Isiah Thomas’ Hiring: Women Don’t Even Deserve Respect In The WNBA

By:  Ashleigh Mattox, Ruling Sports contributor

It has been widely reported that James Dolan, Executive Chairman of the Madison Square Garden Company (MSG), which owns and operates the New York Knicks and the WNBA’s New York Liberty, has hired Isiah Thomas as President of the Liberty.  This has sparked controversy because, in 2007, a jury awarded a former New York Knicks female executive, Anucha Browne Sanders, $6 million in punitive damages due to Thomas’ creation of a hostile work environment, which resulted in sexual harassment.  (An additional $5.6 million in punitive damages was awarded for retaliation against Browne Sanders.)  Despite proclamations of innocence and threats to appeal, MSG eventually agreed to settle the lawsuit for $11.5 million.  While MSG issued a statement on May 5, 2015 that it “did not believe the allegations [against Thomas] then and [it] do[es]n’t believe them now,” Browne Sanders’ allegations may have had a little something to them if MSG was willing to settle for over $11 million to make the case go away.

Dolan has put the WNBA in an impossible position in light of efforts made by the NBA, the NFL and even historically slow-to-evolve Major League Baseball to include women.  The NBA has partnered with Sheryl Sandberg for the “Lean In Together” campaign, which encourages men to become involved in order to achieve gender equality.  The NFL supports “A Crucial Catch” to raise awareness for breast cancer and “No More,” an organization focused on domestic violence and sexual assault.  Major League Baseball is getting into the mix with its Mother’s Day initiative “Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer” and Mo’ne Davis throwing out the first pitch before Game 4 of last year’s World Series.  While many may question the sincerity and effectiveness of these efforts, they all reflect some level of awareness by the major sports leagues that women are important to them in some way.  In this climate, how can the WNBA have a team lead by someone with Thomas’ history and keep a straight face?

Hiring someone found to have sexually harassed a woman to the tune of $6 million to run a women’s organization like the Liberty is embarrassing for MSG, Dolan, the Liberty and the WNBA.  The WNBA serves an important function by providing young girls with role models and encouraging girls to become involved with sports.  In the wake of the NFL’s initial two game suspension of Ray Rice for entering an elevator with a conscious woman and leaving it dragging an unconscious woman, shouldn’t sports welcome and encourage the involvement of women, whether as fans, players or executives?  Shouldn’t leagues send a unified message that women are wanted, respected and safe?  This is the opposite of the message sent by James Dolan with his obtuse hiring of Isiah Thomas to lead the Liberty.  Dolan’s message is that it is not important to treat women with respect even in our own league.

Ashleigh Mattox is a retired attorney living in Orange County, California, with her husband and daughter.  She was born and raised in Southern California and is a proud alumna of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Chapman University School of Law.  She loves all things sports, especially the NFL, and holds a special place in her heart for the New Orleans Saints, the Dodgers and the (currently lowly) Lakers.  

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From A Chicago Bulls Ball Boy To Top Sports Apparel Designer: The Story Of Sportiqe

Everyone remembers their first date.

Not everyone is driven to their first date by NBA legend, Scottie Pippen, though.

From a young age, Sportiqe founder, Jason Franklin, has lived a life less ordinary than most. It is that life less ordinary, though, that has allowed Franklin to become one of the NBA’s most-popular apparel providers.

At 15 years old, Franklin found himself like many other boys growing up in America: A lover of sports, but someone whose talents weren’t going to allow him to turn pro. What Franklin had that most others didn’t, though, was an intense drive to find a way to keep his passion for sports alive in spite of his athletic talent. Little did he know, a bike ride he took through Chicago as a teenager would pave the way to his future career.

“The Bulls’ practice facility was in my hometown. I rode my bike to the front door and knocked on it, asking if they needed a ball boy. Someone came to the door and said it was the middle of the season and that they’d send me an application for the following season. They did and I along with 1,000 other kids applied. Five were interviewed, two got a job and one of them was me,” Franklin reminisced.

Becoming a ball boy for the Bulls in the 1990s was the equivalent of hitting the lottery for a teenager growing up in Chicago. The job not only meant later bedtimes on game nights, but unimaginable access to some of the world’s biggest sports stars in their natural environment.

“Michael Jordan came back and the Bulls won three championships. The highlight of my experience had to be being in the locker room for the celebrations of those championships. Being a high school kid and getting a chance to be around and witness that first hand is dream come true type of stuff,” Franklin said.

Spending time in the Bulls’ locker room not only allowed Franklin to rub elbows with the players, but to be mentored by them. Pippen took a liking to the young Franklin, and when Franklin came into the locker room talking about asking his first girl on a date, Pippen not only offered Franklin advice, but a ride — in his Ferrari.

