Sue the Coach!
Want to get your kid more playing time? Hate the varsity's game
plan? Just call your lawyer
For a youth league baseball coach, what could be worse than going
0--15? Ask Rodney Carroll. Soon after Carroll guided the
Brunswick (Ohio) Cobras to a winless season in 1999, a summons
arrived, informing him that he was being sued for $2,000 by the
father of his catcher. The complaint? Poor coaching. Carroll's
incompetence, the suit claimed, cost the team a trip to a
tournament in Florida. "I didn't understand it," says Carroll,
43, a street-maintenance worker who had volunteered for two
years. "I wanted to be a coach just to help kids."
If that sounds like an isolated case of a litigious sports dad,
it isn't. A surprising number of coaches are being taken to court
for matters involving game plans, lineups, teaching and all the
other things that they normally do. A group that studies
sports-related lawsuits in North America, From the Gym to the
Jury, reports that more than 1,300 suits involving high school
and youth sports have been filed in the last five years, a jump
of about 35% from the previous five-year period. Some cases deal
with negligence and injury, but many are what lawyers call
"personal feelings" suits--cases that, to a large degree, hinge
on the notion that a coach who ticks off a parent or student is
liable for financial damages.
"Ask a room full of coaches if they've been sued, or if they know
anyone who's been sued," says Tim Flannery, assistant director of
the National Federation of State High School Associations.
"Everyone in the room would raise their hands."
Consider two recent cases: A Levittown (Pa.) High softball
player, upset primarily over a pitching technique her coach
taught her, is seeking $700,000. She says her chances for a
college scholarship were compromised because the pitching method
is technically illegal. Then there are the two baton twirlers who
were cut from the majorettes program at North Haven High in
Connecticut. Their mothers hired a lawyer to argue that, under
the 14th Amendment, being a majorette is a noncompetitive
activity that shouldn't exclude anyone. "We're just protecting
our rights," says Dolores Tata, one of the complainants. Both
cases are pending, as legal fees mount.
Most anticoach suits follow a course similar to that of the
mother in Rimouski, Que., who took legal action after her
14-year-old son was benched during what she says was a "critical"
hockey game. She sought $1,000 in damages to cover league
registration, hockey classes and, of course, mental distress. She
lost. "Most cases are won by coaches," says Gil Fried, a law
professor at the University of New Haven. "Courts conclude this
is a game and the coach has authority."
Yet even with the statistics in the coaches' favor and even
though only 5% to 7% of all suits go to trial (about 30% of
sports suits settle out of court), the litigation almost always
has an impact. Consider the case of Blake Chong, basketball coach
at Logan High in Union City, Calif., who in 2001 was named in a
$1.5 million suit filed by a father whose son had been relegated
to the junior varsity. The father sued the school district for
his son's potential lost earnings and sought Chong's dismissal.
Nine months into the case a judge threw it out. Still, "it took
up my time every single day," says Chong. "It takes a toll on
you, mentally and physically."
Often there's a financial cost as well. According to Sadler &
Co., which insures 4,000 sports organizations nationwide, the
number of coaches buying insurance against claims such as
discrimination and economic damage has doubled since 1997. Many
coaches, even if they can afford bigger insurance bills, are
following the lead of Rodney Carroll. After a judge threw out
that Ohio father's claim against him, Carroll took a look at his
situation--and quit coaching. Want to talk trends in youth
sports? With so many parents suing, an exodus of coaches could
easily be the next big thing. --Christina Asquith
Asquith, a writer in New York, has covered education for Teacher
Magazine and The Economist.
The Ire of the Tiger
Woods's handlers want his image pulled from a clean-water
Despite Earl Woods's pronouncements comparing his son's social
impact with Gandhi's, Tiger Woods has never shown interest in
being a political crusader. (See Woods's wishy-washy response to
Augusta National's men-only policy.) So it must have been a
jarring sight for Michigan motorists when, on Oct. 1, a
larger-than-life Woods popped up on six billboards around the
state, supporting Proposal 2, a $1 billion bond measure on the
Nov. 5 ballot that would earmark money to fight water pollution.
