitive students spoke up, and in an evaporative manner asked, “Before we start professor, I need to ask you, how can Andrian Peterson plead not guilty, we all know he did it.”

Seeing this as a teaching opportunity, and of course wanting to live up to my reputation as ‘the obnoxious professor’, I responded, “You tell me – why do you think he plead not guilty?”DownloadedFile-1

After a few minutes of thought, and some discussions with other classmates, the light bulbs went off and the answer was obvious: Adrian Peterson plead not guilty because, at this stage of the proceedings, he IS NOT GUILTY.

Adrian Peterson, like every American, is innocent until the State (in this case Texas) proves beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty for the crimes for which he has been charged.

A defendant who enters a not guilty plea is refuting the charges that have been brought against him or her. There are reasons why a defendant may choose to do such: (1) an innocent defendant may choose so in order to have the opportunity to have his or her case tried before a jury, as a guilty plea will not go to trial; (2) as a legal strategy where the defendant feels that the state has a week case or protest the type of charge being brought, seeking to have it reduced to a lesser charge; and (3) defendants may also choose to enter not guilty pleas because they have a defense to the criminal charge.

Obviously, anyone who contests an accusation and wants their day in court will enter a plea of not guilty regardless of whether or not he or she is guilty. Many convicted criminals have pled not guilty, even though evidence showed they committed the crime.

Additionally, a defendant can revoke a not guilty plea during the course of the proceedings. In fact, this is sometimes why a defendant may choose to enter a plea of not guilty at first. Changes to not guilty pleas often occur when a plea bargain is made. The defendant may change a not guilty plea to a guilty plea in exchange for a lesser charge associated with a lighter sentence.

It is interesting, however, that Adrian Peterson never entered a plea during his first court appearance with a spokesperson stating, “I don’t think the judge ever asked for a plea. As we said yesterday, if the judge asks, Peterson will plead not guilty.” And as of today, it’s not clear when he will enter such a plea.

What was accomplished at the hearing was that Peterson’s defense attorney accentuate three talking points about the case:

  1. Peterson’s trial can’t get here fast enough.
  2. Peterson is having his name/reputation unfairly smeared as he awaits trial.
  3. Peterson is a good family man with the support of his community, who made a parenting decision that is open to interpretation.

This strategy makes sense. The faster this trial arrives, the less chance of tainting a jury pool. The faster it arrives, the less time the prosecution has to gather additional information against Peterson. And the faster it arrives, the less time the media has to dig further into Peterson’s life for unflattering stories.

The bottom line involved in this case lies in the difference between “punishing a child” and “abusing a child.”

The “abuse” term will be the centerpiece of the trial. Corporal punishment is legal in Texas, but standards are nebulous. For example, a belt is allowable, but not an extension cord. Striking a child as a form of reprimand is allowable, but leaving a mark on a child is not. Somewhere in between the line is blurred and that’s where a jury comes in to decide, decide with one question in mind: Was punishment specifically excessive enough to be considered abuse?

According to Texas law, a defendant can be convicted of injury to a child if he or she causes bodily or mental injury “intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or with criminal negligence” or cause such harm by omission. The crime is punishable by up to two years in a state jail and a $1,000 fine.

The prosecution has made it clear that it wants Peterson to be recognized for having “abused” his child. Any plea out of that phrase would be seen as a failure.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, when asked about the Adrian Peterson plea hearing, commented that administering punishment to a player who is waiting for his legal case to move forward after an arrest can be complex.

“The league and owners obviously understand the balance between due process and protecting the integrity of the game,” he said. “Sometimes that puts you in a difficult position.”

Commissioner Goodell said there were discussions whether or not to implement a new, interim step — such as paid leave — to the process. The Commissioner then reiterated that domestic violence and the league’s discipline for violators of its conduct policy are serious issues, stating, “A majority of our players are great people and men. Domestic violence is not just an NFL issue, it’s a societal issue.”