Along with the rides and advice on girls, Pippen, Jordan and the Bulls offered Franklin important lessons about what it takes to win on and off of the court. “The strongest thing I took away from my experience was watching how those guys handled themselves off of the court. Watching their interaction with people during my formative years of 15-18 really helped shape how I handle myself as a professional. The way people wanted to be around them and the types of people they were off of the court allowed people to gravitate towards them. Through them, I saw the type of person you could be regardless of whether you were famous, and how the kindness you extend to people can become infectious,” Franklin explained.

With those lessons instilled in him, Franklin launched Sportiqe, a lifestyle licensed apparel brand, who lists the NBA as a partner. The brand’s stylish and comfortable t-shirts and hats are frequently worn by some of the world’s top athletes and celebrities, including Jay-Z, Beyonce and Justin Bieber. For Franklin, finding his way into the apparel industry was much like his becoming the Bulls’ ball boy: A natural fit.

“Growing up, I loved sports. I’d go to every single sporting event I could. When I realized I wasn’t going to be good enough to play professionally I realized I still wanted to be involved in sports in a way that I was passionate about. My grandma and great-grandmother were clothing designers. My earliest memories were sitting on my grandma’s lap in her knit shop and her showing me different yarns and fabrics. That got my brain working in terms of always looking for fabrics and colors and blending them,” Franklin said.

At the tender age of 10, Franklin became a third generation fashion designer when he began designing hats that would later be worn by the likes of Tupac and 50 Cent. “Apparel was something that was in my blood,” he remarked. Yet, the quick success he achieved as a child designer was only the beginning of what would become a life-long career.

“I’m a firm believer that if you find exactly what it is you’re destined to do, then you have the opportunity to do great things. I was very fortunate at a young age to be around a guy like Michael Jordan and a team that won three championships to see that they found what they were passionate about and worked as hard as they possibly could at it. At a young age, I realized I could blend two of my loves, fashion apparel and sports,” Franklin noted.

As NBA teams install Sportiqe-specific fixtures into their team stores and more celebrities and athletes turn to the brand, given Franklin’s background it is perhaps no surprise that he remains humble. For Franklin, Sportiqe’s growing success all boils down to an important lesson he learned as a teenager in an NBA locker room.

“People want to be around people with infectious personalities. Learning this in the Bulls’ locker room helped me grow Sportiqe as a brand. The more chances I get to be in front of people and meet them, the more they not only want to be around myself, but the brand. Sportiqe has grown by word of mouth, and it’s really been about one person telling another person about the brand. When people get a chance to be around Sportiqe, they gravitate towards it and that’s one of the things that I took away from hanging out with the Bulls at a very young age,” Franklin said.

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How The Miami Heat Became The Greenest NBA Team

This Earth Day, it’s important to give credit to the professional sports teams who are making waves in protecting our environment.  One team leading the way is the Miami Heat, who for nearly a decade, has worked tirelessly to bring sustainable efforts to their team’s practices and arena.

The NBA arena with the highest level of LEED certification is the Miami Heat’s AmericanAirlines Arena. Home to All-Stars, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, earlier this year, AmericanAirlines Arena became the world’s first sports and entertainment facility to achieve LEED Gold recertification.

Becoming the first arena in the world to achieve LEED Gold recertification was no easy feat for the Miami Heat. According to the Heat’s operations and sustainability coordinator, Jackie Ventura, the performance of the team on a number of green and sustainability factors was considered over the five-year period between it achieving its initial certification and its recertification. “From becoming certified to the recertification, it was all about keeping up our own standards and maintaining those standards,” Ventura noted.

The impact of the standards that the Heat maintained over the five-year period are notable. For instance, the outfitting of AmericanAirlines Arena with efficient plumbing fixtures allowed for the saving of nearly 4.2 million gallons of water. Landscaping designs added another 190,630 gallons of water saved. Furthermore, recycling efforts during the 2013-14 Heat season alone resulted in 330,810-pounds of waste being diverted from the landfill.

For the Miami Heat, the team’s sustainability measures serve two important purposes: Protecting the environment of the community the team calls home and promoting the team’s business interests. “Our sustainability practices are definitely important to the Heat from a business perspective. I like to say, ‘Green equals green.’ When you are consuming less, you are being fiscally responsible, because it allows you to be able to hold onto money that you maybe otherwise would have spent on other projects and instead, create new initiatives within your organization. It’s also important for us to show our community that we care about the environment. Our economy in Miami is driven by tourism and tourists come here for our beaches, which is the environment. If we are hurting the environment, we are hurting our community,” Ventura explained.

