Former NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter sued the union and President Derek Fisher on Thursday “for defamation and breach of contract stemming from his dismissal,” according to Ken Berger of CBSSPORTS.com. The lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court in Oakland, alleges that Fisher and his publicist, Jamie Wior, "conspired to negotiate a secret deal to end the 2011 lockout and that their actions amounted to a breach of Hunter's employment contract with the NBPA.” Hunter is seeking “unspecified compensatory and punitive damages based on his termination, at the time of which he was owed $10.5 million in salary through 2015.” He is seeking at minimum the "money he was owed on his contract at the time of his termination.” The complaint alleges that Fisher “undermined Hunter's authority as the union's bargaining agent by secretly negotiating with ‘certain owners’ and conspiring with Wior to oust him as executive director and ‘vest control of the union.’" The lawsuit cites Fisher's attempts to hire DC-based law firm Patton Boggs to "conduct a business review of the union -- a move that was rejected 8-0 by the executive committee, which subsequently hired a New York firm to conduct the review.” It also alleges Fisher "actively manipulated the investigation" by the firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison "by making false statements impugning Hunter's character." The union's board of player representatives voted 24-0 on Feb. 16 “to oust Hunter as executive director after a nine-month investigation by Paul-Weiss into the union's finances and business practices during Hunter's tenure” (CBSSPORTS.com, 5/16). USA TODAY’s Jeff Zillgitt notes the lawsuit “also suggested Fisher wanted a resolution to the 2011 NBA lockout because ‘each game cancelled during the lockout represented income that Fisher would never realize and would be unlikely to recover because his remaining player career was limited’” (USA TODAY, 5/17).
Leagues and Governing Bodies
MLB Exec VP/Baseball Operations Joe Torre on Thursday said he is "hopeful" of the league implementing expanded instant replay for the '14 season, with the scope of potential changes now enlarged to include everything outside of ball-strike calls. Speaking at the conclusion of quarterly owners meetings in N.Y., Torre said the future possibilities regarding replay have now moved far beyond a previously debated move toward including trap plays and fair/foul calls down the lines. He also acknowledged MLB umpires "have had a bad week or so" following a recent spate of high-profile gaffes, but added those mistakes are not motivating the larger replay talks (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer). MLB Commissioner Bud Selig "initially wanted to add trap plays and fair/foul calls down the lines for 2013, but change was put off while more radical options were examined." But Selig Thursday said, "My opinion has evolved." The AP's Robert Blum reported while initially "assigned to a large 'special committee for on-field matters' that Selig established in 2009, replay recommendations will now come from a subcommittee" of Torre, former MLB manager Tony La Russa and Braves President John Schuerholz, who is chairing the group. The group is "examining whether to have replay officials in booths at ballparks or at a central location, and whether to have umpires wear headsets, as soccer officials do." Torre is "against giving managers a challenge system, as NFL coaches have, but says opinion is split" (AP, 5/16).
MAKING SENSE OF IT ALL: Torre said, "There are a lot of hurdles. We're just trying to do what makes sense for the game. You could start replaying stuff from the first inning on and time the game by your calendar. That could be crazy. We have a rhythm in this game that we don't want to disrupt. One of the decisions we want to make is how much of this do we want to do without really disrupting and putting people to sleep" (MLB.com, 5/16). FOXSPORTS.com's Jon Paul Morosi noted Schuerholz, La Russa and Torre "must believe there is a solution to the replay question, or they wouldn’t have accepted the subcommittee assignment." Selig "wouldn’t have brought them before this week’s assembly unless he was confident the owners would be receptive to their recommendations" (FOXSPORTS.com, 5/16). But in Denver, Mark Kiszla writes under the header, "Baseball Might Not Be Making Right Call With Instant Replay." An MLB game "already takes three hours to play way too often." Kiszla: "We've got pitchers stepping off the mound to listen to their gold chain shake, batters constantly fine-tuning a batting glove as if it was Springsteen's guitar, and now we're going to have an umpire squinting into a TV monitor?" (DENVER POST, 5/17).