The NCAA will move forward with plans to restructure the current Division I system and allow the so-called  “Power Five Conferences” greater autonomy because an override period for the Division I Board of Directors’ decision to restructure how member institutions govern themselves ended and the legislation did not acquire enough override requests to require the board to reconsider.images

As per the NCAA: “The override period for the Division I Board of Directors’ decision to restructure how members govern themselves ended today, and the legislation did not garner enough override requests to require the board to reconsider.

Of the 345 schools in the division, 27 schools requested an override of the legislation that finalized the restructuring plan, less than the 75 required.

The new governance structure provides student-athletes with a vote at every level of decision-making in Division I and will preserve and improve college sports, which has helped millions of student-athletes gain access to higher education and pursue a degree.”

The new model will allow the 65 schools in the top five conferences:

  • ACC,
  • Big Ten
  • Big 12
  • SEC
  • Pac-12

greater autonomy to determine their own rules concerning, among other things:

  • Meals and nutrition.
  • Financial aid.
  • Health and wellness
  • Expenses and benefits for student-athletes.
  • Expenses and benefits for prospective student-athletes.
  • Insurance and career transition.
  • Career pursuits.
  • Time demands.
  • Academic support.

The new model becomes effective for the 2015-2016 academic year, though the 65 schools have already begun developing their agenda for discussion at the 2015 NCAA Convention in Washington, D.C.

What does this mean for student-athletes? Is this a good thing for the athletes involved in college sports? We can only wait and see. The good news, the new governance structure provides student-athletes with a vote at every level of decision-making in Division I, something student-athletes have never had previously.

University of Michigan head football coach, Brady Hoke, decision to allow quarterback Shane Morris to continue playing after he took a violent hit to the head in his team’s 30-14 loss to Minnesota is inexcusable, and in my opinion a dismissible offense.

The play occurred in the fourth quarter when Shane Morris took a hard hit and was visibly dazed, so much so that he needed assistance in standing up. Despite needing to lean on teammates in order to maintain his balance, Morris was allowed by Coach Hoke to stay in the game for one more play.

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ESPN’s Ed Cunningham called the decision “appalling”:

“I got to tell you right now that No. 7 is still in this game is appalling. It is appalling that he was left in on that play to throw the ball again as badly as he was hit by [Minnesota]. To have No. 7 in the game on a gimpy leg after a hit like that, that is terrible looking after a young player.”

Coach Hoke compounded the issue two plays later when he decided that instead of using the third string quarterback, he would put Shane Morris back into the game after the quarterback who replaced him had to leave the field because his helmet fell off. Shame Morris was later carted off of the field of play.

After the game, Coach Hoke said he didn’t know if Shane Morris got a concussion and that he didn’t see that he was wobbly. He stated that Morris is tough and if he were concussed he wouldn’t have wanted to go back in the game:

“I don’t know if he had a concussion or not, I don’t know that. Shane’s a pretty competitive, tough kid. And Shane wanted to be the quarterback, and so, believe me, if he didn’t want to be he would’ve come to the sideline or stayed down.”

Coach Hoke, you may not have known if Shane Morris was concussed or not, but you should have. You are his coach, his leader and his guardian – and as such are responsible for looking out for his safety. Coach Hoke, your blindness if the form of a win/loss record allowed you to ignore the obvious to the point where you put a young player at risk of serious injury: injury that could have resulted in his death. What football player, or parent of a football player, would now want to play for you after seeing what you just put Morris through?

Especially since Michigan Athletic Director, Dave Brandon, confirmed that Shane Morris did, in fact, suffer a concussion in a statement wherein he apologized for miscommunications that allowed Morris to continue playing.

Luckily the University of Michigan and Coach Hoke’s actions have not gone unnoticed. U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., has contacted Big Ten Commissioner, Jim Delany, requesting that he begin an investigation into how the matter was handled.

Congressman Pascrell is the co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force and in his letter to Commissioner Delany stated; “allowing a possibly concussed player to determine whether or not he is fit to return to play not only violates common sense, but is also an egregious violation of standard concussion protocol.”

Congressman Pascrell’s letter then cites head coach Brady Hoke’s comments about the situation from Monday.