In terms of why leagues should take their All-Star Games green and why teams should turn their arenas green, the National Resource Defense Council provides some guidance. In a 2012 report, “Game Changer: How The Sports Industry Is Saving The Environment,” the NRDC argued that greening is a wise business decision for teams and leagues. To make this argument, the NRDC pointed to examples showing that greening creates financial savings, attracts sponsors, strengthens community relations provides competitive advantages and attracts fans.

While all of the “crown jewel” events in sports, such as the NBA All-Star Game, World Series and Super Bowl, employ greening measures, there is still more that can be done by all teams and leagues in this regard. Teams whose arenas haven’t achieved LEED certification should be motivated to do so. Furthermore, teams and leagues must continue working towards creating zero waste and zero carbon emission footprints. Yet, as teams and leagues work towards those goals, the success they’ve accomplished in creating more sustainable sporting events should be celebrated.

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The NBA And Its Teams Provide Solid Strategies For Teams Looking To Go Green

With over 1.3 million viewers tuning in to watch its regular season games, the NBA has a unique platform to facilitate social change. Last week, the NBA utilized that platform to educate its teams and fans about ways to reduce their collective environmental footprint. NBA Green Week presented by Sprint allowed the NBA and its teams to encourage environmental responsibility throughout their communities.

When asked why the NBA dedicates a week of its season to NBA Green Week, NBA senior vice president of social responsibility, Todd Jacobson, said, “Social responsibility is part of our league’s DNA. Through the NBA’s reach and the profile of our players, we have the ability to address important social issues, such as environmental awareness. In partnership with the Green Sports Alliance, the NBA, its teams and players are committed to taking steps to promote environmental stewardship and encourage our fans to join us. NBA Green Week presented by Sprint is our chance to highlight some of the great work taking place around the league, while promoting environmental awareness and encouraging our fans to think about their effect on the environment.”

Notably, NBA Green Week is the only week-long initiative hosted by any professional sports league that is entirely focused upon educating fans about environmental stewardship. One example of the week’s events is the NBA’s commitment to plant a tree with the Arbor Day Foundation every time that #NBAGreen was posted on social media or three trees every time a three-pointer is scored during the week’s games. Beyond tree planting, the NBA also partnered with Sprint to host phone recycling events and has also purchased renewable energy certificates in conjunction with Bonneville Environmental Foundation to cover the energy used during the week’s games.

Highlighted throughout the NBA Green Week agenda was the NBA and its teams’ partnership with the Green Sports Alliance. Founded in 2010 to inspire teams, fans, leagues and venues to embrace sustainability, the Green Sports Alliance counts numerous NBA teams and their venues as members.

In 2015, teams are continuing to identify standards of best practice for developing sustainability plans that they can not only adopt, but will also motivate their fans to engage in green practices. Several initiatives engaged in by some NBA Green Sports Alliance members serve as great examples of how teams can incorporate sustainability into their business model and positively impact the environment. These initiatives can easily be replicated by other teams, both inside and outside of the NBA.

Portland Trailblazers

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The initiative: Inaugural members of the Green Sports Alliance, the Portland Trail Blazers and their arena, the Moda Center, are sports leaders in the green arena. Recently, the team launched the Threes for Trees campaign. In partnership with Daimler Trucks, the Trailblazers plant three trees for every three pointer scored during the season. 3,000 trees will be planted this spring in Portland’s Sandy River delta.

Ideas for other teams:  Other teams should consider ways that they can utilize particular areas of team success to drive sustainability.  Additionally, the lesson from the Trail Blazers, is that corporate sponsors are willing to come on board to support these endeavors.  Thus, teams’ corporate sponsorship teams should be creating activations centering around sustainability and pushing those to sponsors.

Miami Heat

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The initiative: After the first NBA Green Week in 2008, the Miami Heat realized it could attain LEED certification for its arena, the AmericanAirlines Arena. In 2009, AmericanAirlines Arena received LEED Gold certification. In 2015, AmericanAirlines Arena became the first sports and entertainment venue in the world to achieve LEED Gold recertification status. “From becoming certified to recertification, we were focused on keeping up and managing our own standards. We want to keep leading the industry in terms of sustainability, because in sports, there are still very few stadiums that are LEED certified,” said the Heat’s operations and sustainability coordinator, Jackie Ventura.

Ideas for other teams: One thing that allowed the AmericanAirlines Arena to obtain LEED Gold recertification, was the Heat’s adoption of unique strategies to reduce arena waste. In this regard, it launched the Re-Heat program, which saves over 5,000 pounds of concessionaire’s food from the trash can, and instead, redirects it to local homeless shelters. Other teams can follow the Heat’s lead by identifying unique ways to reduce arena waste that also benefit their communities.

