From the Publisher: Hello, Sports Fans…

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Arnold G. York

There are three major sports contests going on this week, and only one of them is actually being played out on a ball field. We all know about the World Cup, which seems to have finally captured the attention of the U.S. 

But there are two other sports contests being played out this week, in a totally different arena: the courtroom. One is in an Oakland Federal Court and the other in a Los Angeles Probate Court. Both may leave a more lasting impact on sports than World Cup bragging rights.

In Oakland, a Federal judge, sitting without a jury, is listening to an antitrust challenge to the NCAA, which is effectively the governing body of college sports. The president of the NCAA, a former college president and respected academic, has been on the stand. He testified that amateurism is at the heart of college sports, and the athletes are essentially given a scholarship to their schools as payment and an opportunity to complete their education.

It’s hard to believe that he could, in this day and age of multimillion-dollar TV contracts, actually say that with a straight face, since most of the major sports with TV rights are now major cash cows for the NCAA and the universities. The specific issue in the case is that athletes apparently have to sign over all rights to their name, image and likeness, not just while they are in school, but forever. The universities or the NCCA then turn around and license those rights to game companies or to athletic uniform manufacturers, and everyone makes a lot of money, except the college players. The rationale for having them sign over all their rights is, according to the president of the NCAA, “to protect” the college athletes from commercial exploitation. I assume they mean from everyone but their schools and the NCAA. If you’re interested in this subject, I would recommend to you a sports site called Grantland and reporter Charles P. Pierce, a wonderful sports writer who is covering this trial in Oakland.

Ironically, in today’s LA Times sports section, there is an item about USC, which has decided to offer four-year scholarships they call “revenue sports,” meaning football and basketball, instead of the former practice of offering one-year scholarships, which are renewed annually. Apparently that is the practice in most NCAA schools. In fact, until a few years ago, the NCAA forbid four-year scholarships. I guess that means for almost all major colleges, if they cut you from the squad, or you get hurt, or they don’t feel you’re living up to expectations, or you open your mouth too often or you don’t fit in with their game plan, your college career is over. I can’t believe they actually have the nerve to call that amateurism when indentured servitude would be a better term.

The other big sports story is being played out in a Los Angeles Probate Court and features Donald Sterling versus Shelly Sterling, husband and wife and, at this point, rather estranged, I imagine. The issue apparently is whether Donald Sterling is, according to the wording of their trust agreement, to put it in general terms, still mentally capable. If he’s not, then Shelly can be the sole trustee and sell the LA Clippers for $2 billion. If he is capable and doesn’t want to sell the team, she won’t be able to do it alone.

Two MDs have said that he’s impaired, but it’s not clear what that means exactly. If you heard his TV interview, you heard someone who was rational, reasonably articulate, with a definite point of view. It might not be your point of view, or a popular point of view, but still he appeared capable. Well, you might argue, “Doesn’t the doctor really know best?” And that is the crux of the question. The doctor can tell you if there have been brain, neurological or memory changes, but what does an aging billionaire without dementia look like as opposed to an aging billionaire with some dementia? And how much dementia does it take to say you’re no longer competent?

The fact that there may be an Alzheimer’s diagnosis or signs of dementia does not mean that he’s not competent. Brain diseases, particularly of age, are usually slow, degenerative processes and may take years before they’re truly disabling. Before this case is over, Donald Sterling may become the poster elder and rewrite the book on dementia and probably end up suing the NBA for elder abuse.