“During a press conference on Monday afternoon, Michigan coach Brady Hoke initially stated that he “[didn’t] know if [Morris] has a concussion or not.” Hoke also stated that “Shane’s a pretty competitive, tough kid. And Shane wanted to be the quarterback, and so, believe me, if he didn’t want to be, he would’ve come to the sideline or stayed down.” Allowing a possibly concussed player to determine whether or not he is fit to return to play not only violates common sense, but is also an egregious violation of standard concussion protocol, including protocol set forth by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Big Ten Conference.”

Congressman Pascrell asks for Commissioner Delany to investigate the matter and “reexamine the protocols in place and what changes can be made to improve them” while also establishing “penalties for violations of concussion protocols.”

Additionally, University of Michigan students turned out Tuesday evening for a massive protest against Coach Hoke’s actions, chanting on the center of the campus before ultimately marching to the Michigan president’s house. This protest spotlights how times have changed and the issues of concussions and player safety have taken a backseat as to whether or not a team wins on Saturday.

While fans continue to love the physicality of the sport, in seems now that many are now becoming vocal guardians for their players’ safety.  But in all honesty, fans are not the player’s guardian – that role lies with the Head Coach.  Coach Hoke, as Shane Morris’ guardian,  you failed miserably.

 

Last week FIBA would not allow the Qatari Women’s Basketball team to compete at the Asian Games if they wore their traditional religious head scarves.  During a Monday Night Football game, the NFL penalized a Muslim player who knelt in prayer after scoring a touchdown.  Sports, which has traditionally taken a leadership role on social issues such as race and sexual orientation, is taking a backseat when it comes to concerns over religious freedom

The Kansas City Chief’s defensive back, Husain Abdulla, was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after he kneeled in Muslim prayer in the end zone after scoring a touchdown in a Monday Night Football Game.

Perhaps the official who threw the flag on the Abdullah play was unfamiliar with Muslim custom. Perhaps it was something else because there are numerous occasions where an NFL Player of Christian faith marks his score with a sign of deference, reflection, or tribute to their higher power without incident.

In other words, Brandon Marshall can get on knees and raise his hands to Jesus after touchdown with no penalty, but Husain Abdullah bows his head to mecca and its fifteen yards.

 

Abdullah took the high road after the game and said he thought he was penalized for sliding into the prayer, though the head referee cited “falling to the ground on the knees” in announcing the infraction.

The excessive celebration rule in which Abdullah allegedly violated states, that an NFL player is “prohibited from engaging in any celebrations while on the ground.” Prayer is never specifically mentioned, though NFL officials usually take a permissive view towards religious exhibition.

To use an example, Greg Jennings was not flagged for this prayer during Super Bowl XLV 48a01bf0-4855-11e4-acdc-77beb4cd7bd6_108869462-1

It is now time for NFL officials to take a permissive view towards all exhibitions of prayer, no matter what religion the prayer originates from.

DownloadedFile-1FedEx has rejected a proposal from the Oneida Indian tribe to “drop or distance” the company from the NFL franchise in Washington, whose stadium, FedExField, it sponsors, until its ownership agrees to change the name of the mascot.

The proposal was led by the Oneida Trust of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, together with other supporter such as broadcasters and congress men and women, who argue the franchise’s name is deeply offensive.

“We consider the Washington team name a racial slur, tracing back to colonial times when bounties were paid on a sliding scale for the skins of Native men, women and children, and traded like animal hides,” Susan White, trust director stated. “The term did not describe actions that honored Indian peoples then and it still represents racism and genocide today for Native peoples. We are the only race of people dehumanized by an NFL team. Washington Redskins is the most egregious.”

FedEx, a multi-billion dollar company, didn’t seem to fazed or even care about the Tribe’s position, stating, “We highly value our sponsorship of FedExField, which not only hosts the Washington Redskins, but is home to a variety of major entertainment and sports events and multiple community activities.” (This from senior vice president for marketing and communications Patrick Fitzgerald).