Golden State Warriors

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The initiative: The Golden State Warriors pride themselves on the sustainability and green initiatives adopted not only at the team’s arena, but its headquarters and practice facilities as well. One recent initiative has focused upon recycling water bottles at the team’s headquarters. There, over 67,000 water bottles annually avoid the landfill through recycling initiatives.

Ideas for other teams: Water bottles continue to be one of the greatest causes of landfill waste. Other teams should follow the Warriors’ lead and institute sound recycling policies for their employees’ water bottles. Alternatively, teams can distribute reusable water bottles to their employees and provide water filling stations in their offices. Teams can also host giveaway nights where they distribute free reusable water bottles to fans to educate them on the waste issues that arise with disposable water bottles.

Houston Rockets

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The initiative: Recognizing the presence the team holds in the Houston community, the Rockets hold an annual electronics recycling drive annually. The drive gives local Houston citizens an opportunity to turn in televisions, computers and other electronic components to have them safely and properly recycled. This initiative not only keeps these items out of landfills, but ensures the possibility of their proper re-use.

Ideas for other teams: Many teams host similar e-cycle events, but the key is to allow for the event to actively engage fans with the team. Thus, teams should consider including green giveaways in their events or ensure that there are educational materials on hand for fans to pick up about how they can make their home more sustainable. Furthermore, teams should engage employees to become involved in the recycling events by providing incentives to the employees who bring in the greatest number of electronics to be recycled.

Phoenix Suns

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The initiative: In 2012, 966 solar panels were installed at the Phoenix Suns’ home, the U.S. Airways Center. The project, a joint effort between the Suns and APS with an estimated cost of $1.26 million, has some serious environmental impacts. The solar panels create 378,000 kWh of solar energy per year, which amounts to 20 Suns’ games worth of clean energy.

Ideas for other teams: A handful of other NBA teams have installed solar panels on their arenas. Given the steep price of these, though, teams should seek to involve corporate sponsors to partner in the initiative. Furthermore, teams can utilize the solar panels as a way to engage their communities. For instance, teams can host elementary and middle school aged children on field trips to visit and learn about solar electricity.

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How Adidas Signed The Best NBA Rookies To Its Brand

Last weekend may have been the most fashionable weekend in New York history.

In the midst of Fashion Week’s (or, is it really fashion month?!) kicking off, the NBA’s top stars descended upon New York City for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game. This year, for the first time ever, the NBA incorporated a number of fashion elements into the weekend’s festivities.

One such element is the presentation of the NBA’s first fashion show. Airing Saturday night, the fashion featured eight NBA players taking the runway in a three-round show, featuring boardroom, game day and night out apparel.
The official apparel provider of the NBA, adidas, also found its way onto the runway during All-Star Weekend. Over the weekend, Kanye West hosted the adidas Originals x Kanye West YEEZY SEASON 1 fashion show to mark the launch of his new sneaker with the brand.

Over the last year, adidas has intensified its push to dominate the market share of hip-hop and NBA enthusiasts. The YEEZY SEASON 1 launch marks part of a growing initiative by adidas to secure the biggest names in entertainment and sports to market its brand.

At the start of the NBA season, adidas made waves when the brand announced the signing of four of the top-six rookies drafted in the 2014 NBA Draft. Signing the number-one overall draft pick, Andrew Wiggins, along with Joel Embiid, Dante Exum and Marcus Smart marked a successful execution of company strategy for adidas.

“We’ve been targeting this class for a couple of years. As we look at our long-term strategy within basketball, athletes play a critically important part of how we plan to grow our business and brand. It’s the best way to connect with fans and kids. At the end of the day, the kids buying sneakers are the ones looking up to the best players in the game. We’ve always had a focus in partnering with the best athletes in the game, going back to Kareem, Allen Iverson and more recently, Derrick Rose. In this draft class, we saw an opportunity to reinvest in our portfolio of players,” said adidas’ head of basketball, Chris Grancio.

For NBA players, signing with an apparel company provides an opportunity to collaborate on the types and designs of sneakers they’ll wear on the court. As players’ fashion brands off the court continue to grow, with many having their own fashion lines, this is a critical opportunity for apparel companies to present NBA stars. “The relationship becomes more collaborative the more time that we have to work with the players. We are working on some custom player edition products for our rookies for the tail end of the season and the playoffs. We showed them designs and got feedback, so they’ll have input on their first player editions,” Grancio explained.

Launching a player edition sneaker is not only an honor for the player involved, but provides players with a critical opportunity in an age of fashion forward NBA players: Choice. “Guys are different when it comes to how many different pairs of shoes they wear during a season. Ricky Rubio only wants to wear three or four pairs a season. He likes to stay in the same product. We have other guys who will wear a new pair every single night. Guys like Damian Lillard will wear a different model five nights in a row. The guys who are sneakerheads, like Jeremy Lin, are emailing almost daily about the products they see at retail,” Grancio noted.