IN OTHER NEWS: League attendance is down 3%, with 22 rainouts thus far, exceeding the number for all of last season. But Selig said he is "optimistic" the league can rebound from that decline, particularly as more makeup games are played in warmer weather. "We've played a lot of games in bad weather, painfully bad weather," Selig said. "It's still May the 16th. I'm not overly concerned." This year's schedule, like many prior years, has been the subject of widespread criticism. But Selig said there are few feasible tweaks that can be made, particularly with the advent of everyday interleague play. "There simply isn't much we can do," Selig said....The Dodgers still have not formally submitted their proposed $8B TV deal with Time Warner for league approval, but the team and MLB execs continue to discuss the parameters of the deal and revenue sharing implications....MLB Exec VP/Economics & League Affairs Rob Manfred said the league and the MLBPA are currently engaged in "active discussions" regarding a worldwide player draft. Much like his practice during larger CBA negotiations, Manfred declined to characterize the state of the talks. But the parties face a June 1 deadline before expanded spending restrictions on international signing bonuses go into effect....The league is still aiming to open next season overseas, with games in Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Australia among the possibilities (Fisher).
David Beckham Thursday announced his plans to retire at the conclusion of his current season with French club Paris Saint-Germain on May 26, and though he would "like to own a team ... there are no immediate plans for him to bring" an MLS club to Miami, according to Michelle Kaufman of the MIAMI HERALD. When Beckham signed with the MLS Galaxy six years ago, his contract "included an option to buy an MLS franchise for a discounted price." Beckham has said that he "planned to exercise that option 'immediately' upon finishing his playing days." Kaufman notes there have been reports Beckham would "buy the Galaxy and move back to California, where his family was very happy." But there also have been "whispers he would be interested in bringing a team to Miami." It is "no secret MLS would like a team in the Southeastern United States." However, MLS execs have given "no indications of any plans for a Beckham-backed team in Miami and say any talk of a Miami team is speculation." Their "current expansion blueprint centers" on N.Y. and Orlando (MIAMI HERALD, 5/17).
BECKHAM BENT IT: The AP's Nancy Armour wrote by making the "growth of soccer in the United States his pet project," Beckham put the sport "on a fast track" domestically. He gave it the "kind of legitimacy and visibility it would have taken decades to reach on its own." Beckham also "elevated the league's stature with international players" (AP, 5/16). In N.Y., Longman & Borden in a front-page piece note Beckham’s role in "raising global awareness of soccer in the United States is undeniable." During Beckham’s "first year with the Galaxy, the club’s revenue rose as much" as 40%. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said, “I don’t think it’s unfair to say he put MLS on the map." Beckham’s career also "proved hugely influential in the swelling interest of European soccer in Asia and elsewhere around the globe" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/17). In Toronto, Karissa Donkin notes Toronto FC President & GM Kevin Payne "remembers that first rainy night when Beckham came" to DC while Payne was still with DC United. The club "sold an extra 27,000 seats at RFK Stadium for that game." Payne: “When he pulled off the warm-up shirt, the flash bulbs going off in the stadium were unbelievable. It was like being at the opening kick of a World Cup final, where all you see is flashbulbs everywhere. ... A lot of people that weren't very aware of our league became aware" (TORONTO STAR, 5/17). Retired Manchester United D Gary Neville, a former teammate of Beckham, said, "When you think back on the way football has changed over the last 22 years, he has probably been the most influential player in that time in terms of transforming football" (ESPNFC.com, 5/16). English FA Chair David Bernstein said that he "hoped Beckham would consider becoming England's equivalent of Michel Platini or Franz Beckenbauer, iconic players who went on to play key roles in global sports administration" (GUARDIAN, 5/17).
ABLE TO MOVE THE NEEDLE: SI's Grant Wahl said Beckham brought "new fans to the sport, got really good crowds on the road, moved the needle a little bit on television ratings." But he added it was a "very big challenge that might have been bigger than what Beckham was expecting coming in to convert Americans more to soccer." ESPN's Alexi Lalas said the expectation for Beckham when he signed with the Galaxy was to make the team's "brand relevant, not domestically (but) internationally and he did that and more and he brought credibility." Lalas: "When people think about Major League Soccer now, people around the world, first thing they think of is the Los Angeles Galaxy and it's because of the power of that brand" ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 5/16).