Tarnished Twenty- The FindLaw Sports Law Blog

April 2009 Archives

Juventus Won't Play in Empty Stadium (Yet), Despite Fans' Racist Insults

For the odd soccer fans out there who were looking forward to the spectacle of an eerily quiet match on May 3 between Italian soccer clubs Juventus and Lecce, prepare for possible disappointment. The AP reports that the Italian Olympic Committee has put a hold on a ruling that would have required Juventus to play its next Serie A home match in front of a crowd of empty seats. The original ruling against Juventus was handed down by an Italian sports judge last week as punishment for racist insults directed (presumably by Juventus fans) at Inter Milan striker Mario Balotelli, who is an Italian of Ghanaian descent.

However, Juventus isn't off the hook just yet, as this ruling appears to be just a temporary reprieve. The Committee reportedly indicated it would meet on May 14 to rule in the matter. Juventus is claiming that "Balotelli and other players were booed at many other matches and the Turin-based club was being singled out for punishment." So, apparently they don't want to be discriminated against ... But, for what it's worth, Inter Milan's coach Jose Mourinho didn't think the insults at issue were racist, either. In fact, he appears to agree with the Juventus side as to the penalty, saying:

"'If I can say something in defense of Juve, Saturday was not the first time. It's happened in many stadiums and even at our own ground,' Mourinho said, according to the ANSA news agency. 'I don't know what the difference is between 3,000 or 4,000 fans in Turin or 500 visiting fans at the San Siro, but it's not the first time.'

'Something has to be done,' Mourinho added. 'But I definitely don't like the idea of playing a game behind closed doors, because half the reasons for playing remain outside also, with the fans.'"

Steeler Santonio Holmes Arraigned on Misdemeanor Marijuana Charge

Superbowl MVP Santonio Holmes of the Pittsburgh Steelers got arraigned on a misdemeanor marijuana charge today, according to the AP. The star wide receiver's attorney, Robert DelGreco Jr., described the charge "as low as a grade a misdemeanor you can get" with a penalty of "up to 30 days probation and a $500 fine".

That may be so, but DelGreco and Holmes apparently don't plan on letting this case see the courtroom light. DelGreco said he'd be filing a suppression motion to challenge the traffic stop that lead to the discovery of three marijuana-filled cigars in Holmes' vehicle. A successful suppression motion in could very well leave prosecutors without any drug evidence to present to a jury should the case go to trial.

Holmes already got suspended by Coach Mike Tomlin for one game, and he's had other off-the-field problems too, although apparently none have resulted in criminal convictions. In May 2006 he got arrested for disorderly conduct in Miami, but the charges got dropped. Then a month later, he got charged with domestic violence in Ohio, but that case didn't go forward after "the mother of one of his three children declined to help prosecute the case and prosecutors were assured that Holmes received anger management and domestic violence counseling through the NFL."

A nutritional supplement maker has become the target of now-suspended Phillies reliever J.C. Romero's legal wrath. Romero is suing-mad because he claims that a supplement he took did not specify that it contained a substance (androstenedione) banned by Major League Baseball, reports the AP. As a result, he got suspended for the first 50 games this year, and in his own words:

"Testing positive and being suspended from baseball was one of the most painful experiences in my life and ... damaged my reputation in the process," Romero said in a statement released by his attorneys. "It is my hope that I can finally start to put this event behind me and protect the interests of others who rely on manufacturers and retailers to be honest about their products."

The suit was brought against Ergopharm and Proviant Technologies who Romero claims were negligent in the manufacture of 6-OXO and 6-OXO Extreme, the over-the-counter nutritional supplements he took, and also for their misrepresentation of the ingredients therein. Allegedly, the supplements contained the banned substance androstenedione (the same stuff Mark McGwire used).

At last, after all the news and speculation regarding the extortion attempt made by Karen Sypher on Louisville coach Rick Pitino, charges have been filed by authorities against Ms. Sypher (as you may recall, she is the estranged wife of Pitino's equipment manager, Tim Sypher). So now everything's out in the open, right? Not nearly. Missing from the charges and news reports is pretty much any specific detail about just what information Karen Sypher was using to allegedly extort Coach Pitino.

After reviewing an affidavit released to the media regarding the basis for the charges, not a whole lot is cleared up. Summarizing the key parts, the affidavit indicates that Karen Sypher and an unidentified male accomplice made a series of phone calls to Pitino making "personal allegations concerning Mr. Pitino" that "if made public, could harm [his] reputation, whether or not the allegations were true". However, it did note that they "characterized an interaction between Mr. Pitino and an unnamed woman as criminal in nature." This still-unidentified individual could possibly also face charges in this matter.