Did the ad signal Woods's entrance into politics? Fat chance. His
likeness had been used without permission by Grand Rapids artist
Mark Heckman. A nongolfer, Heckman had seized on Woods when he
picked WATER HAZARD as the headline. "I didn't think it was a big
deal," he says. "Who's opposed to clean water?"
But Woods's agent, Mark Steinberg, was angered by the billboards.
In the Detroit Free Press on Oct. 19, Steinberg was quoted as
saying, "The most disappointing thing is that a political
position is stated and that's just wrong, so outrageously wrong."
He also vaguely mentioned "recourse." On Oct. 21 the ads--which
had been paid for by Peter Wege, a Michigan millionaire active in
environmental causes--were taken down by the billboard company.
But after Heckman talked with the company's owner they went back
up, with Woods's image painted over. Says Heckman, "I thought
that was the end of it."
It wasn't. The next day he received a letter from Woods's
lawyers, reading in part, "This prominent and unconsented [sic]
use of the image and identity of Mr. Woods has caused Mr. Woods
considerable monetary damages." The letter demanded Heckman use
the same billboards, for one week, to apologize.
This kind of hardball is not foreign to Woods, who in 1998 sued
Alabama artist Rich Rush, hoping to prevent the sale of paintings
depicting his victory at the '97 Masters. In April 2000 a federal
district court ruled against Woods, saying Rush's portrayal was
"an artistic creation seeking to express a message." The U.S.
Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has yet to rule on the
appeal. Heckman, meanwhile, says he feels bullied by Woods's
lawyers and isn't sure what he'll do about any apology. "What
ever happened to political satire?" he says. "Is Tiger Woods
bigger than the First Amendment?" --Alan Shipnuck
1 U.S. woman (Deena Drossin last year) ever to run a New York
Marathon faster than Marla Runyan's 2:27:10; the legally blind
runner finished fifth behind Kenya's Joyce Chepchumba on Sunday.
67 Foreign-born players in the NBA, the most ever.
10 Foreign-born players in 1984--85, commissioner David Stern's
6 NFL teams who have employed quarterback Jeff George, who signed
with the Seahawks last week.
433 Consecutive regular-season sellouts for the Knicks, a streak
that ended on Monday, against the Bucks.
9,491 Attendance at the 17,565-seat FleetCenter for the
Bruins--Mighty Ducks game on Oct. 31, the smallest crowd at a
Bruins home game since 1987.
1,356 Straight games in which Jazz forward Karl Malone had scored
before he went 0 for 7 from the field and was shut out by the
SuperSonics on Sunday.
$1,100 Price fetched for a bra signed by Canada's women's Olympic
hockey team in an eBay auction benefiting the Canadian Breast
$876.79 Price fetched in the same auction for a bra signed by
THE NBA'S LOVE IT LIVE
They're not the most expensive commercials the league has
produced--they just look that way, thanks to appearances by $20
million-a-movie man Adam Sandler, the Rolling Stones and, if
things go as expected, Elvis and Frank Sinatra. But while the
league won't say what the spots cost, NBA Entertainment vice
president Scott Weinstock does explain that the idea behind the
Love It Live campaign was to move butts from La-Z-Boys to arena
seats. That would continue the momentum from last season, when
NBA attendance rose slightly.
And don't think the league is aiming at the post-50 crowd by
using Mick, Keith, the King and Ol' Blue Eyes: There's a fine
line, at least in the eyes of marketing whizzes, between baby
boomers and retro dudes like Kobe Bryant and Outkast's Big Boi,
who favor those vintage basketball jerseys and generally seem
fascinated by the pop cultural past. Ultimately, the connection
between the older stars and the NBA is simple: "Those guys are
pop icons, and our players are pop icons," Weinstock says.