Sneakerheads who don’t have an NBA contract should cheer on those that do. The more that players like Lin and Lillard push the needle on sneaker style, the more likely it is that fans will see new, fashion forward products arrive in stores. Further, with the competition to sign top-level NBA talent heating up, sneakerheads are also likely to benefit, as apparel brands work to out maneuver each other in terms of creating the most stylish and trendsetting sneakers.

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Why It Took More Than Two Centuries For The Royal And Ancient Golf Club To Admit Female Members

The history of golf is intricately tied to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. The modern game of golf was created in its homeland of Scotland. In modern years, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club served as a governing authority of the game. Royalty, top golf professionals and high-powered businessmen have called themselves members of the prestigious club.

For 260 years, the history of golf was intricately tied to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. And unfortunately, part of that history is marked by the exclusion of women and minorities from some of golf’s leading and most prestigious clubs.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club led the way in excluding women from the ranks of its membership. As women rose the corporate ladder and up golf’s leader boards, it held onto its status as a “boy’s club” for nearly three centuries.

Yesterday, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club announced that in September 2014 it chose to break from history. For the first time in its 260-year existence, it decided to allow female members. Notably, while the club granted honorary memberships, it also afforded some women the chance to become full, dues paying members.

While the Royal and Ancient Golf Club’s decision should be celebrated, the question remains, why now? How does one of the most prestigious golf venues decide 260-years into its existence to break with tradition and let women into the “boy’s club”?

To answer that question, one needs to look to Rio de Janeiro, the host site of the 2016 Olympic Games. What could the lively, South American city have to do with changing a stale tradition born in Europe? The answer is simple: Everything.

Golf hasn’t been part of the Olympic program since 1904. In a history spanning centuries, golf has only made the Olympic program twice. For a sport that now counts 60 million players on six continents as game participants, being held off of the sports world’s biggest stage is detrimental.

The greatest detriment golf has missed out by being held out of the Olympic Games is not having its sport played out on the millions of televisions that tune into the Olympic Games every four years. The ability to participate on a world stage in front of millions of viewers could have propelled golf to participation levels beyond the 60 million it sees today.

When it comes to selecting which sports make up the Olympic program, the International Olympic Committee considers a number of factors. Global public and media interest make up several of those factors. Beyond interest in the sport, though, the IOC also considers social issues surrounding the sport, including discrimination existing within the sport.

Golf was added to the 2016 Olympic program in 2009, when two of the game’s leading clubs–the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and Augusta National–still precluded female members. Yet, given the factors the IOC considers in selecting a program, it’s arguably unsurprising that in the years leading up to the Rio Games that golf is distancing itself from its discriminatory past. Along with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club accepting female members, in 2012 August National–where The Masters is played–admitted two female members.

These clubs and golf’s leaders know that if the game wants to keep its spot on the Olympic program, it must work to be more inclusive. In order for golf to remain on the program–and not see another century long absence from the Olympic Games–it must continue to make progress in terms of inclusivity. One way to ensure that happens, is by eliminating discrimination at the highest level of the sport and working with top clubs to admit female and minority members.

One must question whether access to some of golf’s greatest clubs would have come sooner for women if golf remained on the Olympic program during the 20th century. Given the power of the Olympic Games on sport–in terms of global television viewership numbers and licensing revenue–one may think that the IOC could have provided the pressure necessary for golf to move further towards inclusivity. Regardless, though, of the reasons or timing, that women have been given an opening to a more equal footing into the game of golf is something for the young girls teeing off at the local course to celebrate.

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St. Jude Takes Its Fight Against Childhood Cancer To The Super Bowl

One Sunday morning while sitting at mass, then a struggling entertainer, Danny Thomas, put his livelihood on the line. Hard up for work and with a baby on the way, Thomas found himself sitting in a church pew. Moved by the words spoken at the service that day, he tossed the last $7 to his name into the collection plate.

Years later, after becoming a successful entertainer, that action led Thomas in part to create the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. St. Jude, which treats over 67,000 patients free of cost annually, hosts the Legends for Charity event each during Super Bowl weekend in the city where the big game is played.

The Super Bowl presents the perfect opportunity to shine a light on St. Jude’s efforts in eradicating childhood cancer and disease. This is because, the NFL family is a second family to St. Jude. Thomas, who once found himself literally without a dollar to his name, would go on to become one of the first owners of the Miami Dolphins NFL team. “St. Jude has been intertwined with football for years. Danny Thomas was actually one of the original owners of the Miami Dolphins, so we have always had a history with football,” St. Jude’s chief marketing officer, Emily Callahan, said.