Sports Museum's Bankruptcy Leaves Athletes' Artifacts Held for Ransom by Court?

A U.S. bankruptcy court is apparently holding a variety of professional athletes' equipment, mementos, and memorabilia hostage until the athletes pay up enough dough to establish their ownership over the goods, the Wall Street Journal reports.

In an article yesterday, the WSJ explained that the situation involves items on loan to the "Sports Museum of America in New York, a for-profit organization that recently declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy after opening to great fanfare in May." Obviously the "great fanfare" wasn't big enough, but the bigger problem (at least for the athletes involved) is that some of their stuff has been thrown into a storage facility in New Jersey. That doesn't sound too bad, but the athletes are reportedly being forced to pay some pretty sizeable sums of cash to get their items back.

Dark Window Tint Leads to Drug Charges for Ex-Jags Wideout Jimmy Smith?

Former Jaguars wide receiver Jimmy Smith has been charged with a variety of drug offenses after getting pulled over in Jacksonville, Florida.

Smith was reportedly pulled over not because of speeding or some kind of problem with his driving, but instead for the excessive window tint on his 2009 Benz. Unfortunately for Smith, although the tinting might keep someone from seeing anything illicit in plain sight within the vehicle, it apparently didn't stop police from catching a whiff of burnt marijuana in the car. An ensuing search discovered "crack cocaine, marijuana and a business card with powder cocaine residue in the car's center console."

TMZ had a few more details on the arrest and charges indicating that Smith got booked for "felony possession of cocaine, possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and driving with a suspended license. Smith was also charged with "felony possession/sell of a controlled substance." Because the charges include felonies some jail time could possibly come into play here.

As noted by the AP, Smith has had drug-related problems in the past. He got suspended for four games in 2003 for "violating the league's substance-abuse policy. He then publicly acknowledged an addiction and spent several weeks in rehab."

"Refrigerator" Perry Hospitalized by Guillain-Barre Syndrome; Expected to Recover

After unsettling reports that William "The Refrigerator" Perry had been hospitalized in serious condition last night, ESPN has good news that Perry is expected to fully recover from what is being described as a flare up of his Guillain-Barre Syndrome. The disease is a rare disorder in which "the body's immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system," according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Apparently, it can develop very quickly and its cause is unknown. Unfortunately, so is a cure.

However, the prognosis for patients suffering from Guillain-Barre Syndrome does offer some hope:

"Guillain-Barré syndrome can be a devastating disorder because of its sudden and unexpected onset. Most people reach the stage of greatest weakness within the first 2 weeks after symptoms appear, and by the third week of the illness 90 percent of all patients are at their weakest. The recovery period may be as little as a few weeks or as long as a few years. About 30 percent of those with Guillain-Barré still have a residual weakness after 3 years. About 3 percent may suffer a relapse of muscle weakness and tingling sensations many years after the initial attack."

Portion of Jags WR Northcutt Lawsuit Dismissed

Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Dennis Northcutt's ex-girlfriend, Sharri Henry, suffered a setback today in court in her lawsuit stemming from an assault at a nightclub last May. The AP reports that an L.A. judge has thrown out a portion of the suit in which, among various claims, Henry said Northcutt arranged her beating (while she was four-months pregnant, to boot).

The lawsuit specifically claimed that Northcutt convinced his bodyguard (who also happened to be his cousin) to "maliciously assault, beat, strike and batter ... her face and head with great force and violence, causing severe and permanent disfigurement to her face".

The judge is apparently allowing Henry to continue with a portion of her suit that goes after the Hollywood club (the Falcon Club) where she was attacked last May. However, before that part of the suit continues, she's going to have to amend her complaint to add some more meat to her claims of negligent hiring. The Los Angeles Independent noted the judge in the case said, "The pleadings are devoid of any facts that the Falcon Club hired any employees who they had reason to know were unfit".  The judge has given Sharri Henry's attorneys 10 days to straighten out the issues with the complaint.

Northcutt, just to be clear, has denied any of the allegations of wrongdoing.

Extortion Attempt Made Against Rick Pitino? Full-Court Press of Speculation Rises

A story, at the moment probably falling under the category of weird, has surfaced about a possible extortion attempt made against Louisville coach Rick Pitino. The unlikely source of the attempt? His equipment manager's wife, Karen Sypher, whom the AP reports is currently in the process of divorce from her husband Tim.

