Workplace Madness: Important HR Lessons from NCAA Basketball

The 2013 NCAA basketball tournament is over, and in many ways it was a classic, with great games, great upsets and great storylines. March Madness, indeed.

However, this year, much of the madness occurred off the court.

It started with the videotape of the unprofessional ranting of now-former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice, who called his players every offensive name in the book, berated them, question their very being and flung basketballs at their heads. Rice’s trail of carnage includes former Athletic Director Tim Pernetti and former University general Counsel John Wolf. It included the “resignation” of Pac-12 Director of Officials Ed Rush, who suggested to his direct reports – the referees – that they punish one of the coaches in the league that Rush doesn’t like. And it included controversy over whether Baylor University women’s superstar Britney Griner is worthy of a tryout in the all-male NBA.

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When Athletes Retire, Is the Next Step Bankruptcy or Paradise?

The “paradise” stories for the post-playing careers of professional athletes are without a doubt under told. The success of Roger Staubach in building a real estate empire, the multiple businesses of NBA all-stars Magic Johnson and Jamal Mashburn, as well as success in politics by the likes of Steve Largent and Bill Bradley, are known to some. Also, consider the Super Bowl’s most valuable player, Joe Flacco, the proud recipient of a $120.6 million contract, alongside option bonuses of $15 million and $7 million, and superstar Ray Lewis, who, in retirement, has recently joined a new team: ESPN. Let’s not leave out baseball, with Alex Rodriguez in the midst of a $275 million contract running through 2017. Then what?

This recent Alert takes a look at what comes next for athletes after their playing days are over, and how they can avoid unhappy endings.

Is Trademarking an Athlete’s Name Before a Big Game a Distraction or Good Karma?

Is it a smart move or premature for a well-known athlete to trademark his name weeks before he actually may (or may not) make the history? When tennis star Maria Sharapova came up with the name “Sugarpova” for her candy business, many thought her trademarking move was cute, original and well-timed. When the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick filed to trademark his name earlier on this month, some, including this blog’s author, thought such a move may be a little premature. Mr. Kaepernick got a priority filing date and may have beaten others to the punch. But the move could prove distracting. Mr. Kaepernick, please prove us wrong this Sunday.

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Olympians Strike Back: What’s News–and What’s Advertising–in the Age of Infotainment and Celebrity?

Celebrity is a currency of great value. TMZ, Entertainment Weekly, E!, and innumerable gossip websites and publications prove the point beyond dispute. A group of Olympians including Mark Spitz, Greg Louganis, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Amanda Beard have sued Samsung Corporation for using their image to endorse the company without their consent. So, it’s not uncommon that commercial advertisers want to push the edge of the envelope and find ways of using the names, likenesses, and other indicia of celebrities (without obtaining their permission and without paying them) in order to get the attention of us, the consumers.

Partner Mark Fischer explores the often blurry lines between news and commercial endorsement in this blog entry from the New Media and Entertainment Law Blog.

The California Supreme Court Makes Clear Assumption of Risk Applies To More Than Just Sports

On December 31, 2012, the California Supreme Court issued its decision in Nalwa v. Cedar Fair, L.P., __Cal.4th __ (No. S195031 December 31, 2012), previously covered in this blog and this blog. In a 6-1 decision, the Court held that the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies not just to sports, but more broadly to recreational activities. “Where the doctrine applies to a recreational activity, operators, instructors and participants in the activity owe other participants only the duty not to act so as to increase the risk of injury over that inherent in the activity.” The Court held that this limited duty of care not to unreasonably increase the risk of injury over and above that inherent in the low-speed collisions essential to bumper car rides, and does not extend to preventing head-on collisions between the cars.

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California Supreme Court Sets Important Assumption of Risk Case For Argument

The California Supreme Court has scheduled oral argument for October 3, 2012 in Nalwa v. Cedar Fair, an important assumption of risk case which we have previously discussed in this blog. The case presents the following issues: (1) Does the existence of a state regulatory scheme for amusement parks preclude application of the doctrine of “primary assumption of risk” with respect to the park’s operation of a bumper car ride? (2) Does the doctrine apply to bar recovery by a rider of a bumper car ride against the owner of an amusement park or is the doctrine limited to “active sports”? (3) Are owners of amusement parks subject to a special version of the doctrine that imposes upon them a duty to take steps to eliminate or decrease any risks inherent in their rides?

Interestingly, the matter is scheduled for argument at the UC Davis law school.

Can You Sue For An Injury From A Bump On A Bumper Car Ride?

Can you sue for injuries caused by bumping on a bumper car ride? That’s the question presently pending before the California Supreme Court in a case involving application of California’s assumption of risk doctrine. The plaintiff, Dr. Smriti Nalwa, was injured at an amusement park while riding as a passenger in a bumper car “driven” by her nine year old son. Nalwa’s wrist was broken when she tried to brace herself as they collided head-on with another bumper car. Dr. Nalwa, a surgeon, sued the ride operator for her injuries. The trial court granted summary judgment against her, finding her claim barred by assumption of risk. On appeal, the Court of Appeal reversed and held that as a matter of public policy the assumption of risk doctrine should not apply to an amusement park ride. (Nalwa v. Cedar Fair, LP (2011) 196 Cal.App.4th 566, 576-578). The California Supreme Court granted review last year and briefing closed last month.

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On Your Marks for the London Olympics

With the Olympics now a little more than six months away, most businesses with operations in and around the UK are fine-tuning their contingency plans. Businesses large and small—whether based in Europe or simply having people pass through—need to be prepared. The Olympics will run from 27 July to 12 August with venues all over London, together with events like football and sailing outside of the capital. There are likely to be significant extra visitors to London, not only those visiting the events but also hospitality staff, security personnel, media, sponsors and hangers-on. The Olympics will be a spectacular event, and London will welcome visitors from around the world. For most organizations, however, planning is essential.

Read the Duane Morris Alert for more.