For the last 10 years, St. Jude has built upon its NFL relationship by hosting the Legends for Charity event. Hosted at the NFL Headquarters Hotel in the city where the Super Bowl is played, the event brings together some of the biggest names in sports broadcasting to celebrate the work of St. Jude and award the Pat Summerall Award for an individual’s significant contributions to the sports world.

This year, Fox Sports’ lead play-by-play announcer, Joe Buck, was honored by St. Jude with the Pat Summerall Award. “If you think about the people who have received this award, they are the biggest names in sports and sports broadcasting. They’re people who have had incredible careers that have spanned multiple sports. They’re also people who have good character. So many of them have a deep passion for kids and the kids of St. Jude,” Callahan remarked.

Although the Legends for Charity event is hosted outside of St. Jude’s partnership with the NFL, St. Jude is grateful for the opportunities the NFL partnership brings its patients. The NFL serves as the “Official Champion of Play” at St. Jude. Through its NFL PLAY 60 initiative, the NFL supports St. Jude’s Child Life program, which provides St. Jude’s patients with therapeutic play and other activities. “St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is very lucky to have a partnership with the NFL and its PLAY 60 initiative. The NFL brand is one of the most powerful brands in the world. It’s incredibly meaningful to associate St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital with the NFL brand,” Callahan said.

For the children of St. Jude fighting life-threatening illnesses, the opportunity to play not only presents the chance to be a kid again, but a chance at living. “So many of our kids, when you talk to them, often all they want to do is get well and go back to playing the sports they love. Every day, I see stories about the power of sport, play and activity in helping a child feel vibrant and alive,” Callahan noted.

Callahan and St. Jude have countless stories of the ways in which St. Jude patients have been impacted positively by the ability to play sports. For many, the thought of taking the field again is a driving force in their recovery. “When I think about our partnership with NFL PLAY 60, I think about Shon Coleman. Shon went to play at Auburn and was one of the most talented kids there. Then, he was diagnosed with Leukemia. To get Shon well and back on the field to be part of the incredible season Auburn had was incredible. So many of our kids have been impacted by the NFL PLAY 60 partnership,” Callahan said.

When St. Jude opened in 1962, the survival rate for childhood cancer patients was a mere 20 percent. Today, thanks in large part to the efforts of St. Jude, that number is an impressive 80 percent. Yet, as the doctors, patients and supporters of St. Jude know, the fight against childhood cancer will not end until the survival rate is 100 percent. Until then, St. Jude and the Legends for Charity event will continue championing the cause of ending childhood cancer over Super Bowl weekend.

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The FCC’s Elimination Of The Sports Blackout Rule Isn’t A Touchdown For NFL Fans

News out of Washington, D.C. today may have given NFL fans in San Diego and Buffalo a sigh of relief. NFL teams in those cities were the only two teams during the 2013 season to face local television blackouts of games. Today, the FCC announced the repeal of sports blackout rules that were enacted nearly forty years ago. While the word “repeal” coupled with the words “sports blackout rule” would seemingly signal good news for fans whose teams face television blackouts, such isn’t necessarily the case.

Under the FCC’s sports blackout rules, cable and satellite television providers were forbidden from airing sports events that were blacked out on local television stations. Notably, the rules had no reign over local television stations’ blackouts of sporting events. Rather, individual leagues–not the FCC–instituted rules related to when games for their respective sport would be blacked out on local television.

Arguably, the league with the most stringent and well-known local television blackout policy is the NFL. Under the NFL’s blackout policy, if a home team doesn’t sell out 85-percent of its stadium within 72-hours of kickoff, the game will be blacked out within 75-miles of the stadium’s radius. Notably, the NFL is the only league whose local blackout rule centers around stadium attendance. Under the NHL and MLB’s policies, local broadcasters receive broadcasting priority, unless a national broadcaster has exclusive rights to the game. As for the NBA, if a game is aired on NBATV, it will be blacked out from local broadcasting stations within a 35-mile radius of the home team’s market.

What, then, is the effect of today’s unanimous vote by the FCC to repeal its sports blackout rules? The result is that now, cable and satellite providers may air games blacked out by leagues on local television networks without interference by the FCC. The question becomes, though, what is the likelihood that networks will bite at the chance to do this? Due to current contractual obligations outlined between leagues and local networks and cable and satellite providers, the likelihood is slim. Add to that the fact that the NFL and other leagues’ lawyers are most likely renegotiating their contracts with cable and satellite providers to limit those parties’ abilities to air blacked out games after today’s FCC ruling, and the likelihood is nearly non-existent. Couple both of these factors with the bargaining power that the leagues have in negotiating television contracts and the likelihood evaporates.