Here's the major portion of Pitino's statement regarding the claims:

"My family and I were recently threatened as part of a criminal scheme to extort money. Upon receiving these threats, we reported this extortion attempt to the FBI. While I did not want to make this matter public, I recently learned that the individual behind this extortion attempt has already gone to the media with false, defamatory and outrageous allegations in an attempt to pressure me to cave in to this scheme. I want to make it clear that I intend to vigorously defend my reputation and the character of my family against any criminal scheme to extort money. I am hopeful that the media and public will recognize the slanderous nature of this direct and malicious attack..."

Equipment manager Tim Sypher had the following to say, apparently backing up Rick Pitino:

Helio Castroneves Acquitted in Tax case: Heading back to Race Track?

Fans of racing and/or "Dancing With The Stars" may be happy to hear that a champion in both arenas, Helio Castroneves, was acquitted in his criminal tax evasion case today.

The jury did hang on one count of conspiracy, but Castroneves was acquitted on the rest (6) of the charges of tax evasion. This is great news for Castroneves racing fans as he had been "temporarily replaced on Team Penske by Australian Will Power pending the outcome of the case." The result opens the door for him to get back on the track and, in the words of his lawyer, do what is all he does, drive.

While prosecutors argued that Castroneves and his co-conspirators had set up a shell corporation designed as a tax shortcut, Castroneves' lawyer retorted:

"Does anybody really think Helio Castroneves really made a financial decision. All he did was drive - and drive he did," Black said.

And that, indeed, may well be where he's headed back now, literally. As noted by the L.A. Times, "Penske, owned by billionaire Roger Penske, promptly dispatched one of its Detroit-based jets to pick up Castroneves, 33, and fly him to Long Beach" to drive in Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Rival teams might just be wishing that the jury had taken the weekend to deliberate a bit more...

Boom! Madden Hits Fans Announcing Retirement

Legendary football announcer John Madden (and NFL coaching legend) is blowing the whistle on his award-laden broadcasting career, according to NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol.

Madden issued the following statement today:

"It's time. I'm 73 years old.  My 50th wedding anniversary is this fall. I have two great sons and their families and my five grandchildren are at an age now when they know when I'm home and, more importantly, when I'm not...

It's been such a great ride... the NFL has been my life for more than 40 years, it has been my passion - it still is. I appreciate all of the people who are and were such an important part of the most enjoyable, most fun anyone could have... that great life with the teams, the players, the coaches, the owners, the League... my broadcasting partners Pat and Al... the production people and the fans ...is still great... it's still fun and that's what it makes it hard and that's why it took me a few months to make a decision.

I still love every part of it - the travel, the practices, the game film, the games, seeing old friends and meeting new people... but I know this is the right time."

Buffalo Bills safety Donte Whitner has been charged with "aggravated disorderly conduct and resisting arrest for his role in an altercation outside a Cleveland nightclub early Saturday", according to the AP.

ESPN described the circumstances of Whitner's arrest indicating that Whitner visited the House of Blues in Cleveland (apparently, to celebrate Miami Dolphins' WR Ted Ginn Jr.'s birthday), and ended up in a "near riot". ESPN noted a police statement describing the not-so-festive scene:

"...a brawl erupted outside the club at about 3 a.m. As off-duty officers tried to restore order, Whitner aggressively forced his way into an area where he was told not to go. Officers temporarily restrained him before he broke free and squared off to fight.

"Whitner began swinging his arms in a violent manner and, when restrained by officers, he broke free and took a fighting stance," the Cleveland Police statement read. "An officer then deployed his Taser on Whitner, debilitating him enough that officers were able to place him in handcuffs."

Andrew Gallo, Driver in Adenhart Crash, DUI at Time of Crash; Faces Murder Charges

Updating yesterday's tragic news on the death of L.A. Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart in a hit and run crash, it turns out that the driver of the minivan that ran a red light, 22-year-old Andrew Thomas Gallo, may have fled from the scene of the accident because he knew he was in a world of legal hurt. The AP reports that Gallo: 1) was driving on a suspended license (the result of a previous DUI conviction); and 2) was "substantially over" the legal limit at the time of the crash.

As a result, Gallo was booked for murder and manslaughter charges and is currently in jail without bail. In California, a DUI car accident that results in the death of an individual can result in very serious charges, but murder charges are particularly tough to establish because of the degree of "malice" that must be shown. For purposes of second degree murder charges in a DUI case, prosecutors must show implied malice or a conscious disregard for human life. Unfortunately for Gallo, the existence of a prior DUI conviction is precisely the sort of evidence prosecutors use to establish such a "conscious disregard".

