Photo via: NPR
A quick rundown of this past week in sports, entertainment, and law
Hey everyone, I’m taking over for Jeremy for this week’s Rodeo Rundown. Go easy on me, it’s my first time writing this column, so I’m a bit out of my comfort zone. With that being said, I am grateful for the opportunity to give you a rundown of some of the hottest legal issues in the sports and entertainment world this past week, and boy has it been a doozy. So, without further ado, let’s jump right on into it.
Just Pay them Already
Minor League Baseball may be best known for its crazy antics. From crazy promotions to great team nicknames (we’re looking at you, Trash Pandas and Bananas), it’s never a dull moment in the MiLB. However, something we don’t often talk about is the fact minor league baseball players don’t get paid well. At all. In fact, on average, Single-A players make $6,000, Double-A players make around $9,000, and Triple-A players get close to $15,000. Per season. You read that correctly: Per season. That’s even after the MLB issued a memo to every big-league club (who pay the salaries for their minor league teams) stating that the salaries for minor leaguers must be increased. Let’s be real for a second: even the least valuable MLB franchise, the Miami Marlins (not even the Tampa Bay Rays, somehow) are still worth close to a billion dollars. They have the money.
The lack of pay isn’t sitting right with some of the players, and it finally looks like they’re in a position to do something about it. On Saturday afternoon, ten players from the Brooklyn Cyclones and the Jersey Shore BlueClaws wore teal wristbands as a means of protesting the insufficient pay. The wristbands, which read “#FairBall,” were also given out to fans by Advocates for Minor Leaguers, along with pamphlets detailing the harsh financial realities minor league baseball players face regularly. This is a big deal. For the first time, we are seeing minor league players take concrete actions to protest their pay, or lack thereof. The move was described as a “collaborative, unprecedented event” and it surely has caught Major League Baseball off guard. There are questions as to how the MLB will react, but it is important to note that they (and the individual teams) have the ability to impose some sort of punishment against the players. While the First Amendment protects the freedom of speech and protest, it only protects individuals against state action. The MLB isn’t a state actor; they have the power to suspend or fine players. Hopefully, it doesn’t get to that though. But with the sport’s collective bargaining agreement set to end this year, the players may finally say enough is enough and include a higher minimum salary for the minor leaguers. Just pay them already.
Speaking of Pay…
Speaking of pay, the United States Soccer Federation offered both the women’s team and men’s team identical contracts for the upcoming year. However, it was not met with a warm reception. The United States Women’s National Team Players Association called the move a “PR stunt” that “will not bring us any closer to a fair agreement.” The PA continued: “we are committed to bargaining in good faith to achieve equal pay and the safest working conditions possible. The proposal that USSF made recently to us does neither.” It’s clear that the Women’s Team sees right through the move. I mean, it is more or less a PR move. In response, however, the US Soccer Federation stated it believes that the best path forward is “a single pay structure for both senior national teams.” The Federation added that “[t]his proposal will ensure that USWNT and USMNT players remain among the highest paid senior national team players in the world, while providing a revenue sharing structure that would allow all parties to begin anew and share collectively in the opportunity that combined investment in the future of U.S. Soccer will deliver over the course of a new CBA.” The US Federation added that it will also advocate for the FIFA World Cup prize money to be allocated in a more equitable manner. In 2019, FIFA offered $30,000,000 to the teams in the Women’s World Cup, while in 2018 the men had a prize pool of $400,000,000.
This is just another chapter in the ongoing push for the women’s team to be paid equally in comparison to the men’s team. The USWNT, coming off their fourth World Cup title and bronze Olympic medal, have had way more success than the men, but yet aren’t paid nearly the same amount. In 2020, a federal district court dismissed the USWNT’s discrimination suit, in which the women were seeking equal pay compared to the men. The women’s team, backed by the EEOC, has since appealed. At this point, the Soccer Federation should do the right thing and stop virtue signaling: just give the women an equal salary.
The (Real) Queen’s Gambit
Nona Gaprindashvili, the world’s first female chess grandmaster, is suing Netflix over her portrayal in the hit show The Queen’s Gambit. Based on Walter Tevis’s novel, the mini-series revolves around a fictional orphaned chess prodigy who rises to the top of the chess world all while struggling with alcohol and drug dependency in the 1960s. Gaprindashvili brings claims against the streaming service for defamation and invasion of privacy. Her suit stems from one sentence in the show. I repeat, one sentence. The show mentions her by saying: “[t]he only unusual thing about [the main character], really, is her sex. And even that’s not unique in Russia. There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.”
Gaprindashvili and her legal team have called the quote “manifestly false and grossly sexist and belittling.” In their complaint, they mention that by 1968, Gaprindashvili had competed against at least 59 male chess players, including 28 at the same time, in one single game. She is seeking at least $5,000,000 in damages, as she suffered “personal humiliation, distress, and anguish, as well as damages to her profits and earnings, and her ongoing capacity to engage in her professional livelihood in the world of chess.” Supposedly, Gaprindashvili reached out to Netflix after the premiere of the show to express her concerns, but the service dismissed them.
Netflix, in a written statement, claims that it “has only the utmost respect for Ms. Gaprindashvili and her illustrious career, but we believe this claim has no merit and will vigorously defend the case.”
I think many eyes will be watching this case unfold. Can three sentences really be the basis for a $5,000,000 suit?
A Bad View
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has remanded a case against the Seattle Mariners involving the views and sightlines for its handicapped seating at T-Mobile Park. In 2018, four Mariners fans who use wheelchairs sued the Mariners and the T-Mobile Park’s owner, Washington State MLB Stadium Public Facilities District, contending that “non-ambulatory spectators do not have adequate sightlines over standing spectators when seated in the wheelchair accessible seating.” Essentially, they claimed that fans in wheel chairs are unable to see the most exciting parts of the game. The plaintiffs also brought claims that the Mariners didn’t provide an adequate price for wheelchair accessible seats and that the sightlines of the scoreboard were insufficient, citing the Department of Justice’s 1996 Accessible Stadiums informal guidance.
After the District Court in Seattle sided with the Mariners, the Plaintiffs appealed to the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit rejected most of the Plaintiff’s complaints, noting that the Mariners offer a variety of different prices for different seats and views, and that the view of the scoreboard from accessible seating was not inadequate. However, the court questioned whether the ballpark is ADA compliant when it comes to views of the playing field, and sent the case back down in order to address the question “whether the Stadium’s sightlines for spectators using wheelchairs are sufficient to satisfy the ADA.”
This is purely my speculation at this point, but if T-Mobile Park is found to not be in compliance with the ADA and that fans with disabilities are deprived of “the full and equal enjoyment” of the game, then perhaps the MLB would be willing to move the 2023 All-Star Game out of Seattle. We have already seen the MLB move the midsummer classic over public policy concerns, so they’d surely move it if all fans are unable to see the game. Just a thought.
3L & Editor-in-Chief of the Buffalo Environmental Law Journal. Sad fan of the Philadelphia sports teams and Tottenham Hotspur. I enjoy writing and learning about the intersection of sports and business law, with a focus on the NHL. H2P!