I take exception to FedEx’s comment for two reasons: a) it contains the team name that everyone finds offensive within it, b) everyone knows that FedEx gets its return on its sponsorship investment from the association it has with the NFL franchise, not from other entertainment events or community actives. I am sorry Mr. Fitzgerald, but your statement is insensitive, disgusting, and insulting.

The first college football coach to be fired comes early this year as the Kansas Jayhawks announced it will be releasing its head coach, Charlie Weis, from his official duties just four games into the season.

Coach Weis posted a 6-22 career record with the Jayhawks, including a 1-18 record in Big 12 play. The Jayhawks posted two wins this season over Southeast Missouri State and Central Michigan, but losses to Duke University and the University of Texas sealed his fate.

But the firing of Coach Weis will cost to the University approximately $7 million dollars. This is because KU terminated the contract with Coach Weis in only the third year of a five-year contract. Per the terms of the contract, however, KU is obligated to pay him the balance of monies owed for the current season and the next two seasons.

Therefore, Coach Weis, whose contract calls for him to receive approximately $2.5 million dollars a year, will receive the full balance owed to him of approximately $7 million dollars.[1]

But what allows for Coach Weis to continue receiving his millions of dollars per year even though he is relieved of the obligation to coach the football team? The answer is because Coach Weis, or the attorney/agent representing him, negotiated specific termination and buyout clauses as part of the employment contract.

Termination clauses in coaching contracts are broken down into two categories: termination for cause and termination without cause.

Termination for cause allows for a college or university to terminate a coach’s contract when it can show “just cause.”  Most universities maintain that “just cause” exist in situations when a coach violates a criminal statute, a coach knowingly commits or even condones by a member of his or her staff a violation of NCCA or conference rules by a member of his or her staff, a coach is unwilling to perform his or her duties, or in situations that would allow the termination of any other university employee considered to be in the same “classification” as the coach.

In addition, coaching contracts usually contain what is referred to as a “morals clause”. A typical morals clause states that any act by a coach, which is considered an act of moral turpitude, could result in termination. Acts of moral turpitude are usually defined as conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty, or good morals.

In an effort to protect the coaches and in the name of fair play, most termination clauses contain a due process section which include, or should include, the following: a notice provision, an opportunity to be heard or hearing provision, a term which outlines the time frame within such notice and hearing need to be scheduled, and what, if any, punishment could be enforced by the university if just cause is found to exist.

If a college or university can prove that it relieved the coach of his or her duties for cause, the school will be relieved from its obligation to pay him or her the remaining balance of monies owed under the contract.

Absent a finding of just cause, a college or university can still terminate a coach. However, they will be responsible for full payment under the terms of contract unless the contract calls for a negotiated predetermined settlement amount. Most predetermined settlement amounts consist of either a lump sum payment, full payment of all or specific components of the contract for the remainder of the contract term, or for a payment of a percentage of the compensation package for the remainder of the contract term. All of which, except for the lump sum, can be mitigated if the coach finds subsequent employment at another university or at the professional level.

If a coach, on the other hand, decides to breach a contract and work for another college or professional team before the expiration of his or her current contract, the coach would have to buy-out the remaining terms of his or her contract. Buyout clauses typically require a coach to pay their current university a specific amount in order for the coach to be released from a contract anytime before it has expired. Buyout clauses are an essential part of a coach’s contract from the university’s perspective since it is well established in the area of contract law that employers cannot sue for specific performance of a personal service contract. Per the terms of most buyout clauses, if a coach leaves before a release is obtained, he or she can be sued for breach of contract by the university or college. Therefore a buyout clause can discourage a coach from leaving a university early if the terms are severe enough.

In the end it is important to understand that even though negotiations are sometimes tough, intensive and time consuming, proper termination and buyout clauses are essential because they protect the interest of the coaches.

[1] What makes this even more interesting is that Coach Weis will also be paid under the terms of the contract he had with Notre Dame that he signed back in 2005. Per that contract, Coach Weis will be paid approximately $3 to $4 million dollars a year through the 2015 season. (Although this amount is mitigated by the KU contract.)

