Ave Maria sports law instructor talks about Donald Sterling-NBA, NFL concussion, NCAA-O'Bannon lawsuits [Naples Daily News, Fla. :: ]
(Naples Daily News (FL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) June 18--Peter Carfagna, recently re-elected to the Board of Governors for the Ave Maria School of Law, is back on campus this week, again teaching aspiring attorneys about sports marketing and sports law.
A native of Cleveland who also is a visiting professor at Harvard and several schools in Ohio, Carfagna has been involved in the legal sports realm for 25 years, making him a pioneer of sorts in an ever-growing field. He's seen lots of changes in that time.
"Oh, my gosh," Carfagna said. "It's become much more sophisticated, much more complicated, much more lawyer intensive. One word, one clause at a time in some of these major deals. Particularity is what I practice and what I teach: Careful, careful lawyering."
Carfagna's Sports Law Academy has drawn an average of 15 law students at Ave Maria School of Law over the years, and it centers on his three books: 1) Legal Evolution of the Three Major Leagues, which deals with the rules, constitutions and bylaws of the NBA, NFL and MLB; 2) Representing Professional Athletes (which he did at IMG); and 3) Negotiating and Drafting a Sports Venue Agreement, which teaches how to represent owners in leasing and other arrangements.
There are several interesting current cases to toss to his students, and Carfagna offered his opinions on some of them.
-- The Donald Sterling v. NBA case. This began when Sterling's former girlfriend released tapes of Sterling making racial comments. In April, Sterling was banned from the NBA for life by Commissioner Adam Silver, himself an attorney, and fined $2.5 million, the maximum allowed. On May 29, Sterling's wife, Rochelle, reached an agreement to sell the Clippers for $2 billion to Steve Ballmer. The new legal twists are the NBA will try and sell the Clippers on its own if the Ballmer sale doesn't close by Sept. 15, and Rochelle Sterling is trying to gain control of the Sterling Family Trust in order for it to close.
"Adam Silver is a very smart guy," Carfagna said. "He's got very smart lawyers. I think every move that he has made is well-grounded and fundamentally based on the NBA's bylaws and constitution. The $2.5 million fine and the lifetime suspension were not entered lightly, you can be sure of that.
"I think it will hold up. I have no concerns about this."
But Carfagna said there likely will be more racy headlines.
"(Sterling) doesn't want to go quietly," Carfagna said. "It's going to be a scorched earth policy -- anything and everything they can do to rattle their cages. The latest is, 'OK, you want it, you got it. Here comes the countersuit.' You can be sure the fur will really start flying."
-- O'Bannon v. NCAA. O' Ed Bannon, the ninth overall 1995 NBA draftee whose UCLA jersey is retired, is the lead plaintiff in an antitrust class action lawsuit filed against the NBA on behalf of Division I football and men's basketball players over the use of their images for commercial purposes. The suit argues that athletes should be entitled to financial compensation for commercial use of their image by the NCAA.
Carfagna said this has been much discussed at Harvard.
"I like his chances," Carfagna said. "I have to be careful because I have to be neutral and right down the middle because I could get it from both sides of the aisle, but I think he has a very strong case for publicity rights and ownership of same. They have just settled video games cases for many millions of dollars. The NCAA already is developing whereby pursuant to that settlement they allow athletes to receive money for use of their image or likeness on video games. That's unheard of."
Carfagna said the NCAA tried everything it could to get the case dismissed, and it moving forward is a very good sign for the plaintiffs. He also likes O'Bannon's decision to go with the judge's ruling, not by jury.
"Smart trial tactic," Carfagna said. "If this judge is the one that decides, I like his chances."
-- NFL Concussion Lawsuit. Several lawsuits that claim the NFL covered up long-term effects of traumatic brain injuries have been filed, and some 4,000 former players joined to consolidate a class-action suit. The NFL agreed to settle for $765 million last year, but a judge has not signed off on the deal because many believe the financial package isn't enough.
Carfagna is among those who think the sum is too small.
"Why won't they approve the $765 million settlement? Why, because it's probably not nearly enough to compensate these folks," Carfagna said. "They are going to be able to demonstrate traumatic brain injury, concussive symptoms. I do a lot of work in that area, too, pro-bono and otherwise.
"Upon further review and examination of the number of cases, the number of people who have made claims -- widows, orphans, too -- and the length of these experiences ... dementia, Alzheimer's disease, Gehrig's Disease (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) happening at very early ages, the 40s ... So long-term care for somebody who has been doing that for 20 years ... you suffer brain injuries for 20 or 30 years, and you've got hundreds and hundreds of those guys.
"When is enough enough?"
Carfagna is the founder, chairman and CEO of Magis, LLC, a privately owned sports marketing, management and investment company that owns the Cleveland Indians' Class A affiliate Lake County Captains. Prior to that, Carfagna served as chief legal officer and general counsel of the International Management Group (better known as IMG). He's a member of several boards of directors, including for the Sports Legacy Institute and the LPGA and he's the co-director of the Great Lakes Sports and Entertainment Law Academy.
Carfagna began his long relationship with Ave Maria School of Law, a separate entity from Ave Maria University, in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the school was founded in 1999. He first became a member of the Board of Governors via the Michigan site. The School of Law moved to its Naples campus in 2009, and Carfagna "has been a strong supporter of the School of Law ever since."
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