That name. Sonia Sotomayor. President Obama's choice for Supreme Court justice rings a bell in the sports world, especially in Big Ten country. Remember?
In 2004, Maurice Clarett tested the National Football League's draft-eligibility rules, which state that players are not eligible for the draft until three seasons have passed between the time they graduate from high school and the time they declare for the draft. Only two years had passed when Clarett tried to enter the 2004 draft. His case went before the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York, where a three-judge panel, Sotomayor included, ruled against Clarett and forced him to wait 'til the 2005 draft.
Clarett's attorney, Alan Milstein, argued keeping Clarett out of the NFL would unreasonably restrict his client's earnings. Of course it would restrict his earnings, because it would keep him out of the NFL for another year. But the question for the three-judge panel was whether this was unreasonable or unfair.
Opined Sotomayor: "That's what unions do every day -- protect people in the union from those not in the union. Why is this case different?''
It wasn't. Clarett lost the case. He was drafted in the third round the next year by the Broncos in what turned out to be a ridiculously bad pick, a total waste by then Denver coach Mike Shanahan. And now Sotomayor, who is a big Yankees fan, will be up for confirmation to the highest court in the land.
I've reached this point in thinking about what Michael Vick should be and how he should be used in his possible NFL reincarnation: I think he should be Devin Hester, at least at the beginning. I don't know if he can be, but that's what I'd think if I were the Saints, Patriots or Bills, or whoever might be interested in signing him if he is reinstated to the NFL.
Think of Hester in his first two years in the NFL: 173 touches, 12 touchdowns. He was the most dangerous weapon in the NFL over the 2006 and 2007 seasons. I don't know if Vick can be the same kind of force in the return game, but maybe he doesn't have to be. Maybe he becomes a guy who touches the ball six to eight times a game, 100 to 120 times the entire 2009 season, as he works his way back to an expanded role in 2010 and beyond. He could be a Wildcat quarterback for four snaps, a slot receiver one or two, or a running back taking a pitch. Imagine if the Saints put Vick and Reggie Bush in the backfield at the same time, with the most prolific quarterback of the past three years, Drew Brees, under center. Now that's a dangerous backfield.
"The league changes so much, not just from year to year, but over four- and five-game stretches,'' said Detroit coach Jim Schwartz. "Michael was never really a chess-match quarterback anymore, but more like a wild card back there. Now the league is going more and more to Michael Vick-type play at the quarterback position. The spread offense should be easier for a quarterback like him than the classic pro style. Say some team took a flyer on him, figuring to use him for six or seven plays a game, at not a high salary. Then you can use him in all different ways, and you can make him that running kind of player out of the pocket, because if he gets hurt, it's not like you're losing your starting quarterback who makes $12 million.''
No one knows what kind of player Vick will be after a three-year hiatus. Schwartz thinks the layoff will affect him, but doesn't know -- how can he? -- exactly how much. "This is a game played by the best athletes in the world,'' he said. "And we can't know about Michael Vick until we see him again.''
Now onto your e-mail from a very, very busy week in the NFL:
• THE NFL WILL HAVE EMPTY-SEAT PROBLEMS IN THE MEADOWLANDS. From Bob Soccol, of Garfield, N.J.: "You mention Yankee empty seats. I've been a Jets' season ticket-holder for 32 years and was forced to go from bottom tier to upper deck because of how the Jets priced their new stadium. Supposedly both the Jets and Giants are having a hard time selling $20,000-a-seat PSLs with a ticket price of $700, which are in the lower tier. Your thoughts on PSLs, empty seats on game days [NFL would never blackout New York] and Roger Goodell pushing the Jets and Giants to charge their longtime loyal season ticket-holders this form of legal robbery?''
My thought is I hate it. I think it's wrong, and I think Giants Stadium was not outmoded enough after 33 years with a recent luxury-box overhaul to demand a new facility. But I also understand it. The Giants, in particular, are in an arms race. The Giants and Jets sit in a corridor where every team -- Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New England -- has built new stadiums with massive box and club seat revenue since 1997. These four facilities have between 80 and 280 suites, and between 6,000 and 15,044 club seats. The current Giants Stadium has 142 club seats and 118 suites. The new stadium will have 222 suites and 9,300 club seats.