Furthermore, courts in California often make people convicted of a DUI offense sign papers acknowledging that they understand the dangers of driving under the influence and may also make them take courses educating them on those dangers. Such evidence can also come in handy for prosecutors when establishing a defendant's culpable state of mind for second degree murder.

Nick Adenhart, Angels Pitcher, Killed in Possible Felony Hit and Run Crash

In sad news this morning, the L.A. Times reports that 22-year-old Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart has been killed in a car crash which appears to have been a hit and run. The crash occurred just after midnight, and only a few hours after Adenhart had pitched six stellar scoreless innings for the Angels. The L.A. Times gave the following account of the accident:

"Several witnesses told police the driver of a red minivan ran a red light at the intersection, hitting a silver Mitsubishi carrying four passengers. Two people in the Mitsubishi were pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics, authorities said. Two others also in the Mitsubishi were taken to a nearby hospital, where one was later pronounced dead, Brower said.

The driver of the minivan fled on foot, but police found him about a mile away and took him into custody on suspicion of hit-and-run, Brower said. Further charges are pending as the investigation continues, he said."

In California, Vehicle Code section 20001 makes it a crime for anyone to leave the scene of an accident they were involved in without identifying themselves and providing assistance in accordance with the law. The crime becomes a felony if serious injuries and/or deaths are involved, and is punished by imprisonment in a state prison for two to four years, or in a county jail for not less than 3 months nor more than 1 year, plus possible fines.

MLB, Even the Yankees, Cutting Payroll During the Recession: AP

Hopefully this isn't taken as some kind of apocalyptic sign, but the AP reports that the New York Yankees and just over half of Major League Baseball (MLB) teams (16 out of 30), have cut their payroll. Specifically:

"Teams cut payrolls for their active rosters and disabled lists by $47 million from opening day in 2008 to the first day of this season...That comes out to a drop of 1.7 percent."

The New York Yankees, who are not exactly known for their tight pursestrings, cut their payroll back $7.6 million but still lead the majors in payroll comfortably. Bob DuPuy, the league's chief operating officer, explained to the AP that "[c]lubs were cautious all winter with regards to the economy and were concerned the economy might have an impact on club revenue...The spending reflected that for many clubs." Actually, considering the 1.7 percent figure and the fact that 14 other teams actually raised their payroll, too much concern probably isn't warranted.

Also, before anyone worries too much about their favorite players' paychecks, the AP noted that the "average player salary is up 2.7 percent to $3.24 million" and instead there are just less players in the league. Finally, although the free-agent market has been relatively (perhaps strangely) slow, the players' association apparently hasn't decided whether to file a collusion grievance at this point:

"'Obviously, there were a lot of economic conditions going on,' union head Donald Fehr said. 'My guess is not the same factors were considered by everyone, but I don't know that to be the case.'"

Clippers Forward Zach Randolph Next in Pro Athlete DUI Parade?

A rough season for the Los Angeles Clippers (18-59) may be getting rougher, particularly so for Clips forward Zach Randolph. The Clippers suffered a tough loss in a tight game to their hometown rival Lakers yesterday, and then early Monday morning Randolph got pulled over when he was observed driving his Rolls Royce in a less-than-straight manner.

According to the AP, during the traffic stop officers could smell alcohol inside the vehicle and had Randolph perform field sobriety tests. Randolph failed the tests and was taken into custody (he was later released on $5,000 bail). The team is reserving comment at this time on the whole situation.

In California, a first time DUI offender is subject to 4 months of license revocation and possible jail time plus a fine. Randolph's is the latest in a rash of DUI-related offenses allegedly committed by athletes, some of whom face significant potential consequences in their DUI cases. Sports leagues, very conscious of potential damage to their public image in these cases, could at some point step up the penalties for such off-court/field incidents, although they are sometimes limited by agreements signed with player unions.

The New York Giants released wide receiver Plaxico Burress today, apparently conceding that his off-field legal troubles were too big a burden and a distraction to the team.

Even before last November, Burress was no stranger to conflict with Giants management.  He served a one-game suspension and was fined early last season for an unexcused absence from a team practice.  But his real troubles began, as is widely known, in a November nightclub incident in which he allegedly accidentally shot himself in the leg.  This had consequences both professional and legal, as Burress was suspended for the remainder of the season by the Giants and then charged with two felony weapon-possession counts by the state of New York.