FOR THE RECORD
By former U.S. Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding,
31, a lawsuit against Made In Oregon, distributors of Tonya Hot
Sauce. The label features an unflattering caricature of Harding
smoking a cigarette outside a trailer, with ice skates in one
hand and a hubcap in the other. It reads, "A sauce not for the
weak-kneed" and "Guaranteed to assault your taste buds." It also
includes a quote from an N. Kerrigan exclaiming, "It's a
lead-pipe cinch you'll love it!" The five-ounce bottles retail
for about $5. Harding's lawyer, William Markham, says Harding is
a "world-class athlete" and that the company is misappropriating
To ex-Flyers defenseman Dave Babych, $1.37 million, by a
New Jersey court. Babych, 41, had sued former team doctor Arthur
Bartolozzi, contending that the Flyers and Bartolozzi pressured
him to play on a broken left foot in the 1998 playoffs, which
exacerbated the injury and forced him to retire prematurely, in
2000. The jury found that Bartolozzi had "deviated from accepted
standards in treating the injury." Babych who says his foot is
still "not right," had sought $2.3 million.
By the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association,
aluminum bats, from its state baseball tournament. In the 2001
season two pitchers suffered serious injuries after being struck
in the head by a batted ball; the MIAA evaluated other anecdotal
evidence and ruled that balls fly off aluminum bats at dangerous
speeds. Last month Massachusetts' executive board of baseball
coaches voted 17--1 against the proposed ban. "We're in shock,"
says David Ettinger, legal council for Easton, the U.S.'s largest
aluminum bat manufacturer. Ettinger also says the company is
considering taking legal action against the state.
To lose weight or lose his job, Mets first baseman Mo
Vaughn, 34. According to reports, Mets executives have warned
Vaughn that if he does not lessen his girth--he was listed at
6'1", 275 pounds last year--he could be in violation of a
standard contract clause that requires a player to stay in
"first-class physical condition" and obey his team's training
rules. Vaughn, who batted .259 with 26 home runs in 2002, often
had trouble bending to field ground balls and made 18 errors, the
most in the majors by a first baseman. A nutritionist, physician
and personal trainer have reportedly been hired to oversee his
In the left thigh, Wisconsin's star tailback Anthony
Davis, by his girlfriend Tiffany Spears during a dispute in
Davis's apartment early Sunday morning. Badgers coach Barry
Alvarez says Davis, a junior who had rushed for 1,001 yards on
204 carries, might not play this week against Illinois. The
incident capped a rough weekend for Wisconsin: Last Friday senior
wide receiver Lee Evans was arrested for possession of marijuana.
On Saturday the Badgers lost 20--3 to Iowa.
By the ECHL's Cincinnati Cyclones, a 15game tryout to
forward Hayley Wickenheiser, 24, the Canadian Olympic star
regarded as the world's best female hockey player. Wickenheiser,
who would be the first female nongoalie to play in a pro men's
league, has also talked to men's teams in Austria and Germany and
would prefer to play in Europe, where the sport is less violent
than in North America. "My place in the male game would be as a
finesse player," she says. "I don't know if [the notoriously
rough ECHL] would be in my best interest, but I can't totally say
Godzilla vs. the Majors
ANNOUNCED By Japanese baseball star Hideki Matsui, just hours
after winning his third Japanese Central League MVP award, that
he will leave the Yomiuri Giants for the American major leagues.
While the Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki has thrived by slapping singles
past infielders and speeding around the bases, the 6'1",
210-pound Matsui, who is nicknamed Godzilla, will try to become
the first Japanese power hitter to succeed in the U.S. "Ichiro
had to hit for average, but he had the whole field to work with,"
said Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh. "Matsui will be expected
to hit balls out of the park."
Scouts say that Matsui--a lefthanded slugger who hit 332 home
runs in 10 seasons for the Giants, including 50 this year (the
Japanese record is 55 in the current 140-game season)--has a fast
bat but is undisciplined at the plate. Under Japanese rules teams
may begin negotiating with Matsui, 28, on Nov. 13. Matsui, who
earned a Japanese record $5.1 million last season and became
eligible for free agency upon completing nine years of service,
is expected to land a salary of between $8 million and $10
million per year. Several teams are expected to bid for him, and
the Yankees, who in August sent assistant general manager Jean
Afterman to watch Matsui in Japan, are the favorites to sign him.