So, then, was any victory gained by fans as a result of today’s FCC ruling? Perhaps. The FCC’s decision sent a clear message to the NFL and other leagues that the agency will no longer enforce rules to protect attendance figures at their teams’ stadiums. This is notable, as a consistent rationale the NFL has levied for its blackout rule is that without it, stadium attendance would decrease. The timing of the FCC’s decision may signal why the agency is suddenly unwilling to continue being a silent endorser of the NFL’s blackout rule. It was all the way back in January 2012 that the FCC announced that it was seeking comment on the petition which led to today’s decision. Arguably, the FCC could have issued its ruling much in advance of today. Thus, there perhaps exists an argument that the current climate surrounding the NFL–from the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson suspensions to the Redskins name debate and concussion litigation–finally motivated the FCC to pull the plug on its sports blackout rules.

Whatever the reasoning, though, the effect of today’s decision will be limited. That is, unless a cable or satellite provider is willing to stand in the face of the NFL and air blacked out games regardless of the NFL’s local blackout rule. However, given the high value of the NFL’s broadcasting rights–it’s three years into a $27-million, nine-year deal with Fox , NBC and CBS–and the league’s high viewership numbers–205-million fans tuned in during the 2013 season–the costs of doing so outweigh the benefits. Thus, if fans in San Diego and Buffalo want to guarantee seeing their team’s home games, the best plan of action even after the today’s FCC decision is to buy tickets and head to the stadium.

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Three Years

Three years ago, I woke up and decided to change my life.

I was miserable at work and uninspired with my day-to-day.  I knew that the path I was traveling down wasn’t the path planned or even intended for my life.  I knew that I held the map to take me away from my unhappiness, and so, on July 1, 2011 I woke up and decided to travel somewhere new.  For me, at the time, that somewhere new was creating RulingSports.com.

The last three years have been a journey.  A whirlwind, a trip of amazement, a host of new opportunities.  To sum it up, it’s been amazing.  Really, really amazing.

I started RulingSports.com with the intention of utilizing the platform it gave me to get out of the job situation I found myself in.  And it did just that.  About a year ago, I accepted an offer from the University of Miami to teach sports law and sports governance.  As I sit on campus to write this, overlooking Lake Miami, I know that I wouldn’t be here if not for the decision I made on July 1, 2011 to start RulingSports.com.

RulingSports.com has been so critical to my career success.  It was critical to my success for two important reasons:  First, it allowed me to be heard and second, it allowed me to connect with others.  This little website has served as a launch pad for me to make my opinions heard and relevant.  The website propelled me to new grounds and better opportunities, like at The U, and with Forbes, Sportsdigita and the Huffington Post.  These opportunities, in turn, led me to wonderful people.  Givers, leaders, movers, shakers.  The best of the best.

I tell people this a lot, but when I woke up on July 1, 2011, I had no idea what awaited me on this side of things.  I was so, so, so miserable in the months leading up to that genesis.  I wasn’t myself.  If I knew just how life could be–and would be–here on the other side, I would’ve eased up on myself.  I would’ve cut the universe some slack.  I would’ve relaxed.  I would’ve enjoyed.  Because, I would’ve known that with patience and hard work, anything is possible.

Perhaps what I’m the most grateful for in terms of the experiences I’ve been given over the last three years, is what I’ve learned.  Every day, because of my work with the University of Miami and Forbes, I am able to talk to brilliant people.  From these people, I glean ideas.  I learn tricks.  I see success.

If there’s anything I’ve learned within the last three years, it is this:  To stay relevant, one must continue to grow.  When I launched RulingSports.com in 2011, all I intended it to be was a sports law blog.  Sports law was my bread and butter then.  Staying true to that platform was critical in the website’s infancy, because it allowed me to brand myself.

I’m grateful for that bread and butter, but it’s time for me to adapt and expand my horizons.  There’s more I want to do, and there is much more to me than sports law.  In the coming months, RulingSports.com is going to take on a new look, a look that is more representative of who I am and where I am at now.  Sports law will still be part of the site’s focus, but it will not be its entire focus.  I have so much more that I want to offer the sports world that I am finally ready to share. I hope you will travel along with me!

Three years.  It went by in a blink of an eye.  This has been an amazing journey.  I told someone today, that there is little in life that gives me the thrill like covering a sports story.  I’m at my happiest when I am walking around the concourse leading to a team’s locker room, preparing to get a story.  It’s exhilarating for me.  The rush it gives me is like few other things I’ve experienced in this life.  When I’m on the sidelines or in the press box, life makes sense.  I truly believe I was put on this Earth to be a storyteller.  And I thank God that I realized this and pursued it instead of succumbing to the notion that it was a silly dream or unattainable goal.