Because public stadium financing has become so difficult in the last few years, the Giants and Jets knew that to increase the amount of luxury seating to keep pace with the rest of the league (including, for the Giants, NFC East rival Dallas, which will have about 200 luxury suites and 15,000 club seats in the new stadium opening in Arlington this fall), they were going to have to build this new sports palace on their own. If the Giants and Jets were going to build a new stadium in this economy without funding from fans, Woody Johnson, who owns the Jets, would have had to come up with about $850 million, and the co-owners of the Giants, the Mara and Tisch families, would have had to come up with about $425 million each. I don't know what their financial situations are, but that's not a commitment either side was going to make. And I know each team figured: The longer we wait, the more it's going to cost.
As I said earlier, I don't like it, but that's the thought process the Giants and Jets went through.
• I DON'T SEE THE NFL COMPROMISING ON THE STARCAPS CASE. From Eric Westby, of Stewartville, Minn.: "Disclaimer: I'm a Vikings fan. Obviously the StarCaps legal wrangling will run its course, probably with the league winning and the Williams boys suspended for four games. Legalese aside, couldn't the league be magnanimous and offer up a reduced suspension? This still punishes the players, since 'they are responsible for what goes into their bodies,' yet shows an act of good faith on the part of the league, since, apparently, the NFL did indeed know that bumetanide was a hidden ingredient and yet did not protect the players by publicizing the fact. As a follow-up, while that option makes sense as a feel-good solution, do you suppose the league would hold off and use the issue as a throw-away bargaining chip at the CBA table?''
I don't see it, Eric. And while I agree the NFL has some culpability in this case, the NFL's contention is this product, and those like it, have been used as masking agents to hide performance-enhancing drugs. If they reduce the suspensions, the precedent would be set that anyone who fights the NFL and presents a reasonable argument should have the suspension reduced. Not saying it wouldn't be right or fair in this case, but the NFL would be opening a Pandora's box it does not want to open.
• BUT I DID STAY AT A HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS LAST NIGHT. From KevinDuffy, of Calgary, Alberta: "There is a reason you are a sportswriter and not a legal analyst. The NFL pushed to have the Williams case heard in federal court because it was to its advantage there. Unfortunately in the U.S., the state law trumps federal law. Goes back to when the U.S. was formed and didn't want a potential kingdom set up. The state law in Minnesota is very clear and is in favor of the Williamses. Read Mike Florio's writeup about it on Pro Football Talk. He is a lawyer with 20 years experience and did a fantastic summary of this. Expect the Williamses to play the first four games.''
I read what Mike wrote, and he did a tremendous job. The most interesting point in this case, which the Minnesota court hears on June 15, is whether an NFL player who plays in Minnesota can have his personal conduct disciplined by laws of the state or by the rules of the league in which he plays. The standard NFL player contract says, of course, that players are subject to the drug-testing and disciplinary rules imposed by the league.
As Florio writes, state law in Minnesota says an employee in the state can't have discipline enacted because of one positive drug test. Imagine if the state court wins this one; players leaguewide would scurry to find out how state laws differ from NFL edicts. It'll be an interesting case with major ramifications, obviously. I find it hard to believe that an NFL player's contract could be, in essence, overruled by a state court. We'll see how it goes.
• FAVRE SHOULD BE ABLE TO PLAY WITH A SEVERED BICEPS TENDON. From Norm Woodcock, of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: "I have a severed biceps tendon and after 18 months rehab have recovered 25 percent of my arm strength. I know Brett Favre is super human but as for being unaffected by a severed biceps tendon, I absolutely don't believe it. Sounds like agent talk.''
My understanding is Favre has been told that he'll be able to throw the ball without restriction or pain a month or so after surgery. All I can go by is what medical sources tell me.
• TWITTER QUESTION OF THE WEEK. From Tarak Suthar: "If Kobe can get a second chance, why not Vick?''
Well, lots of reasons. The biggest: Kobe Bryant was found innocent of sexual-assault charges a few years ago (the victim refused to testify). Vick was found guilty in his case. We all need perspective when we compare one case to another. Vick's offense was very, very serious. My feeling is he should be allowed to resume his career, but we'll see how Roger Goodell feels about it in a few weeks.