"For a long time I've been watching American baseball on
television," said Matsui, who hit .334 with a league-high 107
RBIs. "But it was only in recent years that, realistically, I've
been thinking about playing there."
The departure of Matsui, the most popular player on Japan's most
popular team, has disappointed fans, though most are rooting for
Godzilla to conquer America. "It is sad that he is leaving
Japanese baseball stadiums," said Japanese prime minister
Junichiro Koizumi. "But I am looking forward to seeing how many
homers a Japanese slugger, the home run king, can hit. I have
THE WEEK IN TELEVISION
NOVEMBER 8 --14
SATURDAY 11/9--CBS 3:30 PM--No. 2 Miami at Tennessee
Sixteen years ago--in the only meeting between these college
superpowers--the Vols dashed Miami's national title hopes with a
35--7 win in the Sugar Bowl.
SUNDAY 11/10--ESPN 3 PM--Oklahoma at Tennessee
Women's hoops hits the floor with a meeting of two of last year's
Final Four teams.
SUNDAY 11/10--ESPN2 4 PM--WTA Championships, Semifinals
Serena Williams's Hollywood story continues: Fresh off her guest
spot on ABC's My Wife and Kids, Little Sis closes her big year
(winning three Grand Slam events) in L.A.
MONDAY 11/11--ABC 9 PM--Raiders at Broncos
The Raiders are 34-181 on Monday, the league's best winning
percentage on that night. But they've also lost five of their
last six MNF matchups with the Broncos.
TUESDAY 11/12--ESPN2 7 PM--Harlem Globetrotters At Maryland
No Meadowlark Lemon stuff here. This Globies club plays
straight-up hoops--and includes several former college stars and
former NBA player Cedric Ceballos.
WEDNESDAY 11/13--ESPN 7 PM--Spurs at Nets
Last year's MVP (Tim Duncan) visits the guy who should have won
the MVP (Jason Kidd). New Jersey was 2--0 against San Antonio
TUESDAY 11/12--HBO 10 PM
O.J.: A Study in Black and White
Tracking Simpson from his days as a record setter with USC and
the Bills to his work as a fledgling corporate pitchman to the
Trial of the Century, HBO examines his changing racial identity.
The hourlong piece includes hard-hitting criticism from Hall of
Famer Jim Brown.
--Best of the Brunch
--Deion the Dummy
With the NFL at midseason, we grade the Sunday-morning football
ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown
The set's overcrowded, but the melange of strong personalities
(Chris Berman, Tom Jackson, Bill Parcells, Sterling Sharpe and
Steve Young) creates sharp debate and humorous moments.
("J-E-T-S, Just End The Season," Young cracked before New York
upset the Chargers last week.) Add ace information man Chris
Mortensen and strong reporters such as Andrea Kremer, Sal
Paolantonio and Ed Werder, and Countdown remains the top
destination for the football-obsessed fan. Grade: A
FOX NFL Sunday
Landing Jimmy Johnson to join James Brown, Terry Bradshaw and
Howie Long rates as the move of the year among the pregame
shows. No analyst has a better command of the league. Fox
overwhelms viewers with graphics, but the network often comes up
with a creative gem, as it did on Sunday by using the classic
kids' game Operation to diagram the Bucs' injury woes. The
ratings leader remains a hoot to watch. Grade: B+
CBS's The NFL Today
The pooh-bahs at CBS think Deion Sanders is the next great TV
sports personality, which explains why so much of the show
revolves around Deion's flashy outfits and Deion's interviewing
subjects about Deion. Last week Deion, wearing a Michael Vick
jersey, asked Vick who he thought the greatest Falcon was. (Now
there's a relevant question.) Deion is loud and unfunny, a
brutal combination unless you're a fan of Carrot Top. The
capable Jim Nantz, Boomer Esiason and Dan Marino are also on
this show. We think. C+ --R.D.
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