 

 

The first college football coach to be fired in 2014 comes early this year as Kansas fired its head coach, Charlie Weis, just four games into the season.

Coach Weis posted a 6-22 career record with the Kansas Jayhawks, including a 1-18 record in Big 12 play. The Jayhawks posted two wins this season over Southeast Missouri State and Central Michigan, but losses to Duke University and the University of Texas sealed his fate.

But the firing of Coach Weis does come with additional cost to the University and the students of KU. See Coach Weis is in the third year of a five-year contract, and like most coaching contracts – the University is obligated to pay him the balance of monies owed. Therefore, Coach Weis, whose contract calls for him to received approximately $2.5 million a year, will receive the full balance owed to him of approximately $7 million dollars. Yes, this money to pay Coach Weis for doing absolutely nothing for the next two and a half years, will be paid to him by a public university. Think about this, instead of that $7 million dollars being reinvested into the University for things like books, scholarships, dorms, professor salaries, and such, it will instead be paid to Coach Weis while he sits at home. What makes this even more ridiculous is that he will also be paid under the terms of the contract he had with Notre Dame that he signed back in 2005. Per that contract, Coach Weis will be paid approximately $3 to $4 million dollars a year through the 2015 season. (Although this amount is mitigated by the KU contract.)images

But who is to blame? You cannot blame Coach Weis because I assume he wants to earn his money by coaching the team. You cannot blame the football program and players because you have to assume that they were all playing their best.

The blame lies with the University’s administration that hired the coach and allowed for the school to enter into such terms. See, the administration was blinded by Coach Weis’s resume – for what he had done previously with other teams. Coach Weis first gained acclaim as an offensive coordinator in the NFL, posting successful stints with the Patriots and the Jets. He was then hired as Notre Dame’s head coach prior to the 2005 season where he had initial success. So KU decided to pay him based upon the success he had with these teams, not for any success that he brought to KU. And now because of this, current KU students will be cheated out of $7 million dollars that could of benefited their educational experience.

For those of you who are unaware, the 2014 Asian Games began this week in South Korea. The competition is the world’s second-largest multi-sport event, with about 9,500 athletes representing 45 countries. (Where’s ESPN?)

But even before the Games began, members of the Qatari women’s basketball team were told by FIBA, the governing body of international basketball, that in order for the Qatari team to participate in the games, the players could not wear their headscarves or hijabs, even though they do so in observance of their Islamic faith.

The reason FIBA announced was because that its rules do not allow “headgear, hair accessories, and jewelry.” FIBA stood firm on its arcane position even though it is fully aware that the women basketball players would be wearing headscarves designed specifically for female athletes and that athletes competing in rowing, badminton and other sports have been wearing religious headscarves without incident.

The Qatari team was alerted of FIBA’s stance regarding hijabs but had hoped FIBA would make an allowance based upon the fact that the wearing of a hijab was for religious reasons – not as a fashion statement. When FIBA failed to make any allowance, the Qatari women chose to forfeit the game and then subsequently officially withdrew from the tournament prior to their second scheduled game. (Yes, FIBA will invite you to play in the spirit of international competition, but if you don’t like its rules – go home.)

“We are here to push the international association that all Muslim teams are ready to compete in any competition,” stated Alham Salem M. al-Mana, a member of the Quatai basketball team.

FIBA based in decision on the premise that the hijabs create unsafe conditions on the court.  My question is how? What facts does FIBA have to support such a position?

In fact, many Muslims, and non-Muslims such as myself, have criticized the rule as discriminatory and Human Rights Watch challenged FIBA to prove that the headscarves are unsafe. “In the case of basketball, it’s difficult to see how a ban on the headscarf is anything other than an unnecessary restriction on the players’ rights to religious freedom and personal autonomy,” the organization said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch, along with a others, are pushing for FIBA to follow FIFA’s lead wherein, beginning last March, it has lifted its ban on religiously mandated headgear.

The ironic part of all of this is that the motto of the 2014 Asian Games is “Diversity Shines Here.” Apparently, however, FIBA is not bending any rules to live up to the creed.