What I would tell you, is to pursue your passion.  Believe in yourself more than anybody else.  Let go of the naysayers.  Remove the jealous people from your life.  Give something, just one thing, your all.  Whether it’s love, an education or a job.  Do something with the full belief that you will succeed in it.  Do not take “no” for an answer.  Don’t quit until you get there.

Because once you get there–which you will–it’s great.  So, so great.

Thank you all for an amazing three years.  Each of you has played a very special role in making this dream of mine–as crazy as it may be–come true.

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NBA Fans And Corporate Sponsors Hold The Greatest Power To Punish Donald Sterling

Yesterday, TMZ disseminated a recording</a> that allegedly contained Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, making racist comments about African-Americans. In the wake of the recording’s dissemination, NBA players, civil rights leaders and President Barack Obama have shared their disgust over the recording’s comments and have called for the NBA to take action against Sterling. In response to the recording, NBA commissioner Adam Silver held a press conference and indicated that an investigation into the recording is ongoing and that all sides will be afforded due process. While the NBA holds power to levy serious sanctions against Sterling should its investigation reveal the voice on the recording is his, for the time being, fans and corporate sponsors hold the greatest power to punish Sterling.

As noted above, the NBA has power to sanction Sterling should the voice on the recording belong to him. This ability is held in the commissioner’s “best interest of the game” power. Utilizing that power, Silver can institute investigations and subsequently levy sanctions into matters that affect the best interests of the game. However, it is unlikely that this power would be utilized to directly remove Sterling from his position as an NBA owner. That is because other documents, specifically the NBA franchise agreement, constitution and bylaws, govern that ability. While those documents are confidential, the league can reportedly only remove</a> an owner from his post if the team is embroiled in serious financial difficulties.

Thus, if the NBA’s investigation reveals that the voice on the recording is Sterling’s, it is likely that Silver will issue a combination of a fine and a suspension against Sterling. While Silver could issue a lengthy enough suspension to effectively motivate the 81-year-old Sterling to sell the team, doing so could invoke a legal challenge by Sterling. This legal challenge would likely arise, because Sterling would assert that because he has never been suspended by the NBA before, a suspension exceeding one season would be arbitrary and capricious.

Along with calling for the NBA to remove Sterling as an owner, others have called for the Clippers to refuse to play. While Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has indicated that the team has decided not to do this, the question remains whether the team legally could. Arguably, sitting out from a game would amount to a strike by Clippers players, as they would be boycotting their working conditions under Sterling. However, under the collective bargaining agreement the National Basketball Players Association signed with the NBA in 2011, strikes during the term of the collective bargaining agreement are not allowed. Thus, sitting out a game would violate the terms of the collective bargaining agreement and could open up the players to a labor law claim and also a breach of contract lawsuit.

Yet, another body of law arguably paves a way for the players to legally sit out from play. That is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Title VII grants employees the right to sit out from work to boycott an employer’s discriminatory practices. Arguably, Sterling’s conduct and a subsequent refusal to work by Clippers players would fall within the realm of Title VII. However, due to the collective bargaining and contractual issues discussed above, Sterling would likely wage a legal battle should players sit out of a game. Thus, it would be up to a court to decide whether players were within their legal right to not play. Given the legal intricacies of players sitting out from play, it is not a path they are likely to choose.

Given the legal issues limiting the message the NBA and its players can send to Sterling regarding his alleged racist comments, fans hold the greatest power in sending him a strong enough message that such speech will not be tolerated.  Forbes valued the Clippers</a> at $575 million in 2014. That valuation came after Sterling purchased the team for a mere $12 million some 33-years earlier. Thus, the Clippers are a team that fans, corporate sponsors and television broadcast network partners have built into a financial success through their ticket and merchandise purchases, partnership contracts and lucrative television broadcast contracts.

To send the greatest message to Sterling, fans should take a page out of the playbook of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, which organized boycotts of companies that engaged in discriminatory behavior. The thought behind such movements is to hurt the companies’ bottom line so that they are pushed into adopting acceptable race relations practices. While sitting at home for the remainder of the playoffs will likely not be a strong enough move for fans to hit Sterling and the Clippers’ bottom line, over time, fans’ refusal to attend Clippers games will hurt the team’s bottom line. Additionally, the Clippers’ corporate sponsors should consider pulling their money from the team after reviewing their contracts, which likely include a morals clause. Finally, the team’s television broadcasting networks should consider similar action.

When news of Sterling’s alleged comments arose yesterday, many people cried out and said the comments were part of a pattern of behavior that has been ongoing for decades. Perhaps now is the time to end that behavior. If the NBA and its players are limited in how they can end the behavior, the power lies in the people and corporate entities who have helped line Sterling’s pockets. These individuals and corporations must pull back their monetary support of the team until Sterling not only issues an apology, but demonstrates that he has completely changed his beliefs and feelings towards people of races other than his.

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